What is the Service Dog Education Program on Georgia Southern’s campus

Ashley Watts, Multi Media Journalist

Founded in 2018, the service dog training and education program, also known as STEP, works to educate the campus community about service dog laws and etiquette. Part of their program also focuses on training future service dogs. Club president Morgan McCree is currently raising and training her own dog, Betty Jo. 

“Our dogs are with us for about a year to a year and a half. We teach them all the basics: sit, down, stay, the basic cues that they should know.” explained Morgan. 

Betty Jo is in training with southeastern guide dogs. During her time here with Morgan she will learn everything she needs to know before she goes off to service dog training. 

“When she was younger, like 3 months old, like when I first got her, we didn’t do much. We didn’t go to Walmart because that would have been too overstimulating and too stressful for her. But we would go to class, she would settle, or we would walk around the park and that would be a good exposure. Now that she’s a little bit older, we can go to places like Petco, Walmart, grocery stores, the mall, and she does much better because she’s older and she has that confidence to go out and those experiences.” said Morgan.

Along with helping prepare Betty Jo for her future, Morgan works with STEP to inform students of the proper etiquette to use around a service animal. Though it might be common knowledge not to pet a service animal, it is best not to acknowledge them at all. Morgan explained a common mistake people make when encountering a service animal, “People know not to pet, but they don’t know not to say anything. So a lot of times people will be like ‘oh your dog’s so cute,’or ‘hi puppy’, or they’ll walk by & squeal ‘oh what a cute dog.’ Even though you’re not petting, that’s still distracting the dog and still interacting with the dog in some way.” said Morgan. 

Once Betty Jo’s time with Morgan is up, it’s on to big girl school where she will either become a guide dog or a service dog to assist people with disabilities. 

Though there are a variety of options for Betty Jo after leaving Georgia Southern, Southeastern guide dogs are trained for a special purpose. “Their service animals go off to veterans who need them. So usually they end up being PTSD dogs, they can sometimes double as emotional support animals for veterans.” Morgan explained.