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Declan: Millersville’s therapy dog in training

Declan is a service dog in training. (Photo courtesy to Millersville's Counseling Center.)

Alexander Bershtein

Staff Writer

Millersville University has had a host of therapy dogs coming to its Counseling Center in Lyle Hall. This has continued this semester on Thursday mornings, with new dogs coming to campus.

Notably, one of these new arrivals is still in a therapy in training, Declan. On the road to becoming a therapy dog himself, Declan is a two-year-old cavachon, a mixture of cavalier King Charles and a bichon frise. His owner describes him as, “Shy at times, but once he warms up he is a hooligan,” and he has comforted many students throughout the semester so far with his playfulness.

On the home-front, he has a lot to live up to. His siblings give the pressure and legacy of therapy dogs, especially Abby a fourteen-year-old mini poodle. She is now retired but used to be a weekly therapy dog for Millersville University last semester. Declan’s relationship with Abby is described by his owner as, “[A] little brother comes along, big sister tries to boss him around.” Mischievously, Declan steals food from her every chance he gets, especially if treats thrown to Abby bounce away from her.

Another part of the family is Star, who has been like the mama dog to Declan. She is a five six-year-old red Labrador, who comforts Declan at night when he whimpers by laying down next to him until they both fell asleep. The only discourse between the two is that Star does not let Declan win against her. Star would never allow herself to lose to Declan in tug-of-war and Frisbee. Thus, the role of letting Declan win from time to time is left to his last sibling, Liberty.

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An eleven-year-old American Field Labrador, Liberty is another therapy dog that has come to Millersville Campus, one time even with Declan, in which he was highly tempted to play with her, but kept to his job of soothing students.

Declan’s personal training has had some bumps along the way. Last year, he took a year break from his training. He had a tantrum during one of his sessions in reaction the methods of the trainer. A collar would squirt citronella if a mistake was made, and he did not react well the
to the smell.

In September he began again at Oscar’s Pet Resort, which utilizes a learning style that is play oriented. The training is one-to-one with a personal pen. He has learned dozens of tricks, with some simpler ones including how to push strollers and wheelchairs, pushing buttons, role the ball, army crawl, paw and shake, and find treats in muffin tins and snuffle mats. Yet, his talents extend to skateboarding and playing a little piano. It was discovered that the key to his initial training was that he is very toy driven.

In regards to his encounters with other dogs during his training, particularly in obedience, he was initially separated from big dogs to avoid intimidation. Nowadays he runs along with the big dogs with glee.

He likes playing mostly with a dog named Didi, who was a mixed breed that had the colorings of Dobermann but with long hair. She liked to steal his hedgehog toy a lot and he would chase her around the ring, inciting frequent games of tag. Didi was the role-model dog for Declan.

Declan’s owner thought it would be good to acclimate Declan to his job by having him experience petting from strangers often. This started by walking him around campus, but at first students were concerned he was a service dog and withheld their attention. This resulted in Declan’s blue “Pet Me” vest, which he wears around campus.

His owner began bringing him
to the Counseling Center this semester to decrease his skittishness, and now he is a consistent provider of therapy to students every Thursday. Recently, Declan achieved his Canine Good Citizen from an American Kennel Club group.

He continues to go to doggy daycare once a week to continue his training and become more outgoing. His owner is excited for his certification on the horizon, and because of his work at the Counseling Center at Millersville students are cheerleading for him as well.