SANTA ROSA, California – It’s easy to let social distancing slip your mind when you see an adorable dog helping their handler with a disability. In the “before” times, well-meaning strangers have pet, talked to, tried to feed or gazed longingly at working service dogs, potentially distracting the dog. However, in this new Covid-19 era, social distancing can be more important for people with disabilities who may have vulnerable immune systems.
Canine Companions service dogs are professionally trained in 40 commands to enhance independence for people with disabilities, including the “shake” command – a way for members of the public to meet a working service dog in an appropriate manner by allowing the handler to direct the dog to offer its paw. With changing needs due to the pandemic, Canine Companions innovatively changed how they train service dogs to interact with the public.
“People still want to meet our clients’ working service dogs, but ‘shake’ was impossible due to social distancing and could even pose a risk to the handler’s health,” says Canine Companions Director of Training and Client Services Sarah Birman. “We pivoted to the ‘say hi’ command and are now training all of our service dogs to wave at new friends from a safe distance.”
Despite the challenges of a pandemic, Canine Companions has placed more than 200 service dogs this year nationwide through carefully distanced, small classes with hospital-level sanitation protocols.
“It has been really helpful for Service Dog Renata to know how to wave,” says client Wallis Brozman. “That short interaction allows me to connect with the world safely. I can tell people are smiling under their masks.”
Founded in 1975, Canine Companions created the concept of training dogs to help people with physical disabilities and is a founding and accredited member of Assistance Dogs International. They’ve placed over 6,600 expertly trained service dogs entirely free of charge and have teams working in all 50 states. As the industry leader, Canine Companions has found innovative ways to further independence through highly skilled service dogs.
Are you social distancing with your service dog or pet? Share a photo of your social distancing pet or service dog during September’s National Service Dog Month and tag Canine Companions on Instagram*, Twitter* and Facebook*. Be sure to use the hashtag #sayhichallenge on social media. Learn more about Canine Companions at cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.
*Please be aware that by clicking the links above you are visiting sites that are not managed by Canine Companions. Website security, accessibility and privacy policies may be different than Canine Companions policies. Please read their policies closely.