There’s a lot for a dog to love at Riverdale Country School in the spring: squirrels, birds, Frisbees, kids who want to run and play on the Quad.
Goldie, an 18-month-old golden retriever, is no exception. She loves being outside too. But an important job awaits her, one that requires extraordinary self-control, social and emotional intelligence, and focus.
Goldie is training to be a service dog with Jenn Berger, a Riverdale senior and certified service-dog trainer. For her month-long senior independent project, Jenn is training service dogs, teaching them to remain calm in a noisy and hectic environment and studying different training methods.
As part of Jenn’s project, she is investigating training for the specialized work that the service dogs perform. They work with a variety of clients: people with physical disabilities, children with autism, veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, people who suffer from sleep apnea. Some dogs work in institutional environments, such as nursing homes and hospitals. They are not trained to be guide dogs for visually impaired people.
The dogs learn more than 80 commands, and Jenn assesses their personalities to determine the best placement for them. In Goldie’s case, it will be someone with a physical disability.
“She is very intelligent,” Jenn said. “She is very good with the skills and commands. She knows what to do.” Goldie’s challenge: “She is very, very affectionate. She loves to be petted.” Students approach her and want to talk to her and pet her and she has to hold back.
Jenn is a three-sport varsity athlete – tennis, basketball, and lacrosse – who also loves horseback riding. She will be attending Tulane University in the fall.
While she doesn’t have specific career aspirations yet, there is no doubt that working with the dogs will be a lifelong avocation. “They have the most amazing personalities,” she said. “I’ve seen where the dogs go, and the bonds that are created there. It makes everything worthwhile.”