Students in Mrs. Sweitzer's fourth-grade class at Upland Country Day School had a visit recently from an eight-week-old Labrador retriever puppy named Magic.
Magic is training to be a service dog to eventually assist a person with a disability. He visited Upland with his trainer, Vicki Chandler, a preschool teacher who volunteers as a dog trainer for Canine Partners for Life (CPL). Canine Partners is the service organization Upland's fourth grade partnered with this year through the school's community service program.
Each grade adopts a service organization and teachers weave the organization and its message into the curriculum. Upland students are encouraged to seek volunteer opportunities that are meaningful to them, and the class works through the year to serve the organization. To raise money for CPL throughout the year, the class made and sold bracelets and dog collars.
"This year our class raised more than $300 for CPL," Sweitzer said."Every bit helps. $300 can pay for all the shots and veterinary visits for a litter of CPL puppies, or pay for three sets of specialized training vests, leashes and collars. It is great for the kids to see that they are making a difference and helping others by doing things they enjoy like selling bracelets, making biscuits at a dog bakery for the CPL dogs and having bake sale fundraisers."
Several times throughout the year, the class had visits from a CPL certified trainer who brought puppies-in-training to class and demonstrated the skills these dogs have. The dogs go through a rigorous two-year training period. A variety of dogs are used in the program, including poodles and collies.
Chandler and Magic work on basic training and cues. After a period of socialization and training experiences with his partner, Magic will be going for year-long training at a prison in Erie, Pa., and then he will be placed to serve a person with a disability.
The service skills that the dogs perform include:
Roll a person in bed and help bed-ridden individuals move to prevent bed sores;
Open a dryer and put laundry in a basket;
Open a refrigerator door and take out an item;
Fetch a specific brand of shoes - such as Nike or Pumas;
Help a person dress or take off clothes, jackets or socks;
Hand out flyers;
Push handicapped buttons;
Pick up dropped objects;
Provide balance and momentum;
Take purchases and wallets to cashiers;
Operate lights and elevator buttons;
People are not allowed to pet a service puppy in training, because it is important to teach the puppy not to solicit attention. The dogs wear a harness and cape and know they can't bark, play or be petted when they are working.
"When you refrain from petting Magic, you are helping with a very valuable part of his education," Chandler explained to the Upland students. "You are teaching him that there is no benefit to approaching other people when he is with his partner, unless his partner gives him the command to do so. The focus of a service dog has to be on his or her partner and their bond. It is an absolute lifeline between them."
Chandler has trained three dogs for CPL - Magic, Patrick and Sage. She also brought Patrick to visit the class on another occasion.
To date, CPL has placed more than 500 service and home companion dogs, and CPL teams are working in 43 states throughout the country.
A retriever named Patrick was also brought to Upland during his training.