CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — On a quiet, scenic ranch in central Utah’s Grass Valley, the certified trainers at Big Dog Academy are working to build unbreakable bonds between dogs and owners. They train service dogs along with emotional support animals for a variety of needs.
“Training a service dog is an intense program and takes a lot of time,” trainer Wayne Ogden said. “This is a commitment for both you and for us, as well as the dogs.”
One such owner is St. George resident Delaney Forsyth, who has epilepsy and can experience as many as 20-30 seizures in a month, sometimes as many as five or more a day. Earlier this year, she obtained an collie-heeler mix named Juice and contacted Big Dog Academy about enrolling him in service dog training.
Ogden said Juice underwent an evaluation and completed six weeks of pre-training in the winter. Afterward, he returned to Forsyth’s home for a month so they could continue bonding. Now almost 6 months old, he’s back at Big Dog Academy for the next phase of his program.
“He’s just a puppy and is a long way from being an accredited service dog, but he’s already helping her,” Ogden said.
Along with providing potentially lifesaving assistance, service dogs also lend a comforting paw to people with epilepsy and other medical conditions, as Forsyth said she discovered.
He did so amazing during my first seizure. At first he watched the convulsions really well; he watched my face and my hands and feet very closely. He was watching my mom and my sister move me around and he was scared at first, but he didn’t want to be away from me so he laid right against my back all stretched out.
He just stayed right there until I came out and never moved. When I started to come back more and more, I was able to turn over and he was there… He never licks but he was licking my hands to let me know he was with me!
Service dogs can be trained to do a variety of tasks for people with epilepsy, including barking to alert caregivers when a seizure occurs, moving to protect the person having a seizure or activating an alarm. The process takes anywhere from 8-14 months.
While training, dogs spend part of their time at Big Dog Academy and some time at home with their owner. Ogden said they receive plenty of opportunities to socialize with other dogs and people, getting accustomed to all the sights, sounds and smells of the real world.
All service dog training at Big Dog Academy is overseen by Ogden, who holds a 4,000-hour certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor. He has personally trained 13 service dogs from beginning to end and helped train hundreds more during his career.
Big Dog Academy trains medical service dogs for people with autism, diabetes, epilepsy and hearing loss. They also train dogs for therapy work and emotional support. Ogden said that while many clients start with puppies, older dogs can also be trained to provide assistance.
However, not all dogs are cut out for the program. Ogden said about 80% successfully complete training, adding that the ones who fail aren’t “bad” dogs; they just don’t have the aptitude for service work.
Ogden said Big Dog Academy is a more financially attainable alternative to other service dog programs that sell the dogs along with the training. Many of those organizations have a waiting list years long and may charge several thousand dollars.
Along with service dog training, Big Dog Academy offers 30-day customizable boarding and basic training or puppy training packages. The unique training facility encompasses several hundred acres along with a massive indoor boarding kennel. Dogs are picked up and delivered back home at no cost in the Utah, Nevada and Colorado region.
The certified trainers at Big Dog Academy follow love-based and praise-based instruction methods to develop obedience fundamentals, as well as addressing deeper behavioral issues like aggression. Dogs receive exercise, entertainment, socialization and play along with training at the ranch. They’re kept busy from sunrise to sundown.
Whether clients are looking for intensive service training or just to help their pooch become a better pet, Big Dog Academy is dog training made easy with one-of-a-kind programs.
“We’re very patient and understanding with both the client and the dog,” Ogden said. “We’re eager to do whatever we can for whoever we can.”
Written by ALEXA MORGAN for St. George News.
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