Summer Internship with Buckeye Service Dogs

Elizabeth Spahr



  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

I interned with Buckeye Service Dogs over the summer. It was an amazing experience in which I was able to shadow my supervisor on visits with clients who were interested in getting service dogs and work with service dogs-in-training. Aside from working with people and dogs, I was lucky enough to also work with horses and ball pythons.


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Having worked with this organization before my internship began I was unsure that I would be able to experience something that would definitively change or transform. However, I could not have been more wrong. Coming into this internship I knew that there was an emphasis on both the dog aspect and the human aspect, but I figured the focus was much more on the dogs. It turns out that people are almost equallyessential to animal-related businesses of any kind.

While working with horses, I also learned that training methods and behavior studies can mostly be applied across species. Though my internship supervisor is specifically in the service dog business, she does work with horses as well. I began to see horses differently by working with her; and though I in no way believe that horses and dogs are the same, I now think that if you understand how to train one, you can learn how to train the other.


  1. What events, interactions,relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

During my internship, I was lucky enough to be able to go along with my supervisor to several different types of meetings. These meetings really hoped transform my views on what is important in the service dog industry. The first kind of meeting I was able to go to was a meeting with a family that was considering getting a service dog from our organization. During interviews like this, my supervisor likes to get an understanding of what daily life is like for the clients. She looks specifically for whether or not their lifestyle would support having a dog, because while service dogs are considered “medical equipment” she still has a responsibility to the dog to ensure it has a good life. This was the first meeting that really allowed me to see that the people are just as important: if the people are not willing to put in the work with the dog or unable to provide it with all the necessities, it is nearly impossible to place the dog in that home.

The other two kinds of meetings are also important. The next kind of meeting is the one where the person and their future service dog meet. During these meetings, we needed to see whether or not the people would “click” with the dog. In one of these that I attended, we actually brought two service dogs-in-training to meet with a person as we were unsure of which would be a better fit. In this case the human aspect and dog aspect of this business meet and it is very important to make the best possible team. The last type of meeting is a sort of check-up: after about a month of the team being together, my supervisor will make a short trip out to see if everything is still going well. During this meeting, she assesses whether or not the human team member is continuing with the training and keeping up their end of the contract.

My internship supervisor allowed me to help her work with her horses so that I could get some experience with training horses as well. While I was with her, I began to notice more and more similarities between training horses and training dogs. My supervisor even trained her horse to do some of the same things we train the dogs to do! Horses seem to be just as reward driven as our dogs, as well as eager to work. I would say the biggest difference between training dogs and training horses is that horses typically do not respond to voice commands like dogs and mostly rely on body language and signaling.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

I believe that most people like me that are animal science majors and on the pre-veterinary track are much more interested in animals than people, For me, at least, this was especially true as I knew from a young age that I wanted to work with animals. I think it is easy to forget that working with humans is just as important, whether they are owners or other doctors. I am grateful for this experience as it has truly helped me be better prepared for life after vet school and I am now better equipped to understand more people. This internship also contributed greatly to my breadth of experience with animals. Prior to this past summer I had never worked with reptiles or horses and now I can say that I am comfortable with both!