by Belle Johnson
Service dogs can provide comfort and friendship for those who need it most. But behind every service dog is a trainer who takes the time to prepare the dog for their future job. One Troy student is doing just that by volunteering as a puppy raiser with Canine Companions.
Sarah Strozier started her journey as a trainer when she was a junior in high school, working at a day camp for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While working at the camp, Strozier’s sister told her about Canine Companions.
“My sister told me about an organization called Canine Companions that trains and matches individuals living with disabilities with service dogs free of charge, and it caught my attention,” says Strozier, a freshman Political Science major from Olive Branch, Mississippi. “I saw that they are always looking for puppy raisers and decided to put in my application.”
Canine Companions pairs service dogs with children and adults with disabilities, as well as veterans who suffer from PTSD.
“Between my dad being a veteran, learning ASL, and serving at Camp B.O.L.D, I saw raising a future service dog as a great way to give back to the community as well as show my community about a resource open to them” Strozier said. “With that, I received my ‘senior project,’ Vincent V, in October of 2021.”
Strozier started training Vincent when he was eight weeks old. The first thing Vincent learned was basic puppy commands and house manners. Once Vincent had mastered these commands and received his vaccines, Strozier began taking Vincent on simple outings.
“My biggest job training a future service dog is socialization. As soon as Vincent was ‘street legal,’ (received all his puppy vaccines), we started on simple outings to places where all dogs are welcome – Lowe’s, Home Depot, or parks.”
Vincents outings became more difficult as Strozier introduced him to doctors’ appointments, the grocery store, and even Hershey World. When Strozier started at Troy, Vincent came along with her.
“At Troy, Vincent attended classes with me, was my partner in crime at Freshman Forum meetings, and even walked with me as I carried a flag on the football field,” Strozier said.
Vincent finished his basic training while at Troy. On February 10, Vincent attended his graduation, known as matriculation. Strozier was able to show off Vincent’s training progress on his final outing to Disney World.
Vincent is currently in Orlando continuing the next part of his training. This training will determine what type of service dog Vincent will be. Once he finishes, Vincent will meet his forever handler.
“While he is at ‘college’ I can’t visit him, but I will receive reports every month on his progress,” Strozier said. When he graduates, I’ll get to meet his forever handler and pass off Vincent’s leash to them.”
As Vincent finishes his training, Strozier continues her job as a trainer. She has recently been informed she will receive another dog to train very soon. Strozier said anyone interested in being a puppy trainer can find out more information on the Canine Companions website, canine.org.
“I don’t know if I can compile all the reasons service dogs are important,” says Strozier. “Not only do they provide greater independence for their handler, but also a loving companion and loyal friendship.”