The new dog workout plan

WSU service dogs aren’t playing around

By Marc Katz

I’ve seen humans work out, and horses, and (when we had circuses) elephants. Most other animals running around seemed to just be playing, except maybe for turtles and goldfish.

That’s what a pet issue should really be about—turtles and goldfish—if you’d really like to know. They take a little food and you have to clean their bowls, but sometimes, you can do that sitting down. Then you don’t have to chase them all over the yard to make sure they don’t run into the street and get hit by a car.

I’m just not a pet kind of guy.

Then I was told about this one-acre patch of grass, concrete, and a shelter just across University Road from University Hall on the Wright State campus, where a special bunch of dogs works out.

Yes, dogs work out, too, I’m told. It isn’t all about dashing across a field to fetch a frisbee, ball, newspaper, or stick.

This area is for service dogs, and as one of the student handlers told me, “These dogs are working all day. They take classes with the students—except for anatomy classes or classes where chemicals are used. They open doors, help students cross roads, practice pressure therapy, and keep students out of potential trouble.”

The WSU Wingerd Service Dog Park is a place for them to play and keep healthy.

It is used for dog exercise by disabled students, who have service dogs of their own, and for a Xenia nonprofit called 4 Paws for Ability, that trains dogs mostly for children.

Of course, I’ve known for a long time WSU has been innovative in ways to help disabled students. What I didn’t know was the university has this dog park.

The dogs trained by 4 Paws start at a puppy house in Xenia, then are sent to various jails where inmates help them deal with different aspects of life, such as obedience.

Then they are sent to Wright State, where students without disabilities take them into different situations so they won’t be surprised when they’re actually working, according to Student Services Specialist Jenny Daws.

The dogs from 4 Paws range in age from about four months to a year. Privately owned dogs can be any age.

Daws is a volunteer staff advisor, so this isn’t one of those jobs the university is going to have to cut to make its budget.

Wright State is believed to be (until Ohio State gets its park going) the only university in the country—or at least the first—to have a service dog park. It was started in 2008.

It’s not for anybody’s pet dog. When a service dog is led to this little park, there are obstacles such as concrete pipes for them to run through and jump over. There is room to chase after frisbees, and to exercise legs as much as possible. These dogs are most often golden retrievers, papillons, German shepherds, and golden doodles.

Under the shelter is a drinking fountain with three levels—one for handlers who can walk up and bend over to take a drink, one for those in wheelchairs, and one down on the ground, where dogs can refresh themselves.

It is also a time for dogs to socialize, much like teammates in human sports.

If you’ve ever seen a service dog, you know they’re attentive to detail and never run off to play with a friend or take a nap.

Bekkah Dee, a WSU senior, has a dog living with her during the school year. She doesn’t have the dog because she needs one. She has a dog to train for someone who does. She takes the dogs she trains to the park at the end of the day, so they can get exercise.

“They kind of play,” Dee says. “Socialization training is important. Dogs are quiet [when they’re working].”

Dogs are trained to be quiet, especially in a school atmosphere. One of the handlers told me of a perfect service dog…that wouldn’t stop barking. That dog had to be given away as a pet. And then there was the dog that had to go and didn’t have the bathroom key. That hallway had to be worked on awhile.

Hannah Westfall is another co-handler. She says it was important to get the dogs used to all situations, train them for diabetic alerts and seizures.

The group of about 50 student co-handlers rely on fundraisers to keep the dogs in training.

They can use the dog park from dawn to dusk, but usually gather in the early evening hours. It’s a little eerie, because even there, most of the dogs don’t bark. They also look like they’re just playing, and sometimes, they are.

Don’t be fooled. What looks like playtime to us is also workout time for a service dog.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at 


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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at

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