You can see Margret McLaughlin around Goshen frequenting places such as the County Seat or Kroger with her friend Ivy.
But Ivy isn’t your ordinary kind of friend; she’s a guide dog in training.
“Training dogs has been something that I’ve been interested in since the time I was a kid,” said McLaughlin.
A Middlebury native and Goshen College alumnus, McLaughlin is the only guide dog trainer in Elkhart County and one of 10 trainers in the Northern Indiana area.
When she started pursuing guide dog training, she found that there were no schools close by. Then in 1998, she discovered Leader Dogs in Rochester, Michigan. She took home an application to start training dogs.
“I specifically train guide dogs for the blind. But Leader Dogs can be used for the deaf and blind,” said McLaughlin. “There’s no preliminary schooling to be a trainer. We meet with a puppy counselor, but anyone with basic obedience training can do it.”
McLaughlin has graduated 15 dogs all together; six German Shepherds, four Labrador Retrievers, three Golden Retrievers, one Poodle, and one Lab/Shepherd mix.
Of the 15, two dogs, Clara and Sam, have gone out of the country to Argentina and Spain.
“Western Europe has schools for guide dogs, but not Spain or Argentina,” said McLaughlin.
Her newest student is Ivy, a four-month-old Golden Retriever. McLaughlin was able to be with Ivy intensively in the first four weeks of having her due to an injury that kept her at home.
“She’s progressing really well,” said McLaughlin. “She does well in public too.”
McLaughlin likes to use a clicker-method to train her dogs, a method that few people use.
“It’s not the old yank ‘em and thank ‘em method. It’s more fun for both the dog and the trainer.”
This method uses a series of clicks from a clicker to signal different commands to the dog during training. In addition to being more fun, McLaughlin feels that this method of training is much faster.
All of the work that McLaughlin does is on a volunteer basis. She does it simply for her love of dogs and passion of dog training.
“We pay for everything,” said McLaughlin. “Except now I don’t pay for medial bills thanks to Dr. Kaiser, bless his heart.”
Returning her puppies back to Leader Dogs is no easy task. After spending almost a year together, the separation can be hard.
“I miss them a lot, but, like my puppy counselor says, it’s not about me,” said McLaughlin. “ I have all their graduation pictures hanging proudly on the wall.”