My Animal Behavior Internship at Service Dog Project, Ipswich, Massachusetts

A guest post by Maddie Dolan about her PSY 495 internship

Service Dog Project is a non-profit organization located in Ipswich Massachusetts that breeds, raises, trains, and donates Great Danes as mobility assistance service dogs. After volunteering there since Summer 2019, I was given the opportunity in Spring 2020 to participate in an internship.

My daily responsibilities as an intern included kennel maintenance such as cleaning kennels and doing dishes and laundry as well as general animal care such as feeding the dogs and various other farm animals on property, cleaning up after the dogs, and letting them outside to play. However, the part of my internship that was most exciting for me was the opportunity I was given to assist in the training of future service dogs.

Under the supervision and instruction of the head trainer, I was able to learn training techniques and use them to work with the three dogs that had been assigned to me. I worked with those three dogs- Elsa, Jasmine, and Cosmo (and additionally a fourth dog named Nala when the dogs needed temporary quarantine homes) on skills they will need in order to become successful service dogs in the future such as recall (the dog responds to their name and comes to you), down-stays, one-step walking (you step, the dog steps, one step at a time), look/eye contact, “get dressed” (their command to put their leash and vest on), pace (the dog walks next to you matching your pace), stairs, and under (the dog tucks underneath your legs or an object like a table).

Though I was not able to make as much progress as I may have wished with some dogs (especially since my internship was cut short with the COVID 19 pandemic), I was able to make more than I had anticipated. But either way, regardless of how much progress I made in training each of the dogs the opportunity to assist in doing so provided me not only with the opportunity to develop my own personal training skills but it also allowed me to be able to be a part of something amazing.

Since I started volunteering, I have seen 15+ dogs successfully graduate the program, become service dogs, and go on to change the lives of their handlers. Many of the individuals who are recipients of these dogs and many others who came before them often come back to volunteer at the farm which has given me the opportunity to both physically see how these dogs change peoples lives and allow them to “walk on” as SDP likes to say, as well as to speak with the recipients about their experiences having a service dog and how their dog helps them in ways that I might not be able to see.

Through my internship I have of course fallen in love with the individual dogs (there’s not much better than puppy kisses and Dane snuggles) but I have also fallen further in love with service dogs. Before beginning my internship I had long considered a career working with and possibly training service dogs, but I was never sure if it was the right path for me. This internship showed me that it is. Between the dogs themselves and the relationships I have built with them and seeing and hearing how recipients’ lives are changed when they are matched with their service dogs it has been an absolute joy and honor to have been able to be a part of something so special and life changing for so many. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to continue helping to change people’s lives using my passion for animals. My education as an Animal Behavior major at UNE along with this internship have given me the knowledge, experience and skills so that I am hopefully able to continue to do just that.

The Great Dane Service Dogs that come out of Service Dog Project are life altering for their recipients, but the experience of having been able to be a part of something so meaningful has been life changing for me as well.

Our thanks to Maddie for sharing her experience with us. All Animal Behavior majors complete at least one internship, PSY 495, as part of their degree and work closely with a faculty supervisor as part of the experience. For more information about the animal behavior major at UNE, please visit: