Memoir explores the ‘Wonder’ of training assistance dogs

Sunny Solomon Book Review(May 24, 2022) — “Wonder Dogs” is both memoir and business, which might make readers think the book is going to cover some aspect of dog breeding – until they see the words above the title: “True Stories of Extraordinary Assistance Dogs.”

Readers may not be as familiar with the training of assistance dogs as with guide dogs. “Wonder Dogs” is a book that makes me wish I was still working as a bookseller. I could sell the heck out of Maureen Maurer’s story of how she and her husband created Assistance Dogs of Hawaii.

As a child, Maurer suffered from asthma and allergies. She also loved dogs and prayed that someday she’d be able to talk to animals like Dr. Doolittle. Her prayers were answered when she was given a puppy, a toy poodle with hair that was hypoallergic and safe for her. That puppy was the author’s introduction to dog training and the realization that she could, indeed, talk to animals.

Fast-forward to college, meeting the man she would marry and their life in Hawaii. Then move ahead once more to the author’s 39th birthday, as she awaits the results of a tumor biopsy and reflects on her life-long dream to train dogs to assist people with different handicaps; now it might never happen.

When the results come back that the tumor is benign, Maurer sells her CPA business and launches the nonprofit Assistance Dogs of Hawaii.

Intricacies of dog training

Each of the next 14 chapters tells of one dog and the person that dog is trained to help. I am still amazed at the intricacies of how these dogs are trained. The program that the author and her husband develop kept me on the edge of my seat.

Applicants for service dogs, if they can be matched, become part of the training. Dogs are trained to respond to handicap-specific cues, not orders. One dog is trained to respond to hand signs, another to open doors and shut off lights, another to respond to smells and other body triggers indicating a medical emergency. The list of what the dogs are capable of learning is astounding.

“Wonder Dogs” tells how Maurer introduced the scientific world to canine health benefits beyond a “feel good” effect on patients. I said “yes” to reviewing “Wonder Dogs” because I’ve often thought how great it would be to have a dog tell me when someone knocks on my door or to alert me to a smoke detector or phone call when my hearing aids are charging.

Most of all, I recommend this book to anyone who already has a dog. After reading “Wonder Dog,” I guarantee you’ll look at or listen to your dog in an entirely new way.

And the next time you see an assistance dog in training, it will be hard not to stop and ask the trainer a few questions.

Sunny Solomon is a freelance writer and head of the Clayton Book Club. Visit her website at for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’