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Service dog in training: A look at the program that helps more than 800 people a year in northwest Ohio

WTOL 11 tagged along for a service dog training session to get a closer look at The Ability Center's process of readying a service dog for a future partner's needs.

TOLEDO, Ohio — You often see service dogs helping people do everyday tasks, like going to the mall and running errands. 

But to be able to get to that point, the dogs go through two years of extensive training. 

The Ability Center's canine services manager, Stacie Baumbarger, said during that training, the dogs live with fosters to learn even more than what the program teaches them.

"Those house manners. The things they need every single day in order to learn how to be a dog. So, raising from 8 to 10 weeks all the way up to 2 years when they graduate. We need puppy raisers all the time," Baumbarger said. "We can't do this without the public and our volunteers."

The Ability Center trains and places assistance dogs with people who have disabilities across several counties in northwest Ohio.

WTOL 11 spent Wednesday afternoon with a dog in training from The Ability Center to learn firsthand what they can do and the work that goes into making it happen.

"We start at 8 weeks of age. We do a 4-month, we do an 8-month test. Then every eight weeks we do a test," trainer Kim Holmes said. "This is the third stage of testing for our final training dogs."

Mort is just one of seven dogs ready to serve their new owners.

The training session was all about testing them in a public place, where they can get used to focusing on their owners with lots of distractions.

"This is probably the hardest thing for people to understand," Holmes said. "We do not allow our dogs to greet people and people can be very insulted by it. But if someone comes up and distracts him, he can't work for you."

The dogs are trained to retrieve items for the people they're helping; from finding keys or gloves to even taking their shoes off for them.

Credit: WTOL 11

Patience is also a key lesson for the dogs.

"If we were to drop something that would be dangerous, we don't want them picking it up," Holmes said. "So, we want them to wait until they're cued."

Not every dog that goes through the program has what it takes to become a service dog for someone who needs it. 

But for the ones that do, the two and a half years of training pays off. 

"The biggest thing that most of our consumers have their dogs do is pick up dropped items, open doors, drawers, refrigerators," Baumbarger said. "Really help them be more independent and do the daily tasks that we all take for granted every day that we can do for ourselves."

It's incredibly expensive to get these service dogs ready with food and training to help someone in need.

Baumbarger said The Ability Center is always looking for more fosters to temporarily home one of the more than 70 dogs in the program.

And this May, they'll need to find puppy raisers.

For more information on resources provided by The Ability Center and how you can get involved, click here to visit The Ability Center's website.

Credit: WTOL 11

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