This fall, the University of Minnesota teamed up with Can Do Canines and other partners to create the housing community FETCH, which stands for Fostering Education and Training Canines in Housing. In colloquial terms, that means eight pre-veterinarian students got to live and train service dogs for the full year, socializing them with everyday life and strengthening basic obedience and assisting skills. Read more about the FETCH program here.
This spring, Animal Science freshman Monika Bromschwig was one of the student handlers for Watson, a yellow labrador. When the red service dog cape is on, Watson is primed and ready to listen to Bromschwig’s next command. FETCH isn’t Watson’s first training phase, and it isn’t his last; overall, it takes about two years to fully train a Can Do Canine service dog.
The biggest part of the training done in the FETCH program is socialization. Dogs are taught basic commands such as sit and shake (and high-five, clearly), but the intent of the program is to get them used to different environments and people. Bromschwig takes Watson on walks around campus and to class as much as possible to get him used to the world around him.
To get ready for the FETCH program, a fenced-in yard area was built around Bailey Hall for the dogs to run around off-leash. While the dogs are serious and focused when they’re working, when the red cape comes off, they’re just regular dogs (who happen to have great obedience skills).
One of the special commands Watson knows is leash, where he will pick up his leash and give it to Bromschwig so she doesn’t have to bend down to get it. Although his red service dog cape is off, it’s important Watson know these commands to help his future owner no matter the situation. By the time the spring semester is finished, Watson will move onto his next stage of training at Can Do Canines to train more and specialize in mobility, autism, deaf, diabetes, and seizure assistance before being matched up with his new owner.
Two-year-old Goldador Yorick is in his final stages of training at Can Do Canines and is a pro at tasks such as pulling open doors and pushing elevator buttons. He is participating in the same training program Watson will begin when he leaves the FETCH program. Prior to coming to his final training, Yorick was in Can-Do Canines’ prison program and completed his basic training and socialization in a women’s prison.
Yorick also learned how to help with household tasks such as pulling a laundry basket around a room and following his trainer, Shenna Lemche.
For people who may not be able to move around as easily, Yorick has learned how to gently grab objects such as phone or a remote control and bring them over.
In the next few weeks, Yorick will leave Can-Do Canines in the next few weeks to become a full-time service dog for a client in a wheelchair, so they’re perfecting his heel command now. Can Do Canine’s goal is to match up more than 50 clients and dogs this year.