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Pup & Circumstance: Training and Graduation '15

s summer time swiftly approaches, we are amidst graduation season; this year Good Dog! participated in the festivities! On May 30th, Good Dog! Autism Companions held its inaugural graduation at National University in San Diego, CA. We were very fortunate to have been joined by past and present Good Dog! families who came to show their support for our three graduating teams.

Good Dog! alumni Dude came back to say hi - look at those shades!

Master of Ceremonies, Greg Milk, opened the graduation beautifully with a pledge for the audience to recite; each person proudly committed to follow the vows of acceptance espoused by all autism awareness avengers -- with eyes closed and hand over heart -- each repeated the mantra, "I am cool with the unique behavior...I am cool with the unique behavior."

Master of Ceremonies, Greg Milk leads our Good Dog! families and guests in the Autism Awareness Avengers pledge.

With the stage set, founder Laura Sylvester presented the first ever SO Faithful Companion award to Sheryl -- donor, supporter, and friend to Good Dog! Autism Companions.

Walking the stage were our four legged graduates, Good Dogs Koa, Linc, and Fred 'Courage' Rogers, joined by their two legged handlers Lisa, Tony, and Deanna. The ceremonious passing of Koa, Linc, and Courage from trainer to parent handler marked the official beginning of their new lives as autism service dogs. Graduations typically signify the successful completion of designated coursework, however, a Good Dog! graduation signifies much more. A Good Dog! graduation not only signifies the dogs’ successful completion of training, but also the dogs’ entrance into their new families -- or "packs" as we sometimes like to call them. The ceremony was preceded by five days of intense team training in Encinitas; this was the first time our graduating teams were formally introduced to one another. It was a jam packed week for the Good Dog! instructor team of Sam and Rick, and for our students.

Team Training director, Rick, hands Koa over to his forever Mom, Lisa, on day one of team training.

In addition to an official graduation ceremony, team training week is also a new addition to the Good Dog! program. Good Dog! was founded in 2011 by two parents with the passion to use service dogs as a means to aid children with ASD in making this world their own. When the pair founded our organization, neither one had considered hosting a classroom style team training and graduation ceremony; rather they brought the service dogs directly to our families and performed handler training in their homes. Four years later, Good Dog! has really grown from an organization into a big family/pack. To better accommodate the needs of the pack, Laura and Rick implemented team training and graduation week.

“As we evolved we realized it would be much more effective to teach the parent who would be the handler, in a setting away from home. Thus, Team Training Week was born!” - Laura Sylvester
Good Dog! Lead Trainer, Sam, giving her favorite lecture-- grooming!

Team training plays an integral role in fostering the necessary bonds between our service dogs and their new families. The group setting and location of team training allows our student/parent handlers to focus entirely on building the bond with their new family member while also having close access to Laura, Rick, and Sam -- who are also highly focused at his time on student success in all aspect of dog handling. In addition, team training eases the transition for our dogs once they are brought home and introduced to their child companions; rather than entering an entirely unfamiliar home, the dog has been well acquainted with the parent handler. This allows for the focus to be placed on forming a friendship between service dog and child.

Team training: even potty breaks are training opportunities!

So now that a classroom style training has been implemented, what does the future of Good Dog training look like? Moving forward Laura would like to see our Good Dog! team hosting two team training sessions and graduations per year; she ensures all of our past, present, and future Good Dog! families that our graduation ceremonies will continue to be a safe and non-judgemental place for the autism community. A place where the unique behaviors are, indeed, cool.

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