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Eaton Goes to College

Canine Companions train years to give people independence

When Bay Weekly last checked in on Canine Companions for Independence trainee Eaton, the golden retriever/Lab mix had just stepped on the path to becoming a service dog. Paired with first-time puppy trainers Emerson and Donna Davis, Eaton spent 18 months getting socialized and learning obedience [www.bayweekly. com/articles/features/article/good-dogs].
    Eaton left his Arnold home with the Davises for Puppy College at the nationwide nonprofit’s main campus in New York. The canine class of 2013 soon divided into four specialized training groups. Service Dogs help physically disabled people with daily activities. Facility Dogs become visitation, education and health care ambassadors. Skilled Companions help people with developmental problems find a degree of independence.
    Eaton headed down the fourth path. His motivation to work for a food reward, interest in interactive games and natural confidence made him perfect for training as a Hearing Dog. That school is in Santa Rosa, California, where Canine Companions for Independence is based.
    Dogs there first learn to “nudge the handler’s leg with their nose,” instructor Ken Reid explained. “We call that the alert. We next train the dog to then locate the source of the sound when the handler says what?”
    If Eaton passes basic training — remaining focused no matter what the distraction — he’ll be paired with a hearing-impaired human. The pair will go to school together until they work smoothly as a unit.
    Deaf mothers can train their dogs to alert them when the baby cries; students can teach their dogs to alert them when their name is called.
    “For me this added sense of security is no small thing,” says Cara Miller of the Capital Chapter of her hearing dog. “With Maya by my side, I feel an incredible sense of pride, good fortune and self-efficacy.”
    The Davises track Eaton’s progress with monthly report cards. When Eaton and his partner graduate, the Davises will travel across country to join the celebration. They hope they’ll be able to take their new charge, 12-week-old puppy-in-training Yen.
    Support the program, meet graduates or volunteer to raise a puppy like Eaton at Canine Companions for Independence annual Sails and Tails Fundraiser — a spectacular event of wine and chocolate tastings: Sunday, April 21, 1-5pm
at the Annapolis Marriott. $75: