Man’s Best Friend and Doctor: Dave Calvano is Training Service Dogs


Gracie, a service dog at St. Francis Medical Center, lays quietly while waiting to meet another patient.

Dogs can be more than just a snuggle buddy, and scientific research has proven it. Owning a dog can not only improve a sense of responsibility in humans but can also enhance their health.

“My parents make me feed our dog every morning, and I feel like it has made me a more responsible person,” said sophomore Garrett Hayden.

According to HuffPost, dogs can improve physical and mental health in several ways. “Studies show that having a canine companion is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels, which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health and fewer heart attacks.”

Dogs can also help reduce stress. Spending just a few minutes with a dog can lower anxiety and blood pressure. It can also increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play important roles in the wellbeing and calmness of a person.

“One of my family members has bad anxiety, and she says hanging out with her dog relieves a lot of it,” said freshman Ashlynn Olson.

Owning a dog can also keep people active. A dog needs to go outside to use the restroom or go for walks. However, going on a walk doesn’t just benefit the dog; it can improve health in its owner, too.

Better Health says, “Benefits include improved cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, stronger muscles and bones (built up by walking regularly), and decreased stress.” Scientific research studies have said that people who walk their dogs are seen by other people as more friendly and approachable.

An owner’s social life can also improve by walking their dog. “Researchers have found that about 40 percent make friends more easily, possibly because the vast majority—4 in 5, according to one British study—speak with other dog owners during walks,” according to the Huffpost. Think about how often people pass by other people or their neighbors when walking their dogs. A study at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University said that people who have a strong attachment to a pet report that they feel more connected in their human relationships and their communities. It also said that kids or teenagers who grow up owning or living with a dog become more confident and empathetic people.

The benefits go beyond the physical. A  study in Japan in 2009 found that just staring into a dog’s eyes raises oxytocin levels, also known as the “love hormone.” That hormone is a neurotransmitter that calms down your nervous system. Other studies too have shown that owning a dog can help prevent depression and loneliness.

Service dogs have become common in the United States. These service dogs are trained to provide support for individuals’ specific needs, such as visual or hearing disabilities, seizures, diabetes, mobility challenges, etc. The main role of these dogs is to react to and respond to situations that they are trained for. A service dog can be trained to do a wide range of tasks like grabbing a phone for someone to even dialing 911.

A math teacher from Air Academy High School, Dave Calvano, and his wife train one dog every year and a half for a non-profit organization called Canine Companions for Independence. They are now training their current puppy named Vinci. They have been training dogs for people with disabilities for around 30 years and they are training their 20th dog at the moment. The dogs could go to people with a disability in a wheelchair, a veteran with PTSD, someone with hearing loss, etc.

“It is really hard to give up the dogs that you have every day for longer than a year because they basically become your best friend. The thought of never seeing the dog again is hard, but you know that they are going to someone who needs them,” said Calvano.

Dogs have long been considered man’s best friend, but with the right training, many have also become man’s best doctors.