You’ve no doubt seen them around the park – a Dog, wearing a uniform, acting as assistant to another guest with a disability. The animal seems so well trained and attentive. Fighting the urge to pet them is almost impossible. But how do these animals get trained? How should you act when you encounter these animals in the park?
The non-profit organization, Canine Angels, does tremendous work throughout the year breeding and training Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, and mixes of those breeds. The animals need to be trained to assist on a variety of tasks including retrieving dropped items, opening doors, and getting help. Part of their training includes exposing the animals to real world situations, distractions, and other issues. What better place to do that than Disneyland?
While a number of organizations prepare animals to assist adults, Canine Angels fills a particular niche in the service dog world by preparing dogs for children and young adults, ages 5 to 25. Those that have the ability to control the dogs can qualify for public access and take them nearly anywhere, including Disneyland. Lucky for the dogs, the park is part of their training!
What should you do when you encounter assistance dogs at the park? Generally speaking it is best to respect the animal’s space when they are working. But if you see dogs that are being trained, you can ask their trainers for permission to pet them. Regardless of the answer, please be respectful.
Disneyland has also made accommodations for the dogs throughout the park. If you keep a sharp eye out, you may spot small signs near some of the grass planters. Disney allows the dogs to use these areas for potty breaks. The cast members at the various food locations are also trained to extend hospitality and provide water for the dogs when asked.
It is a lot of work to train the animals for service but there is a little fun to be had. The animals are allowed to ride anything that does not require a safety belt or over-the-shoulder restraints, with the exception of some of the more turbulent attractions. Splash Mountain, for example, is off the list. But you would be surprised at which attractions the dogs ARE allowed to ride. They even begin to develop favorites. Veteran assistance dog, Zimmer, loves Pirates of the Caribbean. The longer and more air conditioned the ride is, the more the animals tend to enjoy it.
Character interaction is another element of training the dogs must become accustomed to. If their human companions end up visiting the park, chances are they will want to say hi to Mickey and friends too. The animals need to be comfortable with these cartoonish, oversized bipeds. While the puppies (6 months old to 2 years of age) may go through “fear periods” just as younger humans do, they all learn to love the characters.
Disneyland itself is a small portion of the training. The dogs are also taken to malls, movie theaters, restaurants and even office and work environments, all in order to get them accustomed to the lives they may live with their new owners. This work is all done by volunteers and, in this particular case, Canine Angels who are working to bring companionship and a better life to those that need it.
When the training is complete, the dogs are matched with a human who really needs them. Canine Angles are just that, they transform lives.
Next time you see the dogs in the park, try to imagine the countless hours of training, the expense involved, and the positive impact that they make in the life of someone in need.
If you would like to make a donation to further the work of Canine Angels, we invite you to visit their website here.