Puppies and patients, learning together

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four black lab puppies
Future service dogs Rayna, River, Ryder and Roxy

Cuteness alert!!

A group of 8-week-old Labrador retrievers visited the Oregon State Hospital (OSH) last week, romping and wiggling as only puppies can do. The visit was part of the hospital’s partnership with Joys of Living Assistance Dogs (JLAD).

The Salem-based nonprofit trains and places service dogs in the community, and since 2018 has worked with OSH to provide patients the opportunity to work as dog trainers, preparing eager pups for service positions with humans who need them.

These visits allow the young pups to socialize and help develop their senses – a skill necessary for them to distinguish changes in their human’s body chemistry and environment (see video below).

Currently, three OSH patients are working with JLAD dogs to prepare them for their service dog certification. The dog training program is one of several options that offer job training and wages to OSH patients. Patients apply and interview for the jobs, just as they would in the community.

A woman holding a golden retriever puppy.

Ashley Rokusek, OSH manual arts instructor, with tuckered out service dog candidate “Quinto.”

“We focus on transferable skills and developing essential skills that will help people be successful in the community,” said Doug Anderson, OSH director of Vocational, Educational, Spiritual Care, Peer Recovery and Native Services. “That includes showing up on time, being part of a team and dealing with the challenges of working on a team, problem solving and effective communication.”

Two JLAD dogs are currently wrapping up their training at OSH – Magic, a 9-month-old Labrador retriever, and 14-month-old Jasper, a golden retriever/Labrador mix.

By the time Magic and Jasper complete their training they’ll each learn more than 90 training cues and behaviors to provide mobility and PTSD help to their human. Training tasks range from pushing door buttons, seeking help from other humans, fetching meds, interrupting nightmares and picking items off the floor. 

“For the hospital patients, there is a lot of accountability if the dog is not successful in an exercise,” said Michaella Morris, certified dog trainer and OSH training and development specialist. “For example, the patient has to think about what they can change or do in that moment to help the dog understand the exercise and be successful. The program teaches them how to problem solve and get the dog ready for certification. Patients develop goals for the training. It translates to their own goals of recovery and the steps they need to take in their recovery.”

“The hospital supports hope and recovery,” Morris said. “These dogs are providing hope and recovery to someone in the community.”