PRINCETON, Mass. - This week is International Assistance Dog Week, and one local organization is showcasing the special bond their dogs have with trainers and clients.
Meghan O'Brien, a trainer at NEADS World Class Service Dogs, wanted to become a dog trainer because it combines two of her favorite things: working with animals and helping people.
One treat at a time, she's helping Buckley, a service dog in training, learn the skills it takes to make a difference in someone's life.
"He is a very sweet boy, he’s a little bit more laid back than some of our other dogs," O'Brien said. "Some of our dogs can be super energetic, but he’s kind of just a more mellow guy."
Buckley might seem like a lazy dog, but don't let him fool you - he's actually very talented. During our visit to NEADS, O'Brien showcased his skills, which included turning on lights, opening a refrigerator, opening doors and more.
He's only partway through his training, but Buckley is starting to get the hang of the routine. It's important for O'Brien to make sure he's dependable before he goes on to serve a client with a physical or intellectual disability.
“They provide a lot of our clients with independence, things that they didn’t have before," O'Brien said. "They find the dogs can provide them with a lot of confidence. We just had a client on campus who was talking about how before she had her service dog, she didn’t leave her house very often because the act of closing her front door is very difficult."
And the training program at NEADS covers plenty of ground. Audrey Trieschman, NEADS director of communications, said dogs train for two years, and at the end of it, clients come to campus for a weeklong training of their own before bringing their new companion home.
"They’ve had obedience work, task work, they’ve also been out in public and socialized and exposed to all sorts of environments," Treischman said. "They’re rock solid in performing in chaotic hospitals or classrooms with kids running around all over the place or courtrooms where there’s a lot of tension. These dogs can be relied on to perform consistently no matter what the situation."
All the time spent between a trainer and a dog in training builds a bond that's hard to break, but whenever Buckley walks out that door, O'Brien knows it's for the best.
“It’s bittersweet, probably a little bit more sweet because you see the hard work that you put into these dogs, and the difference they’ve grown over the course of their training," O'Brien said. "You see the difference that they’re making in the lives of the people they help. It’s a pretty great thing to experience, but it can be hard saying goodbye because they’re hard dogs not to love.”
If you want to learn more about Buckley, NEADS has created a Week in the Life series for International Assistance Dog Week. You can find those videos and more information about upcoming NEADS events and fundraisers on the organization's website.