GLEN ELLYN – When Morgan Riley was in third grade, she learned about Canine Companions for Independence.
She knew someone else in Glen Ellyn who trained service dogs, and the more she heard about the program, the more it interested her.
Morgan began to help with the dog training, eventually receiving her own dog to work with when she was in fifth grade. Since then, Morgan has been hard at work, getting dogs ready to serve as companions for people with disabilities.
“I love training them,” Morgan said. “You just always get a new puppy, a new challenge.”
Morgan receives puppies when they are 8 weeks old and trains them until they are about 18 months old. After that, the dogs go to Canine Companions for Independence, which completes the training before the dogs are given to those who need them.
Dogs are trained to be hearing, skilled companion, full service and facility dogs. The role of each type of dog varies, from skilled companion dogs who serve children and teens with developmental disabilities to full service dogs who help adults with physical disabilities.
Morgan potty trains the dogs and then teaches them 40 commands. These include getting them to sit, put their paw on someone’s lap, put their head on someone’s lap and put their paws on a table or a wall. She also teaches them to sit quietly under tables, which helps later on if they need to accompany their owner to a restaurant.
She is currently training her sixth dog, a 1-year-old Golden Retriever named Friday. Of the five dogs she has trained so far, four of them have gone on to become service dogs through Canine Companions for Independence. The fifth now serves as a Delta Pet Therapy dog.
Dog training is a big responsibility for Morgan, a sophomore at Glenbard West High School. Her parents have made sure that Morgan is truly the one responsible for the dogs, even if it means taking them out at 2 a.m. when she has school the next day.
“She’s the dog whisperer in our family,” said Morgan’s mother, Christina.
Since Morgan began training dogs, Christina said she has noticed her daughter is very determined and has an ability to persevere.
By the time Morgan graduates high school, she will have trained eight dogs for Canine Companions for Independence. Even when training gets difficult, Morgan said she loves getting to work with the dogs, and although she may miss them for a little while after they’re gone, she knows they’re leaving her to help with a good cause.
“I know they’re going to someone who needs them more than I do,” Morgan said.