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service dog training during a pandemic

April 14, 2020

When Lydia Schlitzkus walked her puppy into Target for the first time, she felt prepared. She had already taken the dog, a labrador/golden-retriever cross named Walter, on smaller errands around the neighborhood. There had even been a no-hassle trip to the post office. So a mega store with lots of people? They were ready… or so Schlitzkus said she thought. But, near the end of the shopping trip, Walter pooped in the store’s entryway.

“This job teaches you to make the best of any situation,” Schlitzkus said. “And to expect the unexpected. Ridiculous things are bound to happen.”

A senior at the University of Delaware studying pre-veterinary medicine, Schlitzkus is the president of the Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) student group. In other words, she is one of five undergraduates on campus who raise and train future service dogs. With the University now closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and classes happening virtually for the rest of the semester, she and her puppy-raising peers have brought the dogs home. While this presents new training challenges during an already difficult time, the puppy raisers contend the lessons gleaned from their furry charges — expect the unexpected — have allowed them to take this new normal in stride.

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