Goodwill of Central Iowa (GCI) aims to improve the quality of life for individuals in our communities. Through Skills Training Programs, Career Connection Centers, and more, GCI helps enrich the lives of those facing barriers to employment.
Austin Cory, E-Commerce Online Sales Processor at Goodwill of Central Iowa, also works as a puppy trainer with Paws and Effect. Austin approached Goodwill with a unique request to provide Trixie, a 7-month old yellow lab, with on-the-job training in a warehouse environment at Goodwill of Central Iowa’s headquarters. Evaluating his request, it was agreed upon that allowing Austin to provide skills training for Trixie fit right into the Goodwill mission.
Preparing for her own career as a service dog, Trixie is currently in training at our Johnston warehouse. Trotting through the halls wearing her blue work vest, Trixie has become a favored “employee” by all.
Trixie’s Paws and Her Effect
Trixie started her journey as a prison puppy with Paws and Effect. Paws and Effect trains service dogs to be placed with veterans, children with disabilities, and individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To prepare dogs for placement, they start as puppies and train until they are 1-1.5 years old.
“The puppies start out training at the North Central Correctional Facility,” said Ashley Anderson, Paws and Effects Lead Trainer. “The correctional facility is a low-security prison and inmates must earn the privilege to work with the puppies.”
Until the puppies are ready for advanced training, they stay with the prisoners’ full time. During the time that the puppies are in the prison, they are taught basic obedience commands. Allowing inmates to train these puppies also provides them with the opportunity to learn about positive reinforcement.
When the puppies graduate from the prison program, they are paired with trainers, like Austin. They will begin training out in public and practicing relationship building.
Throughout this training, the trainers will observe the dog’s patterns. Through these observations the trainers will be able to identify the dog’s strengths and weaknesses. Being aware of these will help with proper placement of the dog. The goal of placement is to pair a dog with an individual whose strengths and weaknesses complement those of the dog.
Austin has been working as a trainer with Paws and Effect for two years and was paired with Trixie back in September. Through positive training and rewards, Austin and Trixie have built a trusting bond. Rewarding her for all her successes and working with her in confidence has provided a solid foundation for Trixie to trust Austin as her handler.
Since Austin and Trixie have bonded as handler and pup, Trixie watches him for ques and listens to commands and hand signals consistently. “The biggest area of improvement is leash etiquette,” said Austin. “Training her to walk in heel and not pull on the leash has definitely been a struggle.”
Learning to follow basic commands, ques, and signals will allow for her future owner to focus on teaching disability specific skills. Trixies strengths include quick response to ques, picking up items, and nose work. These skills are beneficial for tasks such as locating items like a cane or identifying a medicine bag.
“Trixie’s goal is to be in training between fifteen and eighteen months,” said Ashley. There are a few determining factors that will come into consideration when Trixie will be ready to be placed. These include health, having a recipient, and training progression. According to Austin, Trixie is one of the healthiest pups in the program and is also on the fast track to meeting her training goals.
Trixie’s Goodwill Journey
Trixie has been training at Goodwill for about three months. “She really had no issues from the first day I brought her,” said Austin. “I was actually very surprised when we walked through the truck bays the first time. It was like the forklifts didn’t even exist to her.”
Just like all of us, Trixie had to get back into her working groove after the holiday hustle and bustle. With the busyness that surrounded the holiday season, Trixie got a little vacation from working in the warehouse. When returning to work at Goodwill, Austin and Trixie had to work on some retraining while she got back into her nine to five routine.
Trixie integrated seamlessly into Austin’s department and workspace. “I was actually kind of surprised by people accepting and respecting Trixie as a service dog,” said Austin. “Once word got out that she was training as a service dog, no one tried to pet her or get her attention. They all understood that she was working and doing her own job.”
The employees at Goodwill of Central Iowa love having Trixie in the workplace. On occasion she will be rewarded with snuggle breaks. Trixie earns these through her good behavior and hard work. When allowed to take off her vest Trixie is showered with affection by all who are near.
“I believe that having a service dog in training is a reinforcement of our mission,” said Ben Jacobi, E-Commerce Manager of ShopGoodwill. “I think that this shows just how beneficial a dog can be in the workplace and is just one example of how Goodwill fights for equal opportunities in the workplace.”