Walk anywhere on campus practically and there’s a good chance you’ll see a cute fluffy companion trailing behind (And if you have not, I am deeply sorry for you). You probably wonder to yourself, “Where did all these dogs come from and why are they here? Well, allow me to explain.
If you're like me, your first inclination when seeing a service dog on campus is to pet it, but please, for the sake of both the student and dog, DO NOT. You just might mess up a month’s worth of work.
These yellow jacketed canines are a part of the Maryland chapter of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. According to its website, the organization prides itself on being dedicated to training calm and well-socialized dogs with routines, house manners and obedient dispositions for the blind or visually impaired.
Sophomore marketing major Julia Nam got involved with the organization this year as a full-time volunteer puppy raiser after hearing about it from someone else in the chapter.
“I love animals and especially dogs so I thought this would be a great a way to continue volunteering in college in a different way than I am used to,” Nam says.
Training begins when the dogs are puppies so the trainer has to housebreak his or her puppy and teach it manners, all while trying to balance everyday school schedules. As we all know, it’s hard enough to get to class by ourselves, let alone with an adorable companion towing behind.
“He chases anything that moves and somehow manages to pick up everything from the ground! Grass makes him go nuts which is quite hilarious, but not when I am trying to get to class on time,”says Nam.
When the dogs turn 14 months old, they must be returned to the foundation so that it can continue with its program’s advanced training. The dogs are paired with an instructor who understands the needs of the potential owners and gradually acclimates the dog to the owner’s surrounding environment. From maneuvering obstacles to stopping at changes in elevation, the dogs learn how to guide their new owners through their everyday lives.
“My advice to future trainers would be to really consider if you have the time to do this because it’s a 24/7 job,” says Nam.
If you want to be a trainer yourself or get involved with the organization, you must first submit an online application to The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. From there, the chapter will then work out with the student whether he or she will be a “puppy watcher," "co-raiser" or "full-time raiser."
“It has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done,” Nam Says. “I have learned a great deal from DT and hopefully he will continue to do the same from me.”