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?

One veteran angel and 3 puppies who hope to earn their wings.
Trainer Kelly Stock, Puppy Raisers Jennifer Kellinger and Sarah Cook enter the park with the dogs in training.

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.

Reba says hello to a fellow guest.
Chesney just being a puppy inside the front gate.

Reba, Chesney, and Dolly pose in front of the castle.

Zimmer proudly stands in front of the castle for a picture.

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.

Goofy, are you a dog or not?
Pluto stayed out just a little longer to play with his canine brethren.

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.

  • Trumpet

    Great Update Norman

    I have to say them dogs are cute. But they do a fantastic job and pluto interacting with them is fantastic as they have a day off.

    Thanks Again Norman


  • jcruise86

    Well that’s my new all-time favorite Miceage article. Thank you, Norman Gidney!
    I’m impressed that Disney is working with Canine Angels and others who are training & using guide dogs.

    –Tom Sinsky (I used my name to help me find this article in the future.)

  • Jeff Heimbuch

    Wow…this was quite the treat to read first thing in the morning!

    I have often seen folks training dogs such as this at Walt Disney World, but it was pretty amazing to learn their entire process. Thanks for letting us take a peek into their world, Norm! This was great!

  • Fantastic job Norm. And what a great charity idea for folks.

    That video was a lot of fun. The dogs do exactly what I do on Small World . . . they fall asleep!

  • rstar

    I know a family who has done this, and I’ve seen this at the parks on many occasions. Disneyland really is a perfect place to get crowd practice in. This is such a hart warming article, thanks for sharing it!

  • bookwyrm

    Great article, thanks Norm!

    I have seen a couple of service dogs in the parks before, but my favorite was the one we saw getting its picture taken with Holiday Pluto. That one really made my day. Thanks for the fabulous article and pictures to remind me of that trip!

  • Wendygirl

    What a wonderful, heartwarming story! Had to wipe some tears from my eyes 🙂
    I’ve seen service dogs many times at the Park and so admire the people that train them. Great pictures and video – thank you so much.

  • Gregg Condon

    What an absolutely fabulous article. Thanks Norm.


    Good ‘ol Zimmer, same age as my Kelsey girl. These are the most wonderful, intelligent dogs I have ever encountered and they will surely fill someone’s life with joy and love. I like how they are intended for kids that need them as both the dogs and the kids have the capacity for such unconditional love. They’ll do great together!

    Thanks so much for the article Norm, it definitely brightened my day. Makes me wanna go home and hug my big ‘ol puppy!


  • kat3010

    Great informative article. Thanks!

  • Stitchy

    Great article, Norman! The picture of Chesney rolling on the bricks was adorable.

  • martinjbell1986

    Awesome article! I’m going to go home tonight and show this to my daughter!

  • On this day of terrible tragedy, a warmhearted story like this is much needed. After reading about that horrible school shooting, I found myself coming back here to watch that video of the guide dogs at Disneyland. It’s good to know that there are people and animals who want to make the world a better place.

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    The photos with Pluto killed me with cuteness.

  • TacAlert

    These dogs are a great asset for those who need them.

    Unfortunately, some of these trainers over step their boundaries. Before I stopped renewing my passes, my family had an unfortunate incident with one of these trainers. The article states, “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.” Unfortunately, the trainer didn’t respect my space and my 2 year old daughter’s space.

    While sitting near the entrance to Haunted Mansion, the trainer felt the need to push my daughter out of the way so she could open the gate by a tree so the dog could do its thing. I had security called, made a private person’s arrest with Anaheim PD, and the trainer and her dog were escorted from the property.

  • Prof. Emelius

    This was so cute it made me tear up.

  • Timekeeper

    The dog’s are so cute (but I will be respectful when I visit again) and Bravo for Disney for letting them do this. Also, great article!


  • Eagleman

    Great article, Norman!
    I enjoy it alot !
    THANK YOU for shareing