ITHACA, N.Y. – With his distinctive yellow cape, Rover III will soon be transformed into a fully trained assistance dog with the help of an Ithaca woman. 

Samantha Guter, who works as a residence director at Ithaca College, recently began raising an assistance dog-in-training for a national non-profit called Canine Companions for Independence. The organization, founded in 1975, provides assistance dogs for children, adults, and veterans with disabilities. Guter said her family has been volunteering for CCI since 2014, but Rover will be the first dog she will raise on her own.

Rover III is a yellow lab, golden retriever mix, and will one-day know over 40 advanced commands, and will eventually be matched with a person with disabilities. Guter will teach Rover 30 of these 40 commands. Puppy trainers for CCI take puppies into their homes around eight weeks of age. Rover, who was born on April 3, will be turning three months old next week.

“Right now, since he’s young, we start slow – he’s pretty good at the basics like “sit,” “down,” and “here,” Guter said. “Once he gets older there will be more complicated commands, such as jumping into a car or onto a higher surface, rolling onto his back, going under benches or tables, shaking, and speaking.”

With Rover’s special yellow cape, he will be permitted to go to many public areas where family pets are usually not allowed – according to a press release from CCI, this is important to integrate the dog into different social situations.

 “The socialization is perhaps the most important because the dogs need to be exposed to any and all types of surroundings,” read the release.  

When the dogs turn a year and a half old, they are returned to CCI regional headquarters in Medford, New York to begin six months of their advanced training with professional instructors. Guter said Rover is expected to return to continue his assistance training by February 2018. During the six-month period, Guter said the dogs will not only work on solidifying their mastery of basic commands but will also work on more complicated skills.

During the six-month period, Guter said the dogs will not only work on solidifying their mastery of basic commands, but will also work on more complicated skills. This will include commands such as opening doors, retrieving items and turning on lights in distracting environments, she explained.

“Hopefully after that, he’ll graduate and go on to help someone be independent and confident in everything they do,” Guter said.

Guter said there are four tracks of assistance that Rover could train for– a service dog, a hearing dog, a facility dog or skilled companion dog. A service dog, she explained, would help someone with a physical disability perform daily tasks like retrieving items, turning on the lights or opening and closing cabinets or drawers. A hearing dog would assist someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, and would learn how to signal for sounds such as keys dropping, alarms, and the person’s name. A facility dog would offer support in a professional environment such as healthcare, criminal justice or education. Finally, a skilled companion dog would assist children or adults with physical, developmental or cognitive disabilities to perform daily tasks. 

Overall, the mission is to help people with disabilities gain independence and confidence in everything they do,” Guter said. 

While Guter said raising an assistance puppy comes with its own set of challenges, the rewards which come with training Rover outweighed the difficulties.

It’s been very rewarding to see how quickly he catches onto commands and is already very attentive to me as his raiser,” she said. “While raising any puppy is difficult because of the time commitment, it’s good to know that even though it’s tough right now, hopefully, he’ll go on to change someone’s life in a while.”

Featured image: Guter and Rover III, courtesy of Canine Companions for Independence. 

Alyvia Covert

Alyvia is a Crime Reporter with The Ithaca Voice. She graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Journalism and Photography.