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Location: San Jose, California, United States

Thursday, June 23, 2005

My Team Training Experience

My journey to getting a service dog started a few years ago with written applications, phone interviews and an in-person interview. Then I was put on a waiting list to get a dog and go to a two week Team Training (TT) in Santa Rosa. I got the call in March to let me know that there was an opening for me to come to TT in May. It was an honor to be chosen to come. Many hours and much money was put into the training and care of these dogs. At 8 weeks of age, the puppies are shipped to a person or family who raises, trains and cares for the puppy until he or she is 18 months. Then the puppy is shipped to the organization for advanced training which lasts about six months. I have many friends who have service dogs from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), so I had an idea of what to expect. Though it turned out to be easier than I thought it would.
I got there and immediately found that a friend of mine was at TT getting her second dog. There were ten people getting dogs. We were split into two classes. There were five in each. One class consisted of people getting a Skilled Companion dog, which is where the dog is given to a person, but a facilitator, usually a parent, is the one who cares for and handles the dog. The other class was for service teams, where it was just the recipient and the dog. During the two weeks, I became really good friends with many of the people there. By the end of the two weeks, it was like I was leaving family.
Each day consisted of lectures and hands-on practice of the commands and take-home quizzes. The first two days, we rotated dogs to find what would be the best match. Our instructors chose which dogs would be matched with which person based on need, life-style, personality, etc. The third day we were matched with a dog that probably worked, though we knew it could change. Thankfully we stayed with the dogs with which we were matched. After the first few days of basic commands and handling skills, we were ready to hit the real world. We went out in the community to practice our handling and commands. We went out to lunch, went to a hardware store, a pet store and a mall. At the end of the first week, we took our dogs to the dorm with us and were responsible for the complete care of the dog. The last two days consisted of taking a written exam, a public safety exam, going to a vet check and one-on-one appointments with our instructors. If both the written and public exams were passed, we were officially certified as a team.
We also got a chance to meet the person(s) who raised our dog from the age of 8 weeks to about 18 months. I really enjoyed meeting the people who worked with my dog, Jaba, as a puppy. These people were the ones who handed me the Jaba's leash at graduation, officially making him mine. That graduation experience was really special for all of us there.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at TT. All the staff at CCI were very friendly and eager about having a chance to meet people receiving dogs. All were willing to help make our stay at the CCI dorms as comfortable and hassle-free as possible. Our trainers were very helpful and fun. I enjoyed going to class and working with them, the dogs and my classmates. Although it was a little tiring at times, I felt the whole experience was set up well. I felt at home by the end of the two weeks and it was hard to say good-bye to the friends I had made. This website was designed as a way for us to keep in touch and let others see how Jaba and I are doing.

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