By Mary Gunderson
Nancy and her husband, Ed, brought Thor, the red Mini Poodle puppy, into their lives during the Covid isolation. Fortunately, Nancy had taken classes and trained the family’s previous dogs. “For Thor, I pushed dog socialization, especially, and had exchanges with friends and their dogs,” she says. “And, loose-leash walking.”
Nancy’s commitment shows, but she credits Thor. “He’s a quick learner. He seems to say, ‘Tell me some more things to do,’” she says, adding with a smile, “His hardest task is to sit still.”
Work friends told Nancy about Can Do Canines, how the organization started as a hearing assist dogs program that’s grown, adding more specialties. They suggested it could be great for her and for Thor. Nancy has a hearing disability in both ears. “I miss a lot of sounds in the environment and in conversation.” Hearing aids help, but she misses high and low sounds. “Some sounds I hear, but can’t tell where they’re coming from. It’s hard to know when to pay attention, but then it’s ‘Mighty Thor to the rescue!’”
In early 2022, Nancy applied. She wasn’t surprised when her 16-pound dynamo passed his evaluation. “Thor is so bright and enthusiastic I knew he would work well in the program.” Thor’s eager confidence and her training skills qualified Thor as an “alert” dog, and the road to a working Hearing Assistance Dog team began in April 2022.
“It was jaw-dropping that they would come to my house to train with me. It was private tutoring,” Nancy says. She adjusted to making the Can Do Canines training her part-time job. “I worked every day with Thor. We couldn’t cram all the training in one day to be ready when the trainers were coming to see our progress.”
During the training process, Thor quickly embraced his new status. “He loves it! He’s eager, wags his tail,” says Nancy. “The trainers were kind, patient, and knowledgeable. Thor loved them.”
The duo learned each alert skill step by step. “The timer, a dropped item while I’m walking, and the doorbell are all very helpful alerts,” Nancy says. When Ed needs Nancy, he says “Mom,” and Thor runs to get her. “This is a very important one,” she says. And remember that Thor’s hardest task is sitting still? “’Go Mat’ is really helpful when I’m out and sitting somewhere,” she says.
Nancy enjoys adding more experiences for Thor and herself, and they continue to work at being out in public and being in new situations beyond their Arden Hills neighborhood. “Thor has proven that in busy environments, he can both stay beside me AND notice the world around us.”
Recently Nancy and Thor joined a group of friends for a North Shore trip. Some had questioned why she was doing a “dog program.” Once Thor was in action, they had the answer.
Nancy loves how her relationship has grown with her poodle companion. “I know him better. He knows Ed and me better,” she says. “Thor has made critical things in my life easier, giving me more confidence in public.”
That’s a mighty wonderful impact from one small-sized partner!