Learning new tricks

September 23, 1999

Theresa and LukeBy JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photos: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Theresa Ganley takes her assistance dog everywhere.

Ganley needs Luke, a 5-year-old shepherd-collie mix, to help her balance because she has a neuromuscular disease.

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But she doesn't want Luke to get in the way of other people, so Ganley taught him a task to keep him out of the way when she's sitting in public areas.

He sits underneath her chair.

It sounds pretty simple, but it isn't one of the many tasks most assistance dogs are taught, according to Ganley.

Susquehanna Service Dogs, the Harrisburg, Pa.-outfit that trained Luke, has taught the task to at least one of its dogs after Ganley demonstrated it, said Program Director Nancy Fierer.


"I thought it was great," Fierer said.

While the task is ideal for Luke and Ganley, it won't work for people who require wheelchairs or who use chairs with railings across the front, Fierer said.

At least 75 percent of the time, Luke, who weighs about 80 pounds and is 25 inches tall, will fit under the chairs she uses, said Ganley, 38, of Waynesboro.

The task comes in handy in waiting rooms, doctor's offices, restaurants, movie theaters, buses, the Metro and on airplanes, where Luke sits under the seat in front of her, Ganley said.

"Often people don't even realize he's there," she said.

"I'm always looking for ways that we can look professional as a team," said Ganley, a local artist.

Ganley demonstrated the task at an International Association of Assistance Dog Partners conference in Orlando, Fla., in January.

Theresa and LukeWorking backward

During a workshop, Ganley realized some dogs, such as golden retrievers, naturally flop over on their side. They have to be taught to straighten their bodies before they can crawl backward under a chair.

It took Ganley two weeks to teach Luke how to sit under her chair.

When teaching a dog a new task you work backward. First she taught him to crawl backward, then to sit in front of her chair on command.

Ganley uses a clicker and treats such as cheese to teach Luke new tasks.

Her latest effort is teaching Luke to help her make her bed.

Luke can carry the pillows on and off the bed. The tough part is getting the sheet up to the head of the bed because he has to switch from pulling to pushing it for the last few feet, she said.

When he's done, he gets to jump up on the bed as a reward, Ganley said.

Ganley has already taught Luke how to fetch a can of soda from the refrigerator and to help her fold sheets by holding the other end.

Luke knows more than 50 tasks, but by far his biggest talent is one Ganley needs constantly - his ability to walk with her so she can keep her balance, letting her hold onto his outstretched harness.

Ganley said sometimes it's tough because people see Luke and want to pet him, but he's working.

While Luke is a hard worker, he still spends lots of time being a regular dog at her Fish and Game Road home.

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