Neutron, you’ve got a friend in me. Neutron, the 1-year-old service dog, and his trainer, Emily, believe that every canine companion should experience the happiest place on Earth. If you have ever seen a service dog at Disneyland, you know how much attention they get. However, you best believe that the only focus that Neutron has is on his handler. 23-year-old, Emily Kauer has her B.S. in Cynology (Canine Sciences) and is working as a staff member with Bergin University to assist in the service dog program.
Bergin University in Rohnert Park, California, places service dogs with those who are in need of mobility assistance, as well as with Army Veterans who may suffer from PTSD, amongst other disabilities. At Bergin University all of the dogs are trained, on and off campus, by students currently attending the University. Bergin breeds most of their dogs and training generally starts as soon as the puppies are born. As they continue to grow and learn, their knowledge expands to understand over 100 commands. Most of the dogs graduate no later than 3 years old.
Our training is positive reinforcement based with mainly treats and toys as rewards for correct behaviors. They learn how to turn on/off light switches, how to do a retrieve sequence for a wide variety of items (their own leash, pill bottles, pens or pencils, cell phones, etc.), how to walk in a “heel” position (left side) and a “side” position (right side), as well as how to perform basic commands such as “sit”, “down”, “stay”, and “come”.
Neutron is currently being trained to specialize in Autistic needs and will be placed with an Autistic owner, after graduation. Some of the services Disneyland provides to guests with disabilities, including those in the Autism Spectrum, include:
- Advanced Ticket Purchase
- Stroller and Wheelchair Rental
- Strollers as Wheelchairs
- Rider Switch
- Accessing Attractions
- Break Areas
- Companion Restrooms
- Attraction Guides
- Dietary Accommodations
Guests at Disneyland with a service dog follow the same entrance guidelines as those with a wheelchair. Neutron had no problem going on any of the rides that Emily wanted to take him on. Just like a child, some rides are restricted for dogs. If this is the case, you can use the Rider Switch Program if you are with another person or you can choose to leave your dog in one of the large portable kennels outside of each ride. Neutron had a blast riding “It’s a Small World” and waiting for Emily’s return outside of Star Tours.
I have had very positive experiences overall when utilizing the Disability Services at Disneyland. Since the dogs accompanying me at the parks are still in training, it is very important that they experience the full process of what it would be like for them to be experiencing the same scenario with a person with a disability. FastPasses and return times are my favorite way to go about loading onto rides. Regardless of whether or not the dog will be riding with me, both of these options allow me some extra time to give the dog a potty break or just a nap in some shade while I wait instead of having them be cramped in a long line.
Designated relief areas are found throughout the entire park. Before going onto “It’s a Small World”, Emily brought Neutron to the potty area located to the right of the ride.
Emily has plenty of Cast Member friends at Disneyland because of her sweet persona and her amazing cute canine buddies. She appreciates Cast Members’ positive energy and willingness to lend a helping hand in any situation.
I always appreciate when restaurants or counter service food stands offer water cups for my dog. I always feel very comfortable asking for it too, if needed. As is typical for Disneyland, everyone always goes above and beyond to make things accommodating and accessible for the dog and me. It’s the little acts of kindness, such as that, that make a huge difference for my dogs and me.
One thing that Emily would like to educate the world about is the fact that service dogs are 100% focused on the needs of their handler. Distracting a service dog in anyway can cause a potential dangerous disruption to a disabled person’s necessities.
If you see a dog wearing a vest or harness designating them as a service dog, you should never approach without asking first. A big difficulty is when people approach my dog and me, and simply start petting without asking first. This is especially common in Disneyland with kids. Parents are not always aware of service dog etiquette, so they can misinform children about how to properly interact with a service dog. Always be respectful and admire from a distance! I am always happy to educate and answer questions about the training in the appropriate situation.
Disneyland is a great place to train service dogs because you can test stress and overstimulation. With exposure to a busy theme park, Neutron will be better prepared for any place or situation you throw his way.
I love getting up everyday knowing that I am aiding in the training of dogs that are going to make a difference in someone’s life one day. I was enthralled at the idea of participating in a program where I would be able to assist in the training of dogs that would go on to become hard-working service dogs. Seeing them go onto fulfill an important job makes me feel proud that I was able to assist them in their journey.
Neutron and Emily were featured today in our series of stories about Disney fans who have disabilities and their experience at Disneyland. If you have a story that you would like to share, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I would love to hear from you.
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