Meet barker, the service dog in training, and his trainer Dr. Jalika Waugh, Assistant Professor of Criminalistics. Dr. Waugh is a “volunteer puppy raiser” for Southeastern Guide Dogs, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides guide dogs for Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs), free of charge. Barker was Dr. Waugh’s most recent puppy that she and her husband raised together from 9 weeks to 13 months old. He will soon go back to Southeastern Guide Dog’s campus where he will be going through “guide dog college” where he will spend a few months learning more intense command and what he needs to do to become an official guide dog.
Dr. Waugh picked up barker last April and brought him on campus as a young puppy. She brought him with her as she taught three classes. Dr. Waugh’s responsibilities are to raise barker and teach him basic commands such as sit, stay, down, up forward, no, come and heel. Dr. Waugh also had to expose barker to different things and environments where visually impaired people might go like work and the store. She needed to get barker used to those things like Publix shopping carts and big crowds to make him feel comfortable in those environments.
Dr. Waugh took Barker to the Dining Hall whenever she had him on campus. Dr. Waugh and her husband also took barker to a Rays baseball game, Tampa Bay Storm game, and to a Tampa Bay Lightning game. Dr. Waugh and her husband also recently got back from a trip to the mountains in North Carolina, where she said that barker played in the snow and walked on a mile high suspended bridge.
“I have to walk him, it gets me out of the office and is a good form of exercise,” said Dr. Waugh.
Dr. Waugh regularly took Barker to the park for her puppy meetings, and he has been up in watch towers and on doggie beaches. Barker is also allowed in restaurants but is instructed by Dr. Waugh to lay down on the floor by her feet using a technique where she puts the leash underneath her foot. Dr. Waugh leaves him at home very rarely.
Dr. Waugh mentioned that people sometimes looked at her and wondered why she had Barker because she is not blind or visually impaired. For this reason, she wants to encourage education of the public on guide dogs going through training. She additionally mentioned that most people with guide dogs are not completely blind like most people think.
There is a Florida State Statute that allows Barker public access rights, so he can enter any building as a guide dog in training while wearing his blue vest. While Barker’s blue vest was on, he was working and no one could pet him. When his blue vest came off, he could play and get love and attention.
When Barker goes off to college at Southeastern Guide Dog’s campus, he will learn more intense commands and learn how to navigate through busy streets. Barker’s journey through guide dog college starts with a four week medical evaluation to make sure that he is physically healthy and able to do the job. After the evaluation, Barker will then go on to four months of intense harness training. If Barker is successful, he will then graduate and stay on Southeastern Guide Dog’s campus until he is matched with a VIP. The VIP will then live together with him in a dorm room for an additional 28 days for a team training process. After Barker and his VIP finish their team training, they get to leave and live together for around eight years. In the end, Barker gets to go into retirement.
Since Barker is at guide dog college, Dr. Waugh cannot visit barker because it would be a distraction to him. Dr. Waugh can also not contact barkers new owner unless they let Southeastern Guide Dogs know that its okay after 90 days following graduation. But Dr. Waugh has kept in touch with the accounting firm that raised money to name Barker. It costs a lot of money for Southeastern Guide Dogs to operate on a daily basis.
Different people can donate to name a dog. There are also walk-a-thons and regular donations. This money goes to help raise a dog which costs an average of $3,500.
Barker has already raised money himself to name another puppy that Dr. Waugh will train just as she did Barker. Dr. Waugh along with the accounting firm that raised the money to name barker held a hug-a-barker fundraiser to name her next puppy. Dr. Waugh, her husband and member of the firm each chose a name: Ringo, Leo and Clyde. Dr. Waugh will put the names underneath three treats. Whichever treat barker picks will be the name of Dr. Waugh’s next puppy.
“The whole experience with Barker has been great, all of the students on campus loved him, and I think that they are going to miss him as much as I will, and we will do it all over again with another puppy,” said Dr. Waugh.“Barker can go down in history as the first guide dog in training at Saint Leo University, he’s one of the first.