The DA has created a new multimedia series called "Helping Paws," which releases on Feb. 6. It will go behind the scenes of service dog training, testing and eventual assignment by Hearts of Gold, a service dog training program at WVU.
In this Q&A, the DA's Kayla Gagnon sat down with Savannah Connelly, a Hearts of Gold assistant trainer, about training and working with service dogs.
The DA: How long have the dogs been in training?
Connelly: [We try to] get them as early as we can get them; we try to get them at 10 to 12 weeks. So it just depends, but it takes about two years for the training from start to finish.
The DA: What are the qualities of a good service dog?
Connelly: The big one is temperament, so they have to be calm, cool and collected in pretty much any situation. We look for a dog that’s friendly, but not spastic. The biggest one is just that they have to be chill. A desire to please and trainability is always good, but you can train anything. You can’t teach chillness.
The DA: Why are some dogs unable to become service dogs?
Connelly: The national average for success for a service dog organization is about 30%. We’re right along with that. The reasons a dog would fail, one of the biggest ones is that they’re too friendly. A service dog can’t solicit attention. Fear is another issue, so if they’re afraid of something, they can’t be a service dog. Just because you never know if they’re going to be exposed to it. Obviously any health issues would automatically disqualify them.
The DA: Where are the dogs usually assigned if they pass?
Connelly: We’ve placed all over, I mean most of our dogs are focused in this area, but we have dogs in Puerto Rico, Nevada, Tennessee and California, pretty much all over. We still get to see them, and they go to their people.