Training dogs to serve others
Story and photos by Ken Locke
Service dogs have become a common sight, but few are aware of the time and training it takes to prepare a dog for this work. A mother in Meriden and her daughter are directly involved in this endeavor.
Jenna Petesch, a graduate of Jefferson West High School, works for KSDS Inc. Assistance Dogs in Washington, Kan. They train assistance dogs for the visually impaired and physically disabled individuals.
Her mother, Kirsti Petesch, is a puppy raiser for the program. The puppy raisers take puppies, socialize them and teach them basic and intermediate obedience to prepare them for the later, more intense training for their final assignment.
Kirsti will have the puppy for about 1 1/2 to 2 years to prepare him. This is her first experience as a puppy raiser. The dog she has been given to work with is a neutered male golden retriever named Spence.
She has taken him to several different events at Jefferson West High School, including a concert and a basketball game.
Her son, Marshall, is a student at JWHS and has taken Spence to school with him several times. The school has been very supportive. Before he took Spence the first time, the school announced there would be a puppy in training being brought to school and to feel free to watch, but let him work and don’t try to pet him or otherwise distract him. It was a valuable experience for both the students and the puppy.
Jenna has a long history of working with dogs. She was in 4-H in Meriden and her prime activity was her dog project. She started when she was 8 years old, and by the time she was 10 she went to state with dogs. She won several awards from 4-H for her work with dogs over the years.
After graduating from JWHS, she attended Kansas State University and earned a degree in animal science production management. She felt very fortunate when soon after graduation she found work with KSDS. She has been with them for about a year and a half.
Jenna is shown with a young female lab named Java that they hope will be used as a breeding dog. To be used for breeding, the dog goes through more extensive health testing than service dogs to assure that the best animals for health and bone structure will be used to provide future service dogs.
After the dogs leave the puppy raiser, they go through extensive training for the service for which they will be performing. This adds another four months to a year—with guide dogs for the visually impaired it runs usually six months to a year.
Guide dogs for the visually impaired are what most people think of when service dogs are discussed, however there are other needs as well. Service dogs are specially trained to help people with physical disabilities. The third group trained by KSDS is social dogs, which are trained to work with professional people in areas such as education, rehabilitation, retirement and more.
Dog recipients come to KSDS to get acquainted with their dog and to be trained to work together. This typically runs three weeks for guide dogs and less for service and social dogs. There is a waiting list and individuals requiring an assistance dog need to apply and explain their need.
The dogs are provided free of charge, and food is provided to KSDS and the dog owners by Hills. For those who would like to help keep this service going, donations or information can be sent to KSDS, 124 W. 7th Street, Washington, KS 66968. You can email them at email@example.com.
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