ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – National Make a Friend Day doubled as training for the newest pups at K9s for Warriors.
Their training includes three phases: learning foundations, impulse training and polishing. On Tuesday, the service dogs-in-training met students from Fletcher High School’s Interact Club to focus on the impulse phase.
“Really important for public access because it’s about impulse control. Dogs are, generally, naturally friendly. They want to go interact with people. So this particular cue is to make it so that they aren’t just going to say ‘hi’ all the time," said Michele Tate, K9s for Warriors’ lead dog trainer. "So if we put a little bit of obedience on it, it makes it much easier for them to know when they can do it and when it’s not appropriate.”
"Make a Friend” is a cue that the dogs are taught so they know when and whom they are allowed to greet while in “working” mode. The students got to “make a friend” while also understanding the important role that these animals play for veterans and their families.
“The ‘Make a Friend’ portion was really awesome because we attend a lot of graduations, but we can’t really interact with the dog and the trainers as much,” said Grace Loyd, a member of Fletcher High’s Interact Club. “So being able to come here today and pet the dogs and see how well trained they are was really a great experience."
The school’s Interact Club has been holding fundraisers for K9s for Warriors since 2014 and has helped sponsor 15 dogs.
“We’ve always had a knowledge of what impact service dogs have on the lives of veterans, but today, we got the opportunity to really see how the dogs are trained, what the trainers lives are like as they get to train these dogs,” said Parker Rossingnol, a member of the Fletcher High’s Interact Club.
While petting the service dogs-in-training was part of a special event, the organization reminds people that it’s important to not touch service dogs without getting a handler’s permission.
“Your natural impulse is to just pet a dog. They’re friendly. They’re nice. But it’s important to remember that the dogs are here to mitigate a disability," Tate said. “So it’s important to wait for that handler to cue you to meet the dog so that we can make sure both the handler and the dog are in the right frame of mind to be having so much fun.”
It’s safe to say many friends were made during this special training.