Paws-ing to Help

Training Is Just the Beginning at Top Tier K9

Writer / Julie Yates
Photography Provided

Ken Weadick, owner of Dogtopia, a dog day care with boarding services in Greenwood, and a dog trainer at Greenwood’s Top Tier K9 franchise, was taking a master course on service-dog training in Florida when the call came in.

After months of desperately applying to various service agencies and being turned down, Trevor Wachsman reached out to Top Tier K9. His dog companion of 17 years had recently passed away, yet Wachsman’s situation didn’t meet the usual qualifications for acquiring a service animal.

Currently in his early 40s, Wachsman was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was just 2 years old. His treatment plan included radiation, but at a rate that is seven to 10 times higher than what is considered safe today. As a result, he eventually lost his right eye and developed a host of other problems that left him unable to work.

Wachsman’s main support had been his German shepherd, and without the dog, he was floundering. After being turned down by nonprofits that provided service dogs to veterans, blind individuals and those with autism, he felt like he had hit a brick wall. Another problem was that if he did qualify with an agency, there would be a three- to five-year wait period, and doctors predicted Wachsman would only live for five to seven more years. He was considering exploring the idea of assisted end-of-life options when he contacted Top Tier K9.

In Greenwood, Top Tier K9 is best known for its basic obedience programs. It offers dog owners a board-and-train program that lasts three to four weeks. During the science-based training period, owners come to the facility once per week to see the progress their dog is making. Owners are coached on implementing new-to-them dog handling skills, which are based on timing, motivation and consistency.

Another facet of Top Tier K9 is that they are a source for working dogs. Through their Foundation Dog program, they train puppies in scent discrimination, tracking, protection and advanced obedience. After successfully completing three phases of this Foundation Dog training, they can be finished as working dogs in various specialties such as service, emotional support, protection and special security.

Weadick’s love of dogs brought him to Top Tier K9 after 25 years working in the field of behavior analysis, where he supported adults with developmental disabilities and children diagnosed with autism. He is a board-certified behavior analyst and holds graduate degrees in education and psychology. So it wasn’t a stretch for him to complete training, and then pass qualifying exams and practical evaluations to become certified as a pet trainer, Foundation Dog trainer, as well as service-dog and protection-dog trainer.

Breeding dogs for the specific qualities needed for this work is crucial to increase the likelihood of success in the Foundation Dog program. Weadick has worked with breeds such as Belgian Malinois and Dutch shepherds. At the present time, Top Tier K9 is working on developing a line of German shepherds.

“When Trevor called, we looked in our inventory of dogs and we had one that fit his specific needs,” Weadick says. “His story was compelling and we saw the need to donate the dog. Less than eight weeks later, Trevor had a dog. An Angel Flight, which is free air transportation donated to people in need, was arranged to bring Trevor to us. Even before we trained Trevor and his dog together, there was preparation going on. Trevor got online and went through Top Tier K9’s virtual-reality training program. Wearing goggles, he worked on timing, correction and reinforcement.”

Since getting his dog, life has turned around for Wachsman. Showing his sense of humor, he named his new service animal Gamma, after the radiation rays that were the source of his disabilities. Since receiving Gamma, he has been able to sleep through the night. In public, Gamma offers a cushion of security. At medical appointments, Gamma offers support. Wachsman has gained more confidence, knowing he is being protected. Most importantly, his health has dramatically improved.

“I love working with service dogs,” Weadick says. “We have successful placements with individuals with autism, with physical impairments, as a source of protection and security for women coming out of abusive situations. Dogs can develop the ability to predict precursors to anxiety and behaviors related to PTSD, and provide support. It’s a positive on both sides. The dogs are given jobs they want to do, and people benefit.”

Dogtopia Greenwood is located at 1709 South State Road 135. For more info, visit dogtopia.com, call 317-886-3100, or email weadick@dogtopia.com. Also view them on Facebook and Instagram.

The Dogtopia Foundation donates to service dogs for veterans, therapy dogs for students, and employment initiatives for adults with autism.

Top Tier K9 Greenwood is located at 1709 South State Road 135. For additional details, visit toptierk9.com, email ken.weadick@toptierk9.com, or call/text 317-447-0853. Also learn more by visiting them on Facebook and Instagram.

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