service dog

A service dog’s dental school journey

For the past 70 years, the Guide Dog Foundation has trained guide dogs for people who are visually impaired. The foundation partners with college students around the country who volunteer their time, raising these dogs until they are a year and a half old, teaching them basic obedience and commands, before they return to the foundation headquarters in New York for further training. In 2019, Daisy was the first dog to be trained at a dental school.

Daisy’s training began when she was 8 weeks old, learning easy commands such as “sit,” “stay” and “down,” as well as how to behave in public places. Georgia law permits service dogs-in-training to have the same public access rights as fully trained service dogs, allowing Daisy to attend class at the dental school and go to places such as malls and restaurants. As she progressed through her training, Daisy began to learn more complicated commands, including “heel” and “come,” as well as how to navigate stores without being distracted. Now, at almost 1-year-old, Daisy is working hard to follow directions without interruption, finishing up her final steps of training before going to New York for further training.

Once in New York, Daisy will work with a professional trainer to learn advanced commands that will allow her to assist someone who is visually impaired. Daisy will learn how to stop at curbs, listen for traffic and prevent her owner from crossing into a busy street. This will allow her to safely guide her owner to and from work or school, around busy stores and through city streets. Once her advanced training is complete, Daisy will be matched with a visually impaired person in need of a guide dog, and their journey together will begin.

Being raised at a dental school has given Daisy a unique experience when compared to other service dogs in training. Each day, Daisy and I head to class where she practices being quiet while professors are lecturing. This training will allow her to settle down for potentially long hours with her future handler at a job. In addition, the common areas of the school provide the chance to work on ignoring loud noises and tasty food, and remaining calm while interacting with large groups of students. One day, Daisy will have to walk down city streets and through restaurants without being distracted in order to get her handler where they need to go.

Daisy is not only learning and practicing her commands in a busy environment, but she also serves as a therapy dog for stressed dental students. She helps comfort them after exams, reassure them when classwork is tough and love on them when they have had a tough day. Many of my classmates have shared that Daisy has helped them to feel more comfortable at school and get excited about attending class. While balancing training a dog full-time with the workload of dental school can be difficult, knowing how Daisy is going to change someone’s life one day makes it worth it.

~Lara Way, Georgia ’22

Lara Way

Lara Way is a second-year dental student at the Dental College of Georgia. She attended Augusta University for her undergraduate degree and ran cross country and track. She currently serves as the District 4 Community Service Chair and volunteers with the Guide Dog Foundation to help train service dogs for people who are visually impaired.

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