Having a Rest

MDA Ambassador Guest Blog: Marv and Me

By Dave Leatherman Wednesday, August 30, 2023

5 Second Summary

MDA Ambassadors play an essential role in furthering MDA’s mission while representing and empowering the neuromuscular disease community. Quest Ambassador Guest Blog series provides a platform to share their personal stories, perspectives, and experience.

White man in black hoodie wnad cap with dog

Dave Leatherman and his Service dog Marv

Dave Leatherman is a devoted husband and father from Cedar Rapids, IA, living with MYH7-Myopathy, diagnosed as an adult in Feb. of 2015.  Dave has a passion for drumming and spent a number of years marching in Drum and Bugle Corps including the Cavaliers, where he won a World Championship in 1995.  Dave continues to drum when he can both at church and with the Geneseo Knights Alumni Drumline.

If you’re like me, you not only love dogs – but you specifically love LARGE dogs.  That’s certainly the case with my new friend Marv, an Irish Wolfhound/Poodle mix. Marv is being trained to be a service and mobility dog for me and will essentially replace my need for a cane or walking stick.

While the process has been fun, it has also certainly had some challenges along the way.  First, a personality test is completed to determine which puppies from a specific litter are best suited to be trained service dogs.  They can’t show fear, must be curious, etc.  Marv was the only one from his litter that passed the test! Because Irish Wolfhounds get so large (he’s now 8 months old and already weighs 85 lbs.), he is tall enough to “counter-surf,” so nothing on the counter is safe.  We’ve been told he could potentially reach 150-160 lbs. once fully grown.

One thing that can be frustrating for me is the fact that I can’t always do a lot with Marv.  He needs to be out of his puppy stage for me to be able to safely do the things I need him to do for me.  Truth be told, he’s already too big for me to take him outside for walks or to go potty because he can easily pull me down.  My wife, Anna, is the one doing all of the heavy lifting when it comes to Marv right now.  If there are things that can be worked on while sitting down, I will do those with Marv, but Anna does the rest.  In training, we’re working on things like him pushing the automatic door opener button, grabbing items, pulling on things (which will be used in helping me to get up from a chair), identifying specific items and bringing them to us, etc. These, of course, are in addition to the standard “sit, high-five, lay down” type of commands.

white man in gray jacket with dog in his lap

Dave Leatherman and his Service dog Marv

I look forward to all the things Marv and I can do together once he is fully trained and certified.  We’ve slowly started taking him to places such as our local Hy-Vee grocery store and Theisen’s for his dog food and treats.  We have a purple vest that he wears that says that he is a service dog in training.  Based on his size and how rare his breed is, a lot of people stop to meet him while we are out.  Many times, service dogs should not be touched or petted by others, but we allow it for Marv as socialization is key at this young age.  It also helps ensure that he’s not fearful of people or new things.  He’s doing great with our visits to these stores!

Not only is the bond between an owner and their dog strong, but I’m finding the bond that is developing with Marv and my family is equally amazing.  The great thing is – Marv loves us all the same – myself, my daughter Sadie, and my wife Anna.  And Marv LOVES children!  That makes me happy when I’m around all my nieces and nephews.  They love to feed Marv treats, and he’s very treat-motivated since it’s his reward for following commands in training.  They say that Irish Wolfhounds are one of the most “gentle giants” and that’s true with Marv. He loves playing with other dogs and visiting with our neighbors who have taken a liking to him as well.

There are several variables involved with getting a service dog. You will need to consider the cost of the dog and whether you are getting a dog as a puppy and training them or choosing to get a full-grown dog that is already trained and certified. I personally wanted to be able to develop a strong bond with Marv from the get-go, which is why we decided to get him when he was a puppy.  Some people may not be able to devote two years of time and energy to train a dog to the level of service that they need their service dog to be able to provide; and in that case, it may be better to explore the option of a applying for a fully trained dog.  With either option, there is plenty of time to build a meaningful bond with the dog.  As with many decisions, you should always explore which option best suits your needs.

man in wheelchair with service dog

Dave Leatherman with his Service dog Marv

If you are interested in how to acquire a service dog or more on what it may entail, several great articles can be found.  Here is a very helpful “things to know” article:



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