One Purdue staff member gets to bring her dog to work every day, a privilege most dog lovers can only hope for.
Access consultant Lisa Yates and her golden retriever puppy, Olie, work at the Disability Resource Center, where Olie is in training to be Yate’s potential guide dog. Yates works with the under-a-year-old canine to help him become used to all kinds of environments, which means a dog bed permanently occupies a corner of her eighth-floor office in Young Hall and other staff members are treated to plenty of time with the puppy.
“I love him, and he’s my best friend,” office assistant Katie Broad said. “He likes to poke his head in the office all the time. ... He’s just a good boy.”
This is Yates first time training a guide dog, however, she has owned a service animal before, a late 15-year-old black labrador named Nellie.
The work involved in training up a service animal is not insignificant. Weekly milestones dictate when Olie should know how to sit, stand and react to a variety of commands.
The world of service dogs — the umbrella term under which guide dogs fall — involves extensive training, dedicated handlers and, of course, plenty of play time for the puppies involved.
“My last guide dog didn’t know how to play,” Yates said. “It was really weird.”
She recounted how Nellie could play with humans for hours but wasn’t receptive to being with other dogs. After a weeklong vacation in Hawaii, however, Yates came back to find Nellie playfully interacting with her other dogs at home.
“When I came home she had learned, and she was playing with my dogs in the backyard and I started crying. It was a beautiful sight,” Yates said.
A seasoned guide dog like Nellie begins training practically at birth, as most dogs are sent off at a year old to start formal guide dog training. Service dogs can grow up to be guides to help sight- or hearing-impaired people, provide emotional support, or aid those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Fewer than five Purdue students have guide dogs registered with the DRC, but nearly 30 have emotional support animals, which are becoming more widespread.
Training dogs enjoy the same privileges as all full-fledged service dogs, since they are meant to become acclimated to the stressful environments that impaired owners face every day. Becoming used to those environments involves completing weekly goals that can range from simple sitting and standing to responding to more complex commands like “curb” or “grass,” which guide owners to safe territory.
Yates said Nellie had been so well-trained that she once refused to allow Yates to properly cross the street where the sidewalk was obstructed by scaffolding. In a choice referred to as “intelligent disobedience,” Nellie kept Yates from crossing because doing so meant she would have had to step into the road around the blocked sidewalk.
The golden retriever puppy Yates is now training still has a lot to learn, but the access counselor is optimistic.
“I hope that he can be as good of a guide dog as Nellie was,” Yates said, as Olie rolled over during his nap on her office rug.