By Celina Mori
This may come as a shock to some students but teachers have a life of their own too! Ms. Witt-Kikta, a math teacher who works for the school, has said that she trains service and therapy dogs. Ms. Witta-Kikta currently has one dog that is working on being having her search and rescue certification finalized and is planning to receive from the Humane Society. The dog a three month old puppy to train for Seeing Eyes for the Blind.
Ms. Witt-Kikta started training dogs because she wanted to give back to her community. She was inspired by her parents to help other. Her father was a doctor that was involved with doing community service during his daily life. While her mother was teacher and church pianist. That doesn’t stop there, Ms. Witt-Kitka also has a sister that trains service dogs as well. Keeping the power of giving back to the community alive and running.
When training the dogs, Ms. Witt-Kikta doesn’t often use clickers, instead she handles training with treats. Ms. Witt-Kikta says all of her dogs are positive reward trained because she prefers it over clickers. Each time Ms. Witt-Kikta accepts a new dog, she has to work with another trainer to help get the dog comfortable and socialized since it will be in a group with other dogs. Usually the age to start training for service dogs is at nine months old, but Ms. Witt-Kikta has trained dogs of different ages.
The first dog she started trained was certified at four years old. “Just because a dog’s old doesn’t mean you can’t train them.” She claims. “The longer the dogs are learning, the longer their minds stay active, so the healthier they are.” She compares training a dog is like educating a child.
Ms.Witt-Kikta specifies that training any hound is difficult, since dogs are very eye and nose driven it is challenging for them to stay calm. “It is stressful they are working, they (people) think oh they’re just going around meeting people how hard can that be? For a dog it’s hard work because they don’t normally don’t do that activity they rather run so being on point, being on task, doing what they’re told when told without scratching, or changing that’s a lot of effort for the dogs.” She clarified.
The dogs that Ms.Witt-Kikta obtains are rescue dogs, some have been through bad experiences resulting in the training being a little more tough. A three year old beagle that Ms.Witt-Kikta received had broken hips and bones,it had taken her a year to recover with an aftermath of having to delay her training.
Body language also plays a big role when training a dog, Ms. Witt-Kikta explains before becoming certified as a service dog the trainer must be tested in a room. If the test is failed then the trainer is mostly blamed for it since the dog is generally right, it’s just the trainer gave the dog the wrong signal. A trainer has to keep notice of a dog’s gestures such as when the dog smells something or can detect if someone is friendly. “You learn a lot about your dog.” She expressed. “ They become an extension of you and it's a really unique partnership that grows as the dog lives with you longer.”
With many dogs already successfully trained, Ms. Witt-Kitka is hoping to acquire the nine month old pup by mid-summer or next fall. Even though training a dog can be challenging, Ms. Witt-Kitka is up for the task. Enjoying the work she is currently doing as both a teacher and a service dog trainer, Ms.Witt-Kitka won’t be retiring any time soon.