Click on the questions to view answers

If you have a question not answered below, please contact Diane Rampelberg at: diane@dustinspaw.org

Those who wish to facilitate the advancement of treatment goals with patients who have not responded to previous intervention.

Those clients who are motivated by a dog’s presence and will work persistently on their behavior/skills in order to interact with a highly, trained assistance dog.

Parents, teachers, therapists, doctors and nurses who seek ways to motivate, teach and inspire their clients/patients in the following areas: Academic Skills; Physical Functioning, Motor Planning, Gross Motor, Fine Motor, Sensory Motor and/or Perceptual motor skills; Verbal and non-verbal communication; Self-care, Self-Help, Productivity, Leisure, Social and Behavioral Skills; Feeding Skills.


The Dustin’s Paw dogs know some 70+ interactive commands. Via these commands patients can command the dogs by voice, sign, PEC cards or speech communication devices. Some of the commands allow the patients to engage in “play” or game activities (therapy in disquise). Others allow the dogs to engage in ”therapy” activities with the patient – for example, playing on the computer or using the iPad, dressing, brushing teeth, feeding or walking beside a patient learning how to use a wheelchair or walker. Sometimes the dogs are pulled in wagons, pushed in wheelchairs or ride on scooter boards. They love to chase balls – all kinds of balls! They are excellent retrivers and can even play Hid’n Go Seek complete with blindfold.

It is important to note that this work:

  takes a special, well trained dog who is stable enough to handle the noise and distractions (especially food) in order to calmly and obediently execute the activities for the benefit of the patient AND
  takes an experienced, knowledgeable handler who is an astute observer, knows both the patient and the dog, understands what the therapist wants and is capable of going with the flow to set up a successful experience for all involved.

Be sure to check out these questions:

  • What do the dogs do for the patients?
  • What do the dogs do for a therapist?
  • What is a Canine Modality Specialist?
  • What is Speech Therapy and how do the dogs help?
  • What is Physical Therapy and how do the dogs help?
  • What is Occupational Therapy and how do the dogs help?

You can also view our Testimonal Page and Dustin’s Paw Stories for more specific examples.


Dustin’s Paw of Idaho is a 501(c)3 non-profit providing interactive canine/patient therapy activities for disabled children and adults.

   Working as an integral part of the professional team*, we provide creative, interactive canine/patient therapy activities designed to captivate and entice disabled children and adults** to accomplish their learning and therapy goals.

*The professional team can include any one or more of the following: Occupational Therapists and Assistants, Physical Therapists and Assistants,, Speech and Language Pathologists, Special Education and Inclusion Teachers, Educational Assistants and Aides, Developmental Specialists and Technicians, Psychologists, Intensive Behavior Interventionists, Vision Specialists, Orientation and Mobility Specialists, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Specialists, Feeding Therapists, Nurses, Doctors, Nutritionists, Adapted Physical Eucation Specialists, Music Therapists, Early Start Intake Teams, Family Service Coordinators, Case Workers, Administrators and/or Parents.

**Our clients range in age from infants to adults with visual impairments, on the autism spectrum, orthopedic impairments and/or are developmentally delayed, mentally challenged, deaf or hard of hearing, emotional distured, socially inept, medically fragile and/or other disabilities.

   We provide printed and web based materials for those interested in using professionally trained assistance dogs in school or rehabilitation environments.
 We provide consulting to individuals, schools, clinics and organizations.
 We support parents of disabled children through our workshops at the STARS clinic in Meridian, ID.
We give demonstrations, workshops and presentations showing the value of the Canine Modality Specialist to schools and other organization concerned with the well being and quality of life of disabled children and adults.

Dustin’s Paw of Idaho does NOT train or provide professional assistance dogs. Our focus is fully on utilizing a professionally trained dog as an integral part of the rehabilition treatment and healing process.

Disabled children, adults and their families.
Therapy services, Hospitals, Early Start programs, Private and Public Schools, Private Organizations, Federal and State Programs, Pediatric Day Health Centers and Professional Business’ serving the disabled.
Occupational Therapists and Assistants, Physical Therapists and Assistants,, Speech and Language Pathologists, Special Education and Inclusion Teachers, Educational Assistants and Aides, Developmental Specialists and Technicians, Psychologists, Intensive Behavior Interventionists, Vision Specialists, Orientation and Mobility Specialists, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Specialists, Feeding Therapists, Nurses, Doctors, Nutritionists, Adapted Physical Education Specialists, Music Therapists, Early Start Intake Teams, Family Service Coordinators, Case Workers, Administrators and other professionals who seek to increase their effectiveness with clients.


We volunteer a total of 40 hours a week at Saint Alphonsus Rehabilition Services Pediatric and Jumpstart Clinic in Meridian, Idaho.
We support parents of disabled children through our workshops at the STARS clinic in Meridian, ID.
In the Idaho Treasure Valley area we do demonstrations for schools, developmental agencies and civic organizations.
We support organizations (Saint Alphonsus Foundation, March of Dimes, Buddy Walk, Dravet Syndrome, Resource Fair, etc.) dealing with disabled children and adults.
We do occasional workshops for Canine Companions for Independence.
We do occasional consulting with parents and groups throughout the U.S.

Working with the Dustin’s Paw dogs gives a therapist an edge with:

Patients who have lost interest
Patients who require more motivation
Patients who have been in therapy for years and know all the tricks
Patients who are resistive
Patients who are distractible
Patients who are fearful
Patients who need distractions
Patients who will work harder for a dog than for a human (therapist or caregiver)

Canine = Dog

Modality = Method of treatment. Modalities are ways in which medical professionals go about treating a condition. Examples of modalities include therapy balls, wheelchairs, walkers, surgery, medication, speech communication devices, or any other modality (Yes, even dogs!) used to assist the patient in healing and becoming more independent.

Specialist = One who concentrates his or her efforts in a specialized activity, field or practice.

Simply stated, the Dustin’s Paw dogs are a “LIVING” treatment modality used in Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy and/or Physical Therapy designed to:

Increase the number of repetitions a patient does
Decrease the amount of time and difficulty in making trasitions from one activity to another
Increase the amount of time a patient will stay on task
Increase the desire to try new skills
Decrease the amount of fear/resistance in taking the next step
Decrease behavioral issues
Increase independence

You can’t put a price tag on motivation. You can have wonderful “therapy” ideas and the latest equipment; but if a patient is not motivated, nothing will happen.

The Dustin dogs provide the following for the patient:

FOCUS. The dogs help take the focus off pain, problems and the reality of a disability and make things fun via their interactive activites.

FUN. Fun that helps a patient listen and participate so that they can ”play” (really therapy in disquise) with the dogs. You will hear laughter, singing and cheerful voices. You will see smiles.

MOTIVATION. Patients are not only more willing to do something over and over again; they are also willing to try new things.

DISTRACTION. The dogs provide a distractions that can keep patients engaged in activity – to push through things that are painful, difficult or confusing. They can also provide distraction when a patient is learning how to focus on a task in the midst of chaos.

CONTROL. As a patient, people are always busy telling you what to do, doing things for you and basically organizing our life. Sometimes you just like to do it yourself and tell someone else what to do. The dogs love to be told what to do. SIT, DOWN, GET, TOUCH, JUMP, etc., etc.

ENCOURAGEMENT. Therapy can be a scary thing all the way from the equipment used in treatment to sounds and smells. The dogs love you just the way you are. They believe you can do it! And because of that, fearful patients will work through pain and things that are just plain difficult.

HOPE. The dogs bring ”life” into the day. Their enthusiasm rubs off. The day looks brighter and there is always something for which we can be thankful.

Couldn’t a good therapist or teacher do the activities just as effectively or maybe even more so?

Perhaps, but you can’t deny that there’s just eomething special about dogs and people. Henry Ward Beecher said, “The dog was created for children. He is the god of frolic.” Tom Hayden says, “They motivate us to play, be affectionate, seek adventure and be loyal.” As man’s best friend, the dog has been improving the quality of our lives ever since the dawn of creation. Research is now showing that companion animals even promote health.

Time and again over the years we have seen patients light up and do things for the dogs that they would never do for any of us humans. Shelia Patterson said, “Children with challenges are more likely to respond to an animal’s gentle urging than to a teacher or therapist.”Truth is, a dog doesn’t have an agenda. We do. It is a very humbling experience.

So, what is this “magical” effect dogs seem to have? It seems to be founded in a dog’s ability to love unconditionally and accept you just as you are – no matter how smart you are, how you you look or act, no matter what your challenges might be. The wagging tail, joy to see and be with you is just part of a dog’s genes.

Because of that God given nature, dogs are catalysts who motivate us to work through the pain, sorrow and challenges – all those difficult things in life – just throw a ball for them, give them a treat, touch their soft fur, give them a command, take them for a walk – to do for and be with – a friend and companion. Undoubtedly, the best part is that they respond with such enthusiasm and gratefulness for our attention and presence – nothing more.

They are definitely one of God’s most precious gifts with value we have only begun to tap.

Dogs are a lot like people. You have good people who are safe to around and then, there are those who aren’t safe to be around. The trick is to know who is safe and who’s not.

For those patients who can understand, we teach them what to do if you want to pet a dog, what to do if a dog acts aggressively, and the difference between the dogs you know and strange dogs. For those who can’t understand, we work with the parents or caregivers by providing them with the same information in hopes that they will guard and protect the child in a wise manner.

We work 40 patient contact hours per week, ten hour days Monday through Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays we do demonstrations in the community, parent workshops and Dustin’s Paw administrative work.

  • We serve approximately approximately 96 patients per week. That figures out to about 24 per day.
  • Some of the patients we see for a full hour, some for a portion of an hour for a specific therapy activity, some in group situations, some individually and some only a few moments, for example when helping a patient to transition from one activity to another.

Some of the patients we started with in 2006 here in Idaho we continue to work with as they progress and work on new goals. Some patients we see for a few months and then, there are those we only see once perhaps for an evaluation.

The Dustin’s Paw dogs are highly trained Assistance Dogs bred, raised and trained by Canine Companions for Independence to do the work of a Facility Dog.

www.cci.org CCI has been engaged in training dogs since 1975 and graduate only those dogs who meet the high standards for assistance dogs as set by Assictance Dogs International, Inc.

www.adionline.org In 2002 CCI became the first member agency to earn full accreditation meeting or exceeding all ADI Standards. In addition to preparing assistance dogs, CCI continues to support the teams they graduate throughout the life of the dog to ensure quality partnerships.

Why do we use CCI Assistance Dogs?

The dogs are stable
The dogs are well trained
The dogs are skilled
The dogs have the temperment to do the work
Getting an adult dog ready to work fits with our desire to be good stewards/partners
 CCI provides ongoing support
A 15 year good working relationship with CCI
Allows us to share assistance dogs with our patients some of whom will get dogs of their own

Canine Companions for Independence is the provider of the dogs Dustin’s Paw uses. They are a non-profit providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support for the graduate teams.

Dustin’s Paw of Idaho is the user. We are a non-profit using CCI dogs to produce a high quality treatment modality for disabled children and adults.

To not be able to tell people what you need or want, that you love them or just to share things with them makes life very difficult for everyone involved. Speech therapy was created is empower these people to communicate. Loss of the ability to communicate may have resulted from a birth injury (cerebral palsy), genetic disorder (autism or cleft palate), developmental delay (Down’s Sydrome), hearing loss, stroke or brain injury, for example.

A Speech and Language Pathologist works with patients on:

  1. The cognitive aspects of communication (attention, memory, problem solving, etc.)
  2. Speech (articulation, fluency, etc.)
    language (ability to speak using voice, sign
  3. Language or some alternative communication system or device along with understanding language including the pragmatic/social aspects of communication, etc.)
  4. Oral motor aspects (sensory awareness, swallowing, chewing, issues relating to eating and feeding, etc.)

How do the Dustin’s Paw dogs help kids who do not talk?

Here’s a response from Amber Gresham, Speech and Language Pathologist:

I think the best answer is motivation! The dogs are so motivating for kids that normally aren’t motivated by much. It is much more fun to request with signs and/or a voice output device for the dogs to dress up in funny beauty parlor accessories, do tricks, eat a snack, play doctor, play computer, have a tea party, have a picnic, fight a fire (pretend of course), play sports, etc… than without the dogs. Watching Praire get in trouble can really make a child’s day! Diane is able to have the dogs communicate with the children at their level which is truly an incredible thing to watch!

“In answer to this question, the parents think it’s the greatest thing in the world. We have two children that work with Diane, Ovelle and Prairie on a regular basis. They light up with emotion at the mention of the names of the dogs and every yellow lab in a picture results in chants of “Ovelle”. The dogs are sheer joy to the kids in therapy and they are motivated to work hard. It’s exactly what the parents want from their children’s therapy sessions.”

Ron Gambassi, Parent

“There have been a couple of instances with kiddos in the clinic where for whatever reason, the kiddos were done listening to me and participating in a task. I think that working with the dogs allows the clients an opportunity to take a step back from the therapist/client relationship and respond to the dogs instead. Whether this decreases what can appear as a power struggle or provides novelty with the situation for the client, I’m not sure.”

Kim List, Occupational Therapist

*Be sure to check the Toilet Puller Story out located on the Dustin’s Paw Stories page.

A Physical Therapist specializes in helping children to develop and enhance their mobility so they can safely particpate in activiteis in the community, school and at home.

Specifically, they work on:

  1. Building strength
  2. Building flexibility
  3. Building endurance
  4. Balance and coordination
  5. Mobility (crawl, walk, use a walker, orthotics or wheelchair, ride a bike, etc.)
  6. Developmentally appropriate movement patterns (sit, stand, jump, throw, etc.)
  7. Functional energy efficient movement (transitioning from sit to stand, getting in and out of bed, on and off the toilet, etc.)
  8. Sensory input to improve neuro-motor development (swinging, trampoline activities, moving on a variety of textured surfaces, heavy load activities, etc.)

How do the dogs help in physical therapy?

“As a physical therapist, I have had several patients who have made significant progress toward their functional mobility and strength goals because of the Dustin’s Paw dogs.

One little girl I work with has great difficulty with attention, making it difficult for her to stick with activities long enough to gain strength and endurance. As much as I might try to cajole and sing and do antics to keep her attention, the truth is that she is much more interested in our furry, four-legged friends, Prairie and Ovelle. One activity that we do for building strength and endurance is pedaling the modified tricycle. When this little girl is working with a therapist alone, she is not able to maintain pedaling action for more than about 15 feet at a time. However, when she is chasing the dogs, she can pedal 1/2 block down the sidewalk with nothing more than steering assistance from her physical therapist!

Another patient is a young boy who has had years of therapy and really has to work to move around, so he knows every strategy for avoiding maximal effort. There are many times when he is not about to chase a friend or toy or therapist down the hall, but when Prairie and Ovelle get involved, watch out! Recently, this little boy was balking at propelling the floor scooter down the hall. He was quite determined not to give in to the enticement of his ipad, nor to chasing the dogs . . . but when the dogs started playing with his ipad, he just had to get down the hall to take a turn on the fishing game!”

Therese Girard, Physical Therapist

Diane’s education has been driven by a passion for special needs children and their families. Even though she has been teaching for over 40 years, she is constantly learning and looking for those things that will increase the independence and the quailty of life for the children and families with whom she works. The Dustin’s Paw dogs education began before they were born. They were bred, raised and trained to be assistance dogs by Canine Companions for Independence. At two years of age Ovelle and Prairie graduated and were placed as facility dogs with Diane. They attended two weeks of training together at CCI Headquarters in Santa Rosa, CA. Diane has been working CCI Assistance dogs in school and therapy settings since 1999 when she graduated with her first dog, Dustin. Ovelle has been working since 2004 and Prairie since 2009. In addition Diane and her son, Thomas, raised two puppies for Canine Companions for Independence.

Even though we are volunteers, we see what we do as our job. We work 40 hours a week faithfully. We develop strong relationships with the therapists, patients and families day in and out. Diane focuses on being with the patient, creating activities based on the therapists goals and handling the interaction with the dogs each progressive session over the long run of therapy.

The therapist focuses on the patient, writing the goals, directing the therapy session and handling the mounds of paperwork. Together we provide a service where our patients are working harder and achieving their goals faster as evidenced by our Clinical Outcomes. I guess you could say – more heads are better than one.

Occupational therapists help children develop, recover, or maintain daily living skills.

Therapy activities include:

  • Facilitating the use of the hands
  • Promoting skills for listening
  • Following directions
  • Social play
  • Transitioning from one activity to another,
  • Dressing, eating, toileting and/or grooming.

They also work on choice-making, abstract-reasoning, problem-solving, and perceptual skills, as well as memory, sequencing, and coordination—all of which are important for independence. Children with permanent disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, often need special instruction to master certain daily tasks. For these children, an OT demonstrates the use of adaptive equipment, including eating aids, dressing aids.

How do the dogs help in occupational therapy?

“In order to get her teeth brushed, one patient’s parents had to physically hold her down. Then, Ovelle and Prairie graciously allowed this girl to brush their teeth during which time trust levels were establish, motor planning addressed and sequencing skills put in place. She is now able to brush her teeth with moderate assistance during therapy session.”

Farrell Lindley, Occupational Therapist