Meet Ivy, who was just too nice to be a service dog


Bill Motchan, Special For The Jewish Light

Service dogs are unlike therapy dogs because they provide constant aid for a person who has a disability. The service dog may need to pick up items for an individual in a wheelchair or provide an alert to sounds. As a puppy, Ivy Schankman had a bright future as a service dog. After completing training, however, she became a service dog dropout.

“We call them release dogs,” said Ivy’s human, Andrea Powers Schankman, a member of Congregation Temple Israel. “They are dogs that have been released from the program.”

Ivy was deemed too social to be an effective service dog. She has the professional qualifications but lacks the focus the job demands.

“She has the skill, but not the will,” Schankman said. “It’s all about her.”

In most ways, Ivy is the perfect pet. She’s friendly, a good companion and can perform any number of service dog tasks. But only when she feels like it. Ivy was bred and trained by Duo Dogs, which offers therapy dog services. These dogs undergo a strict training regimen from birth.

“There is a very specific trajectory and a way of raising an animal,” Schankman said. “They are bred for physical health and temperament. The breeding is very selective and, immediately after birth, they are supervised until they are whelped. I was a ‘whelper helper.’ ”

Whelper helpers watch over the pups as they go through their paces. They become acclimated to noises and sudden movements. Thunder and lightning don’t bother them. At 8 weeks of age, they are turned over to their puppy raisers, who are responsible for raising them correctly to be service dogs.

Ivy would have been quite good at the skill part of the job, but Schankman says she sometimes can be a bull in a china shop. “She can do many things a service dog can do except be still and gentle,” she said. “I like to say she’s exuberant.”