Harper: Selecting & Training a Service Dog

My daughter Julia was in need of a service dog in 2013 to provide emergency medical response for seizure and brain hemorrhage. PAWS Training Centers worked with us to locate the perfect dog for the job and train her. Labradoodle Harper had been raised in a women’s prison service dog training program, and had already received obedience training. Before she could become a service dog for Julia, Harper needed to learn to alert strangers and/or push a button on an emergency medical alert device in instances where Julia lost consciousness, both in public and home alone. Harper also needed Public Access Training to be certified as a service dog. She needed to demonstrate the commands she had already learned in prison in unique public environments.

Once Harper was transferred from prison, her training was started in the trainer’s home. Harper stayed with our trainer, Gemma, for several weeks while she worked with her daily. This was the most efficient and cost effective way for Harper to learn what she needed to do. Gemma kept us in the loop by sending us videos of her progress. We saw Gemma take many a fall in stores and other public places to ensure that Harper would respond appropriately by running to find help and by pressing the emergency alert button. In the meantime, Julia and I Skyped with David Burry and met him at a mall with his demonstration service dog for our training, because we had even more to learn than Harper!

After Harper’s training in Gemma’s home was complete, Gemma brought Harper to us to start lessons. Harper needed to perform the same cues for 14-year-old Julia (and her mother) as she had for the professional dog trainers. The trainers went with us in public places, the zoo, and our home until we felt comfortable.

Along the way, we’ve been able to participate in intensive Public Access Training and service dog certification. Six months after receiving Harper in our home, she and Julia were certified as a service dog and handler pair, and they have since recertified. Harper goes to school with Julia and can accompany us everywhere. I can run out to the grocery store alone and not worry every moment. As Julia grows into her late teens and 20’s and becomes more independent, I can feel confident knowing she’ll be safe on her own. With Harper, Julia’s freedom is limited only by her desires, not by her illness. PAWS Training Centers’ training of Harper and Julia have made this possible.