St. Ambrose University has another furry friend making its debut on campus. Meet Lassen, your average 3-month-old Golden Retriever puppy, but unlike other dogs, he is training for a very special purpose.
Lassen is the newest addition to SAU’s Service Dog Training and Education Program, or as known on campus as STEP. The club partners with the nonprofit organization K9 Companions for Independence, which provides service dogs to their recipients for free. Lassen’s primary puppy raisers are Erin Antonson and Mel Garcia.
“As a puppy raiser, we get to have the dog from the time they are eight weeks old to the time they are 18-months old,” said Puppy Raiser and STEP Co-President Mel Garcia. “Then we turn them in for personal training.”
A lot goes into training these dogs, and the process is just beginning for Lassen.
“Lassen is doing really well with his training,” Garcia said. “He is very mellow for being 14-weeks old, except for the normal puppy energy.”
Lassen has been working very hard on sitting, laying down and getting used to wearing his service dog vest.
“We try to desensitize them as early as possible, so they get used to wearing it,” Garcia said.
Students get the opportunity to meet the STEP dog while they are being trained. Garcia says students are always excited to see them walking around campus.
“My favorite part is going out into the Ambrose community and educating other students,” Garcia said. “We really focus on making sure the whole Ambrose community knows what’s going on with our dogs.”
STEP is open to all students interested, and there are different roles to choose from when joining the club – babysitter, handler and puppy raiser.
Babysitters are with the dogs two to three hours a week and can help out on the weekends if they are feeling stressed out and just need some puppy playtime. Handlers work on a team with a dog and are the ones who train them. They work on basic obedience commands like sit, stay and lay down. Lastly, Puppy Raisers have the dogs live in their dorms with them and they are responsible for providing all the things the dog might need. For example, food, leashes, and collars.