Photos by C. Whitney-Ward

MEET HOMER.  He's a happy and healthy seven-month old Labradoodle.
He romps, wags his tail and charms. But, don't let his innocent demeanor fool you, Homer is a serious scholar, learning the ropes of being a kind, smart and intuitive assistance dog.

Eleven-year old Hailey, a student at Rio Grande School,  is one of Homer's student trainers and they have formed a very special relationship. Both Hailey & Homer are enrolled in a unique, non-profit organization - Assistance Dogs of the West. ADW works with over 250 students each year and 12-15 hand-picked puppy/dogs. The end result - beautifully-trained assistance dogs that are partnered with clients with disabilities and special challenges.

I asked Homer if he would share some of his experiences with us:

Q. How old were you when you started the program?
H. Puppies usually start in ADW at 8 weeks (I started at 10 weeks) and are in class for 18-24 months.

Q. What is the training like?
H. It's fun , but it's a lot of work. Were really being trained 24/7. Before we graduate we have to learn a 100 commands.  But Hailey's real patient.

We even learn different ways to "sleep" depending on our clients needs - on the floor, in a crate, or on the bed. But if we sleep on the bed, we learn to be gentle.

Q. What do you like best about your training?
H. I love the positive attention that I get and  the treats, especially when I get it right!

Q. What's the most difficult part of your training?
H. Learning to stay still. It's tough on a puppy, but I'm learning.

Q. Will you miss Hailey when you graduate?
H. Yes!!!! She's quiet and sweet and has very "soft" hands. And she's intuitive; when a situation changes, she is quick to see it and help me do the right thing. Hailey is a great trainer for young dogs.


ADW Graduation 2011
May 19th - 6pm
Santa Fe Convention Center
Tickets: 505.988.1234

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