The new Animal Planet series turns strays into service dogs.
Sit. Stay. Fetch my cane. Call the elevator.
Turns out, you can teach an old dog plenty of new tricks – which can be life-changing for someone living with a disability.
And a new Animal Planet series is taking this tail-wagging premise one step further by not only helping humans in need, but also saving shelter dogs in the process. “Rescue Dog to Super Dog,” which premieres Saturday at 10 p.m., pairs 12 people living with physical, mental or neurological disabilities with 12 hounds hungry for forever homes. Grab some tissues.
“We’re blessed with this opportunity to be able to help these people, and at the same time rescue these incredible dogs, that in turn save their people,” said Nate Schoemer, professional dog trainer and cohost with fellow dog whisperer Laura London.
The dynamic duo visited Moneyish with some adoptable pups from The Sato Project, which rescues abandoned and abused dogs from Puerto Rico and brings them to the U.S. to be adopted into forever homes, which starts at about $1,000 per pup.
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans are living with a disability, according to the most recent Census data. And the ASPCA estimates that approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year – and tragically, 1.5 million are euthanized.
So these shelters are an incredible resource for finding potential service dogs – and giving these pups and their owners a new leash on life. “That’s where you can find great, loving adult dogs, who have already gone through the drama of puppyhood, so you can see whether they have the attitude and the aptitude to train,” said London.
Just a few of the 130+ sweet older satos we recently pulled from local shelters in Puerto Rico where they were slated for euthanasia. Instead of that sad fate, their forever families await them on the other end of #MissionPossible8. Your gift will help us cover the costs of veterinary and boarding care for these dogs to prepare them for their new lives (link in our bio). Please tag someone who saved the life of a #seniordog! #adoptapet #satostrong #sato #dogslife #dogsofinstagram
Because these canines have to work like dogs if they want to become service animals. Training can take up to two years. And 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit that places services dogs with children with disabilities, found it costs between $40,000 and $60,000 to raise, train and certify a service dog.
But on “Rescue Dog to Super Dog,” London and Schoemer kindly work with owners and their canine companions for free for three months, just to work toward becoming a service dog in training.
So what do you look for in a potential service dog – or even just a regular pup that you’d like to teach a few handy tricks?
“You want to make sure the dog is friendly, comes up to you and wants to engage,” said Schoemer. “They’re motivated by food and motivated by toys, which helps with reward training and obedience. We don’t want them reacting to other dogs, and we don’t want any aggression.”
The series shows good dogs learning to lend a helping paw by turning on light switches, pushing elevator buttons, dragging laundry baskets down a hall, fetching canes or serving as actual walkers for humans with motor impairments to hold onto.
This service pitbull protecting his owner's head when she has a seizure makes me love animals even more than I already did: pic.twitter.com/Ub7NtNJH2R
— Rebecca Brown (@Rebecca_NYC) August 9, 2017
Some pups are even taught to recognize symptoms of depression in their humans – like if the owner curls up in a fetal position on the couch. Those dogs learn to comfort their person, or fetch their own leash to get their owner to take them outside, which can boost mood.
“The way it works is, we take these things that seem really huge (like dragging a basket of laundry down the hall) and break them down into small tasks,” explained London. “We do a lot of targeting behavior, like getting the dog to look at something they are going to be dragging or pushing or pulling first, and then rewarding them whenever they look at it. Then we get them to walk closer to it. Then pull it. Everything gets broken down into tiny steps, and then you put it all together.”
And Schoemer’s hack for getting your dog to do what you want: Remember that his nose is always going in the opposite direction of his tail.
“If you want the dog to sit, lift the food up,” he said. “If you want the dog to lay down, bring the food to the ground. Want the dog to focus on your face, bring the food to your face. And always reward the dog when he does the desired behavior.”
Kalani rescued his dog Bas. Or was it the other way around? Rescue Dog to Super Dog premieres this Saturday! pic.twitter.com/XjUR3HG3Y0
— AnimalPlanet (@AnimalPlanet) August 8, 2017
Now that you know how hard these service animals are training, make sure you don’t distract them from their jobs by petting or approaching them on the street without asking the owner first. In fact, many service dogs will wear vests that say, “Please don’t pet me – I’m working.”
“Just go up and say, ‘That’s a beautiful dog. Can I pet your dog?’” said London. “But what’s not polite is asking, ‘What’s your disability?’ or ‘What does your dog do for you?’ Just keep walking.”
“Rescue Dog to Super Dog” airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. EST on Animal Planet.
© 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved