A dog’s life: New beginnings

AwardsCeremony

Hallow’s first day.

Story and photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Terrell

One day she’ll be able to turn on that light switch that’s just out of your reach, or pick up the keys you accidentally dropped on the ground.  Or just maybe she’ll save your life when she gives you a nudge to alert you that the smoke detector you can’t hear is going off.

Today, however, Hallow is busy napping during meetings and learning to sit.

 But “sit” isn’t the only command this 3-month-old Labrador-Golden Retriever mix must learn.  In the next 16 months she’ll learn approximately 30 different commands, and by the time she’s two she’ll have learned more than 40.  While other young puppies worry about which toy — or shoe — to chew on and how fast they must run to catch a bird, Hallow has been busy training for her future job as an assistance dog.

And what better place to train than at a Coast Guard base.

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“It’s immensely valuable that she is around different sights, sounds and smells so she learns to be calm, which is really important for when she graduates and gets paired with someone.”

 Since every waking moment is a learning opportunity, Hallow’s trainer, Joan Tedeschi, a retired Coast Guard reservist, takes her to Coast Guard Sector San Diego where Tedeschi works as a civilian.

On her very first day Hallow inspected a Coast Guard Jayhawk rescue helicopter, trotted around on Coast Guard rescue boats, met lots of Coast Guard personnel, including the base commanding officer, Capt. Sean Mahoney, attended a meeting (which she napped through) and even went to an awards ceremony.

“Some sounds, like the clapping at the ceremony, still startle her a little bit, but it’s immensely valuable that she is around different sights, sounds and smells so she learns to be calm, which is really important for when she graduates and gets paired with someone,” said Tedeschi, who has trained three other assistance dogs as a volunteer through Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that pairs assistance dogs with people with disabilities.  

Canine Companions pups can be trained to be service dogs, skilled companion dogs, hearing dogs or facility dogs.  Service dogs help adults with mobility issues by opening doors or pulling a wheelchair.  Skilled companion dogs assist adults or kids in social situations and practical tasks.  Hearing dogs can give their hearing-impaired partners a nudge to alert them to things like the doorbell ringing or someone calling their name.  Facility dogs work alongside professionals to motivate and inspire people with special needs in larger settings such as schools, hospitals, rehabilitation clinics and can even go to court to help clients feel calm and secure.

One of the dogs Tedeschi trained has even gone to a disabled Navy veteran.

“As a veteran myself, it’s an honor to have one of the dogs I helped train go to a veteran,” said Tedeschi.  “Canine Companions pairs the dog with the person they are best suited for; sometimes they’re veterans and sometimes they aren’t.

Only about 40 percent of the dogs make it through the full two years of training, and some just are not suited the job, said Tedeschi.

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Not knowing the needs of Hallow’s potential future partner, Tedeschi must expose her to different scenarios.

Something as simple as the ground we walk on can feel very different to a puppy’s toes.  At the base there’s so much for her to experience – stairs, real grass, fake grass, gravel, metal grates, slippery hard tile floors, the rough deck of the boats and the steel surface of the inside of a helicopter.

Once Hallow gets used to her current surroundings, Tedeschi will begin to slowly take her to more public places when she’s about 5-months old, but for now she seems content trotting around the base at Tedeschi’s side.

“It’s such a ‘win-win’ to bring these amazing Canine Companions dogs in contact with amazing Coast Guard members,” Tedeschi said.  “The dogs experience so much — and the people can take a break from serious work to greet a puppy.”

Check back later for an update on Hallow’s progress and learn more about how she got her name.

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