Both Kristine O’Brien and Becky Preiner of Paws Republic Boarding, Training & Grooming Centre in Martensville are no strangers to dogs of all breeds. The two women have trained a wide variety of dogs over the years and have recently begun a new adventure in training two Blue Heeler puppies to be service dogs. Lux and Leo were donated to Paws Republic from a breeder that had another set of puppies on the way, and wanted to find a new home for the two males. Typically, Paws Republic does not bring in their own dogs to train from the ground up as service dogs; however, because Blue Heelers are not typically used as service dogs, they were excited for the unique experience.
Lux, who has a big personality, is currently living with Preiner, while Leo, who is a little shyer, is currently staying at Paws Republic in order to spend time socializing with other dogs and with people.
The training process for service dogs at Paws Republic is a minimum of two years. “The first year is making sure they are a respectable member of society. We work on obedience, confidence, manners, basically the things that everyone should be teaching their dogs within the first year. After that we start working on specialized tasks,” Preiner explained. After the first year, the work begins on training the dog’s specific tasks. “We specialize in psychiatric service work, so dogs for anxiety, depression, autism and things like that. Dogs are taught tasks that can help to benefit their owner’s specific needs,” Preiner added.
At the age of two, dogs are tested to ensure they do not have issues with the elbows and hips so their bodies are able to hold up for the work. “You can’t get specific tests done until they have matured to that two years point and for us; it is about advocating for the dog. It is part of the standards that we have set for ourselves when it comes to service dog training,” said O’Brien.
In Saskatchewan, there is not a service dog registry, and specialized certification is not required. In order to be approved for a service dog, you must have a letter of recommendation from a medical professional, and the dog must be able to perform three tasks. “Whether the owner trains the tasks, or we train the tasks, it doesn’t matter, but we like to provide the service to help people because we have set a standard for our service dog training. We have goals and requirements that we meet, so that when we are working with individuals, that we are comfortable in stating that it is in fact a service dog,” Preiner said.
All of the training for Lux and Leo will be done through Paws Republic, and the plan is that after a year of training, they will look to find a home for the two dogs and continue training while working together with the owners to ensure that each dog can meet the needs of the family.
When it comes to someone requiring a service dog, O’Brien explained that it is hard to put a price on it. Each situation varies as to how involved each client wants the trainers at Paws Republic to be involved. “The first step is to get the letter from a medical professional. From there, we like to sit down and chat about what people can expect such as; medical needs of a service dog, type of dog, talking to your workplace, school and family members about it and things like that. We walk them through the ins and outs of owning a service dog and then discuss what level they want to be involved with in the training,” O’Brien explained.
Both O’Brien and Preiner are grateful for the support that they have received from the community. Businesses such as Co-op, Canalta Hotel, Adobe Inn and Canadian Tire have provided an opportunity for the service dogs in training to have a chance to work within a public setting. Additionally, Horizon Dog Food has stepped up to sponsor Lux’s food, offering one free bag a month.
One of the biggest pieces of advice that both O’Brien and Preiner noted was to ensure the public was educated when it came to seeing service dogs in their daily lives. “One of the biggest struggles that every one of our clients has faced is when people want to pet their service dog. Many of these people struggle with depression, anxiety, autism, or PTSD, so situations such as that can set them off and by distracting a service dog, it could mean someone’s life. It is important to respect that these dogs are doing a job and everyone is just doing their best to get through the day,” O’Brien added.