Service dogs trained at K9 Elite Academy in Mulberry

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Mental health and the need for a service dog led Claire McCullar to a passion for dog training. Claire and Melissa McCullar devote their time at the K9 Elite Academy in Mulberry to training service dogs for a variety of needs.

Claire was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder at a young age. Her mother Melissa was able to get her a job as a zookeeper in Mountainburg and Claire noticed how comfortable she was with animals.

Claire asked her mother if she could get a service dog to help her with anxiety when she needed it.

“I didn’t know what that was going to be made of,” said Melissa. “So I did some research and found a trainer in Joplin, Missouri.”

Melissa explained how Joplin’s trainer, Tim Franks, knew exactly what Claire was going through and what Melissa was going through as her mother. Claire won cricket, a white poodle trained as a PTSD service dog.

Goose, Claire's service dog, follows Claire's orders.

Unfortunately, cricket was unable to handle the school environment. Another dog, Goose, who is a chocolate lab, was brought in for Claire.

“He didn’t care. He was just so easy going, “said Melissa.

Claire helped train both cricket and Goose with Franks, and through that experience she knew she wanted to do so. She started training and became a certified dog trainer at the age of 15.

“So we wanted to take the next step,” said Melissa.

She explained that if Claire needed a service dog, she had to sell a vehicle just to be able to afford it. Assistance dogs are not insured and are usually paid for out of pocket.

In October 2020, they opened the K9 Elite Training in Mulberry to help others and train service dogs. They specialize in service animals and obedience training. PTSD service dogs, diabetic service dogs, autistic service dogs, and seizure service dogs are all part of their offerings.

The dogs are taught service tasks as required by the owner. The first eight months of a dog’s training are obedience. Four are currently in training.

“Once obedience is impressed, we begin the assignment work,” said Melissa.

Task work for a service animal is the special thing the dog has to learn in order to better help its owner. This may include deep pressure therapy to help owners with anxiety, prevent their owners from harming themselves in the event of a seizure, and even alert their owners to low blood sugar.

The list of actions a service dog can perform is incredibly extensive. Claire and Melissa ensure that their customers’ dogs are taught specific actions that are unique to the owner.

They also train therapy dogs to be taken to hospitals, nursing homes, or schools. Service dogs are different from emotional support animals, which provide therapeutic support only through companionship and are not allowed in places such as airplanes or shops.

Service animals can go anywhere their owner goes and have more emotional support rights than an animal.

“A service dog has all four feet on the ground,” said Melissa. “You’re not in a buggy, sometimes you can be in a papoose with a diabetic to have your blood sugar checked, but that’s the only exception.”

She explained that service dogs are essentially medical devices. You must be prescribed a service animal and there must be a reason.

“I want to emphasize that,” said Melissa. “Not everyone needs a service dog.”

Since Claire has had a service dog, she no longer needs medication and has improved mentally. The K9 Elite Academy is located at 120 N. Main St. in Mulberry and can be contacted at 479-312-6549. They offer either a six-week in-home or in-shop training and a four-week board-and-train option.