Tribute to Dr Bonnie Bergin: A Master Dog Trainer and Revolutionary

The Work of Dr Bonnie Bergin : A Revolutionary

Many times, we take things in life for granted. At Platpets, we honor and pay tribute to some of the greatest dog trainers over the years. And today, our focus is on the work of Dr Bonnie Bergin, who has changed the lives of many disabled people through her works.

Dr. Bonnie Bergin has, with astounding devotion, talent and intuition, enhanced the lives of people and dogs. An inspiring visionary, she has brought to life ideas and organizations that help the physically challenged overcome their difficulties. She has also found ways for Man’s Best Friends to play positive roles in these processes.

Dr. Bergin’s philosophy has shaped the way man and dog relate to each other. She has also changed the way dog trainers develop their training approaches.

Who Is Dr Bonnie Bergin : Background

Dr. Bonnie Bergin is a former Special Education teacher and researcher from the United States. In the course of her work, enhancing mobility for the physically disabled was, and still is, paramount. She constantly seeks ways to prevent them from being left in institutions.

During a trip to Asia in 1975, she saw how donkeys helped their owners with transport and other basic needs. She believed that service dogs could help the physically impaired in the same way. She had the idea of bringing a dog to the Santa Rosa Disability Center to work with its residents. With this idea in mind, she adopted a dog from an animal shelter and began training it.

She realized that the canine mind, when well-harnessed, has great possibilities. She aimed to teach dogs to do everything from simple reading to identifying spoiled plants.

Dr Bonnie Bergin’s Philosophy

Dr. Bergin’s firm beliefs in several important areas have strongly facilitated the service dog movement.

Her conviction that the disabled need representation has led her to develop many life-enhancing learning and assistance dog organizations.

She also believes in the dynamism of the canine mind. To Dr. Bergin, understanding canine behavior and the dog-human bond is the key to unraveling the secrets of communication and happiness.

A Tribute to her Work

Dr. Bergin’s distinguished accomplishments revolve around the life-changing Service Dog concept. The founder of the Bergin University of Canine Studies and various organizations for assistance dogs has an extensive bibliography as well.

1. Her Research

Being a former Special Education teacher, Dr. Bergin wanted to expand the ways people with mobility limitations could receive needed help. With a firm belief that dogs could shape the lives of those who have lost mobility, Dr. Bergin began researching dog personalities. Her research revealed reliable methods of pairing dogs with the disabled.

She has coined important criteria for choosing service dogs. The dog must have a low predation, low initiative and low arousal. In her words, it is an unobtrusive helpmate. Her research has shown how dogs can play a positive role in people’s lives. It also allowed trainers to develop new ways to train their dogs.

2. The Service Dog

She went on to develop the Service Dog concept in 1975. To stress how significant this idea is for patients with physical impairments, explaining it is necessary.

A Service Dog assists those who face challenges in various areas. Such dogs must have keen intelligence and even temperaments. Trainers teach them to practice “intelligent disobedience”, or to resist their owners’ instructions when there are obvious obstacles.

These include:

a. Visual Impairment

Also termed Vision impairment or Vision Loss, this refers to vision problems that a person cannot solve by using visual aids. “Blindness” is a term used to describe complete vision loss.

Service dogs step in to help the visually impaired by serving as their “Seeing Eyes”. They keep to a planned, direct route at a safe, steady pace, ignoring any distractions that may come their way.

These dogs stop at every curb until told to move on. They move in the direction their owners command, but refuse to budge when they sense obstacles. A”Seeing Eye” dog stops at stairs until told to move forward. It also brings its owner to elevator buttons.

“Seeing Eye” dogs have nurtured independence in their owners, who would otherwise have to rely on their loved ones for their daily needs. They can, with the help of these dogs, get out and about like everyone else. This video explains “Seeing-Eye” dog training in detail.

b) Hearing Impairments

Hearing dogs have transformed the lives of those with hearing impairments. They alert their owners to important sounds, such as the phone and doorbell ringing. They inform their owners of thunderstorms as well.

With a hearing dog as a companion, those with hearing disabilities can go about their daily activities independently. They can become involved in activities that they have never tried before, with regained confidence.

c) Seizures

Epileptic seizures occur when there is too much neural activity happening in the brain. Too much brain activity causes excessive jerking. The sufferer experiences a temporary loss of awareness and breathlessness. In extreme cases, he may collapse and bite his tongue.

Trainers teach seizure response dogs to roll the sufferer over to open his airway. They push buttons on K9 phones to call for help. Seizure-alert service dogs protect their owners from obstructions, stairs and intersections. They help to balance their owners and support them. In this video, a seizure alert dog prevents an owner from falling off her bed and clears her airway. Seizure alert dogs change, and save lives.

d. Diabetes

Diabetes involves having erratic blood sugar levels over an extended time. Serious complications of this ailment include cardiovascular arrest and stroke.

Having diabetes means that a sufferer cannot sustain long activity periods. The diabetes service dog can help by recognizing the symptoms of low blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. A diabetes service dog braces him when he falls and alerts others when he needs help. The dog fetches medications and dials the telephone when there is an emergency. A diabetic service dog is a friend and saviour.Watch this diabetic service dog. Watch these service dogs persistently alerting his owner when her blood sugar levels are low.

e) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder with symptoms such as recurring flashbacks, numbing memories or hyperarousal, is crippling. A person experiences these symptoms after a traumatic event occurs. They trigger instances of extreme fear, and cause a sufferer to lose interest in life. It stops a person from showing affection, and he becomes increasingly isolated. The isolation can reach a point when he cannot do simple tasks. War veterans are at particular risk.

A service dog draws a sufferer out of such isolation, and helps him to experience life again. Army Specialist Robert Soliz, who developed the disorder after serving in Iraq, relates how being involved in Paws for Purple Hearts transformed his life. The program pairs PTSD sufferers with Golden Retrievers.

Trained in Intelligent Disobedience, a PTSD Service Dog helps his owner do simple tasks. He helps a PTSD sufferer work in an environment that may trigger unpleasant memories. If the sufferer walks away from this environment during an unpleasant flashback, the service dog helps him retrace his steps. PTSD service dogs help people experience life again.

2. Canine Companions for Independence

Dr.Bergin ‘s research on dog personalities has proven reliable and invaluable. In 1975, she founded the Canine Companions for Independence, the first non-profit organization to train and pair service dogs with owners. Its mission was, and still is, to give the impaired autonomy and allow them to experience loving relationships.

Using the latest technology, the organization selects and breeds potential service dogs. Volunteer breeders offer a home for these puppies and whelp them before returning them to the CCI’s headquarters in Santta Rosa.

Other volunteers then raise the puppies, providing them with social and obedience training. The 15-month-old puppies then return to the Canine Companions Regional Training Centers where they receive service dog training Upon completion of their training, the centers pair them with “graduates” for two weeks of familiarization.

Owners describe their dogs as angels with a tail. They offer protection from environmental hazards and help with managing illnesses.

3. The Challenges

Before the service dog came into being, the wait for a guide dog could last as long as five years. In the interim, many physically challenged patients were not receiving the help they needed. The situation was, to Dr. Bergin’s chagrin, global.

She believed that assistance dog organizations should communicate with one another. To add, they should have a communication platform with therapy organizations. She pushed forward an argument that such a platform should exist. Assistance Dogs International came into being in 1987, and she became its first President.

4. The Bergin University of Canine Studies

Dr Bergin went on to set up the Assistance Dog Institute in 1991, now known as the Bergin University of Canine Studies, to develop service dog programs. Relatively young, it is the first University in the world to offer Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Canine Life Sciences.

The university’s mission is to find ways to develop knowledge of human-dog relationships, and to use that understanding to help society. To further this mission, it offers academic paths for those who wish to pursue their interest in canine studies.

Like the CCI, the university pairs the physically impaired with dogs. Success stories include Whitney and her owner, Seyward, an army veteran. She helps Seyward with many tasks at home.

The university successfully paired Chrissy, a black labrador and her young owner Zak, whom she helps at home and at school.

5. The Americans with Disabilities Act

Dr Bergin received due recognition when the United States government invited her to craft the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA. The authorities invited her to the Rose Garden when President George H.W Bush signed the act.

6. Assistance Dog organizations and programs.

Over the years, Dr. Bergin has helped to develop various assistance dog organizations and programs.

In 1992, she started the successful People’s Pet Partner’s Program. She has also helped the National Disaster Search Foundation develop search dog programs as well.

The prolific special needs educator and dog trainer has also shaped the lives of at-risk youth. She started the High School Assistance Dog program, engaging at-risk teens to train service dogs. The program was a win-win-situation for both teens and the physically disabled. The teens gained useful communication and anger management skills, while those with disabilities gained confidence and a new friend. For this initiative, she won Oprah’s Use for Life award.

Dr. Bergin believed that the disabled needed their voices heard as assistance dog users, so she created the Assistance Dog User Council, now the Association of Assistance Dog Partners. She also created the Assistance Dog United Campaign to pair service dogs with those with lower incomes, again believing that the disadvantaged needed empowerment. She grouped European programs to further her research on assistance dogs, and started the Euro-Assistance Dog organization that Assistance Dogs International would hopefully assimilate.

7 Bibliography and teaching

Dr. Bergin continues to teach and speak at seminars the world over. Her book, Bonnie Bergin’s Guide to Bringing Out the Best in Your Dog, encapsulates her philosophy that understanding dog behavior is the key to communicating with them. In the book, she gives a detailed explanation of how this method works.

How she has revolutionized professional dog training

The Service Dog concept has opened new paths for dog trainers, who can now explore new training possibilities.

One philosophy which has strong links with service dog training is that of Intelligent Disobedience. Simply put, it refers to disobeying when following an instruction would result in dangerous consequences.

Hence, in what seems contrary to basic obedience, trainers teach dogs to disobey if they know that their owner’s instructions will cause them harm. If a blind person tells the dog to move forward though there is a car rushing past, the dog does not move despite the command. This dog resists movement even if his owner repeats his instructions. A highly skilled trainer teaches the dog how to tell which commands to obey, and which to ignore. He simulates situations for the dog to react to and rewards him for making the correct decisions.

Service dogs are not the only ones which are able to practice Intelligent Disobedience.

Dr. Bergin, and the service dogs that she has helped in big and small ways to nurture, have uplifted hearts and lives.

It is without doubt that Dr Bonnie Bergin has dedicated her whole life to improving the lives of the disabled. Her pioneering spirit for the development of service dogs has contributed greatly to the lives of many people around the world. Through Bergin University of Canine Studies, Dr Bonnie Bergin continues to impact and improve the lives of people through the good work of her students.

If there is anyone who deserves the utmost award in the field of dog training, we believe Dr Bonnie Bergin deserves the award fully.