By Kathleen Swift
When Rip, a German Shepherd, first came to live with Abby Nelson, neither of them planned on him becoming a service dog. But Rip was a smart and active pup, and Abby needed to find a job for him to do to keep his mind active and to provide focus for him.
“I brought Rip home in October of 2020, with intentions of him being a companion and for protection,” said Nelson. “As he grew, I realized how smart and driven he was.”
Nelson first took Rip to Coastline K9 in Naples, Florida, when he was a puppy, for obedience training and public skills training. “Before he went, Rip was anxious and scared of things. When he came home, he was a completely different dog. They gave him self-confidence and socialized him for public spaces. The people at Coastline told me he would be adaptable for service training. I also received training to help Rip maintain his skills and to communicate with him.
“I did some research and thought he might be able to help me with medical alert and response. I’ve struggled with fainting spells throughout my life and have also battled low blood sugar. My goal was to train him for tasks to assist during these events.
“We worked with local trainer Jim Smith at Pampered Pooch in Columbus, Kansas. If I pass out, Rip will run to assist by burrowing under my knees and standing to raise my feet above head level, helping to recirculate blood back to the brain. He is also in the process of learning to alert me when my blood sugar level beings to drop.
“Mid-training, I was at home, and I felt myself about to pass out. I was trying to reach for the mouth swab I use to train Rip to the scent of low blood sugar. He was outside, and as I fell, I called, ‘Rip! Help!,’ and he came running in and got under my legs and stood there looking at me. It made me feel secure to have him there raising my legs. Rip is also learning to retrieve items for me, such as my phone and my purse so I can get help.”
Rip goes everywhere with Nelson: church, work, shopping. He wears his service vest when he is out so others know he is working. But this active 2-year-old dog is learning other tasks, as well.
“Rip needs to keep his mind busy, so our training won’t stop with medical alert training. He loves to sniff things out and find things, so we are training with Betty and Audie Tash out of Galena, Kansas, and K9Defend out of Springfield, Missouri, to teach Rip to track people and objects. I love to participate in shooting competitions, and Rip is learning to be desensitized to the sound of gunfire so he can go with me to the competitions. He goes with me on walks and runs and kayaking. His favorite toy is his Frisbee, and he’s made some amazing catches lately. Shepherds are known to be one-person dogs, and he’s a great companion and a great service dog for me. Rip also has an Instagram @ripsterGSD for anyone who would like to follow his training.”