How America's VetDogs trains service dogs like Sully to perform long lists of commands

Article Image

These puppers are cute and cuddly, and -- despite a...

Posted: Dec 4, 2018 9:44 AM

These puppers are cute and cuddly, and -- despite a recent crazy report questioning dogs' intelligence -- they're actually very smart. So smart, in fact, that they can perform a very long list of commands.

As the 41st President of the United States is being laid to rest, his service dog, Sully, is among those mourning George H. W. Bush's death.

Sully captured the hearts of many when he was photographed keeping watch over his master's casket. It turns out, he's not your average 4-legged pet.

This yellow Labrador can perform a wide range of tasks, including answering the phone, turning lights on or off, fetching items, and opening doors.

After former first lady Barbara Bush passed away this year, America's VetDogs, a nonprofit that provides service dogs at no cost to veterans, active-duty service members and first responders with disabilities, received a request on behalf of the former commander in chief.

"When we received the request for President Bush, we knew we needed to find a dog that was super adaptable, because the President did a lot of traveling, and got a lot of visitors," Brad Hibbard, chief program officer at Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind/America's VetDogs, told CNN.

"We immediately thought of Sully, we knew he was the right dog for the job specially with Mr. Bush being older and in a wheelchair, he needed a dog that would also help him with daily tasks."

Sully went to work with the former President this summer, and the organization was able to provide Bush with training to allow the two to adapt, Hibbard said.

The training

Since America's VetDogs began training service animals in 2003, these good boys and girls have not only provided support with daily activities, but they also bring motivation to tackle any new challenge their masters may face.

"Our dogs have also served in Iraq and Afghanistan with combat operational stress control teams, part of the US Army's initiative to safeguard soldiers' behavioral health while deployed," the nonprofit said on its website. They also train physical and occupational therapy dogs to work with the recently returned wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which is where Sully will go next.

Specialized skills

America's VetDogs trains its animals to be able to serve different types of disabilities. Though they are all broadly described as "service dogs," they are trained to fulfill specialized roles:

  • Guide Dogs: Trained to enhance a person's mobility, mainly of those individuals who are blind or have low vision.

  • Hearing Dogs: Trained to help the hearing-impaired, they will alert their person when the door bell rings, or the fire alarm is going off.
  • Service Dogs: Trained for those who have a significant challenges, like missing limbs or in a wheelchair. They fetch things, they open doors and help their humans get up or reposition if they fall.
  • Therapy Dogs: They are trained in physical and occupational therapy in order to help mitigate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sully in particular has been trained to be a therapy dog, a guide dog and a service dog, according to Hibbard.

"Not only is he good at retrieving things, he helped the President by opening doors, knew when to get assistance from someone else, and knew when Bush needed comfort, so he would place his head on his lap," Hibbard said.

Multi-talented creatures

Among many other tasks, these little angels can:

  • Open and hold doors by hitting a button or pulling on a leash.
  • Push a button to turn on and turn off lights.
  • Get help if their owner has a seizure, by hitting an alarm system button to alert first responders or anyone available to help.
  • Reposition their owner if they fall down, and eventually help them sit back up.
  • Retrieve items as small as a credit card or as large as a dropped support cane.
  • Wake up their human from a horrible nightmare.
  • Brace and support their owner when standing or walking up and down the stairs.
  • Answer a ringing phone by pushing a button.

America's VetDogs is the country's second assistance dog school, after the Guide Dog Foundation, to be certified by the International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International, the highest accreditation in the world, Hibbard says.

The nonprofit provides service dogs at no cost to those in need, and says it spends about $50,000 per dog to breed, raise, train and place the dogs.

Once a dog is paired with a human, both go to a personalized training class to learn how to work together as a team.

"One of the hallmarks of America's VetDogs is its meticulous matching program to ensure that each student is matched with the dog that best suits that person's mobility, personality, lifestyle, and physical needs," their website says.

The nonprofit houses 80 dogs, and usually graduates about 130 dogs per year.

The dogs start off being trained in prisons -- 13 facilities have programs around the nation -- where inmates teach the 10-week-old pups basic commands.

After initial training, the pups travel to a 10-acre facility in Smithtown, New York, where the training continues. They are kept freshly groomed at all times, and fed delicious meals made with special dietary supplements by a trained chef.

Just like Sully, these wonderful doggos are there to provide any assistance their new human requires to once again be self-reliant. If any handler ever has an issue with the dog once they are home, someone from America's VetDogs will travel to assist them -- at no cost to the veteran, says Hibbard.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 16322

Reported Deaths: 782
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds106626
Lauderdale76068
Madison75727
Neshoba72244
Jones68632
Scott66212
Forrest59239
DeSoto5598
Leake45412
Rankin4538
Holmes44130
Copiah3254
Jackson30914
Attala30718
Yazoo2914
Newton2834
Lincoln27829
Leflore27336
Oktibbeha26714
Monroe26725
Harrison2657
Lamar2485
Lowndes2419
Wayne2353
Pearl River21231
Pike20511
Adams20216
Washington1947
Noxubee1936
Warren19110
Lee1857
Covington1772
Jasper1664
Bolivar16611
Clarke15519
Smith15311
Lafayette1504
Kemper14911
Chickasaw14014
Coahoma1284
Winston1221
Clay1184
Carroll11611
Marion1169
Claiborne1145
Lawrence1081
Simpson1040
Grenada1003
Yalobusha976
Sunflower933
Itawamba907
Hancock9012
Tate881
Union867
Montgomery861
Panola853
Marshall853
Wilkinson859
Jefferson Davis813
Tippah7611
Webster673
Calhoun674
Amite651
Walthall630
Humphreys607
Tunica563
Prentiss533
Perry513
Choctaw482
Pontotoc453
Jefferson421
Tishomingo350
Greene331
Stone320
Quitman310
Tallahatchie301
Franklin292
George281
Alcorn191
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 18554

Reported Deaths: 651
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2284118
Jefferson1884103
Montgomery182343
Tuscaloosa82216
Marshall7059
Franklin5788
Lee55834
Shelby52220
Tallapoosa43266
Butler41918
Walker3812
Elmore3729
Chambers35926
Madison3464
Morgan2981
Unassigned2972
Baldwin2929
Dallas2873
Etowah26212
Lowndes25912
DeKalb2573
Autauga2395
Coffee2391
Sumter2287
Houston2265
Bullock2156
Pike2080
Colbert1872
Hale1799
Russell1770
Barbour1771
Marengo1746
Lauderdale1692
Calhoun1653
Wilcox1547
Choctaw15310
Cullman1501
Clarke1492
St. Clair1311
Randolph1287
Marion12411
Dale1230
Pickens1215
Talladega1175
Limestone1080
Chilton1051
Greene954
Winston910
Macon874
Jackson833
Henry812
Covington811
Crenshaw783
Bibb761
Escambia753
Washington726
Blount631
Lawrence510
Monroe452
Geneva440
Perry420
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar260
Fayette160
Cleburne151
Tupelo
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 71°
Columbus
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 71°
Oxford
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 68°
Starkville
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 68°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather