Sit ... stay ... learn

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but Mount Royal student Miranda Turenne has learned teaching her new dog lots of tricks has enriched her own education experience.

The aspiring teacher is a volunteer puppy-raiser with PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society). She is parenting a puppy for a year before it goes for advanced training to become a service dog.Miranda Turenne and Orbital

Since puppy-raisers are required to take their dogs everywhere to socialize them, Turenne brings Orbital - a yellow lab - to class with her.

"It's phenomenal, I get so much out of raising this puppy," says Turenne, 24, a first-year Bachelor of Education student.

"Working with the dog gives you insight into behavior management," she says. "It's about having a good presence and being a confident leader.

"I think teachers are good leaders and working with Orbital has given me a better perspective as to how you as a leader affect other beings around you."

Paws-on learning

As she watches the pup - who she has had since he was eight weeks old - grow and prepare to help someone, Turenne is also able to draw parallels with her teaching studies.

"Being able to help mould somebody into something amazing and to get inspiration when you see something come to its full potential is great. A little bit of that you can get out of being with a dog, just as you could with a student," says the future teacher.

Orbital is the second PADS dog Turenne has raised. He is progressing very well and after his advanced training he should be able to aid a person with tasks that range from providing balance for walking and opening and closing doors, to picking up dropped items, pulling a wheelchair and aiding in dressing.

"Mount Royal has been super supportive. Coming here has been a massive advantage for this little guy. This whole village has helped me raise him."

Teacher's pet

During this interview Orbital slept under Turenne's chair, which is what he normally does during classes.

"The only time he distracts people is when he snores. They've nicknamed him Snorbitz," laughs Turenne, who also works part-time as a veterinarian assistant.

Turenne is thankful for the doors Orbital has helped open for her.

"When I'm not with the dog I'm not as outgoing - he brings me out of my shell.

"He's an icebreaker on a leash. I get to hang out with the coolest person on campus. It's a blast."

Breaking up is hard to do

People familiar with service dogs know it is best for strangers not to interact with the dog while it is working. However, many people can't resist the cute factor and will walk up to a working dog and pet or play with it.

"For me, people can't do wrong," says Turenne. "It's just another opportunity for me to teach Orbital to be a supportive partner for his future parent."

And speaking of that future parent, Turenne knows the painful parting is mere months away - this summer.

"Giving them up is really hard … I won't lie. You grieve and mourn because you love them. But I'm lucky to have this and I get so much out of it.

"I guess it's like seeing your child grow up and go to university - it is what they are meant to be."

- Anika Van Wyk, April 12, 2010