Project Update: Dog House

Project Update: Dog House

By Lauren Jeschke ‘14


While the Dickinson College Dog House brings to mind images of snuggly little golden fur-balls napping, frolicking, and melting hearts everywhere they go, there is much more to Dog House than meets the eye. While the focus is often on the puppies, it is important to remember that Dog House is equally focused on student empowerment, community service and hands-on learning.


Dog House is a student-led service learning initiative that was created in 2012 as the brainchild of Lauren Holtz ’15 (Neuroscience), who worked with Idea Fund to create an on campus service learning initiative dedicated to training would-be service dogs and puppies.  Now two years later, the Dog House “Pack” has grown significantly and has a solid, ever-expanding presence on campus. Idea Fund and Dog House exhibit a strong symbiotic relationship that demonstrates how the right idea, funding, resources, and people power can create an incredibly meaningful project. And not only has Idea Fund helped make Dog House a reality, but Dog House has helped Idea Fund by being an exemplary poster child of student empowerment, community outreach, and social sustainability both inside and outside the Dickinson community.
As the Dog House has expanded and membership has increased, multiple positions have been created within the group, creating new leadership opportunities for Dog House volunteers. Maddie Stearn ’17 (Computer Science) and Lizzie Wilford ’16 (Studio Art) sat down to chat about how Dog House has shaped their college experience and contributed to community service and student life at Dickinson. Maddie and Lizzie are Dog House trainers who are not just in it for puppy playtime, but are part of a team on a serious mission to raise service dogs that will ultimately be helping children with disabilities.


After meeting Dino last year, Lizzie jumped at the chance to become involved in Dog House this fall and is now living at the Dog House – which means a growing and learning experience for her as a student and trainer:
“It’s a lot different than I expected and a big adjustment from living with my two dogs at home” says Lizzie on life at the Dog House. “We wake up when Loki wakes up at 5:45 in the morning, and we are still getting him adjusted as well as adjusting ourselves”. She also cites this experience as much more than just having a pet: “At home I can just let my dogs outside whenever if they’re being annoying, but you just can’t do that with Loki”.
Maddie first heard of Doghouse on her tour of Dickinson last spring. She encountered just an advertisement about Doghouse and waited (impatiently) for activities night to finally join.  She is now managing print and media relations for Dog House and is also a trainer.


For Maddie, being a Dog House trainer is a great form of stress relief. “The transition from home was hard, but when I started training (the puppies) I didn’t realize just how invested I would be in their progress”. Maddie’s proudest puppy moment occurred one Autumn day while out with Loki for a walk, when he all of a sudden became rooted on the spot, refusing to budge. Initially perplexed as to Loki’s motionlessness and continuous barking, she then realized he was terrified of the Halloween decorations on nearby houses. Maddie was calm and eventually coaxed him to move on. “He didn’t run up to them or go berserk or anything, he just sat”: Loki’s behavior was a testament to his training, and his ability to get past his fear was a quality moment in his young career.
“I was so proud”, says Maddie.
Lizzie too, feels a great benefit from her constant interaction with the puppies. A lot of the work includes more basic activities such as sitting and leash training. “It has really helped my patience”, she says. Also, Lizzie describes her appreciation for a more professional relationship with the puppies. “It is nice to have a different type of relationship with a dog, not as a playmate, but more of a working relationship.” One of Lizzie’s proudest moments was leading Loki in between the grooves of a bike rack on campus this fall.


What many Dickinsonians do not know is that Dog House is not technically a club, but a service learning initiative. Although it is not currently Senate Recognized, Maddie believes Dog House has a strong foundation and major potential to grow on campus in the years to come. “We are all about social sustainability and want this to continue on, even as people graduate.” Lizzie agrees that Dog House has great potential, but mentions that it depends on the future group of people and their willingness to work hard.


The final part of the interview was the question: If you could dispel one misconception the Dickinson community has about Dog House, what would it be?
Maddie: “It’s NOT the same as the adopt-a-dog events!” she laughs. Lizzie joins in.
Lizzie: “I agree. And it’s about a lot more than just petting puppies. Training is about the dog and the person that will receive the dog. The most important thing to remember is [that] these aren’t just pets, they’re tools to help another human being’s life”.
It is evident that the Dog House puppies are not only beginning a lifetime journey of helping others, but are also inspiring and changing lives at Dickinson by giving tangible meaning to community service, and serving as an example of how a simple idea can transform a community and make an incredible difference. 
If you are interested in learning more about Dog House, please check out their Project page
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