Let me introduce myself. My name is "Big Paws" or at least that's what the humans call me and I lived in a kennel almost my entire short life. I'm not quite a puppy, but I know I'm not full-grown either. I get my name for obvious reasons, but it's the only name I've known.
My day was always the same people coming to look at me through the wire fencing of my kennel, children poking their fingers at me (I loved kids) and adults of various ages looking at me most of them with pity (or what I imagined in my canine mind was pity) and shook their heads. I caught some of their words; the ones I understood anyway. It was always the same:
"Too hyper, too noisy, too old… Sorry buddy." By now I was used to it, but I was always hopeful giving them each a hopeful look and a friendly tail wag as they walked by.
That all changed one day when the "important lady" came by. She was different from the other people that frequented the kennel. She had important sounding shoes and seemed to walk with purpose. She seemed to look at all the dogs in the room critically. Like many people I had seen she sometimes shook her head as she passed a kennel and I got the impression some of us had passed or failed some sort of test, but what that test was I didn't know.
Finally she stopped at my kennel. For a moment she looked at me not saying anything. Then she crouched down and began speaking to me in the way I loved, and giving me a few treats. I lifted my head and perked up my ears, wagging my tail trying to get closer to her.
"Hey buddy," she said softly, "you want a special job?"
I stood up, my tail wagging more, I wanted to put my paws up on the door and lick her face, but I knew by now some people didn't respond well to that. Jumping up and down like a maniac didn't work that well either.
The lady turned to the kennel attendant whose name was Karen, she was nice enough but never stayed to play.
"I think he'll do," the lady told her, "intelligent, eager to please and looking for something to do and not to hyper."
Karen laughed strangely.
"Funny you should say that, everyone that sees him or takes him out thinks he's way too hyper."
"You know that's the lab in him," the lady replied, "nothing a little exercise and training won't fix I think the skills for the groundwork are there."
My tail wagged again, all the comments so far seemed positive, I could tell.
"Let me walking around in the yard for a bit and see what he does I'll let you know if I end up taking him."
Karen nodded and reached for the leash attached to my kennel; no one ever took it down or so it seemed.
"Come on Big Paws, time for you to put on the charm so you can get out of here."
I looked up at her hopefully and wagged my tail as I followed her and the lady with the important sounding shoes out of the kennel.
They took me to a small exercise yard which was only used for our daily walks or that we should learn to go to the bathroom outside, I was a little bit better about that than most but whatever time we spent outside the kennels didn't seem to be enough; it never was.
I went to work sniffing the grass and pavement. I wanted to make the most of this time outside to feel the sun on my face in the breeze in my fur.
After they let me sniff around for a bit the "important lady" took my leash.
"Come on, Big Paws show me what you can do."
She held out treats in front of my nose… They smelled amazing and as soon as I made a grab for them she pulled me back.
"Sit." She commanded.
I came and sat down again.
The lady looked pleased.
"Well he looks like he's had some training, smart for barely a year old."
She lowered a treat towards the ground.
"Down." She commanded. A few seconds later… "Stay" I stayed, watching her, tail wagging all the while but after a while I got restless and came trotting back to her.
"Good." She commented, "but like I said, he needs work and obviously there's room to grow. Isn't that right big boy!"
My tail wagged so hard I thought it was going to fall off.
"So you taking him then?" Karen asked.
"I think so." The lady replied, "get him on the roster and into a foster home will probably start training with him in a few weeks."
I continued to observe everything fascinated. As the lady signed some paperwork and took me for a ride in the rolling metal thing that bumped and growled. I continued to love the outside, my tail continuously wagging.
Soon I arrived at the house, a house with a big yard; it looked very comfortable. There, outside was another lady she was much shorter and rounder than the first, but she looked friendly. I looked out the window my paws on the sill.
As the important lady let me out of the car she spoke to the lady in the nice yard.
"Got me another one, do you?"
"Sure do Beth, I think once he gets some training and settles down a bit he will make someone a very nice dog. He's smart and learns quickly."
"Does he have a name?" The lady named Beth asked.
"Karen said they called him "Big Paws" at the shelter," she chuckled, "for obvious reasons, look at those paws, it'll be good for hitting handicap buttons that's for sure!"
Beth looked me over, although not unkindly.
"Maybe Goliath. If those paws are any indication he's going to be a big dog."
Important lady laughed. "Then I guess it fits! Goliath it is then."
"You'll grow into that, won't you Goliath?" Beth asked as she scratched me behind the ears.
I looked at her somberly as if I understood and continued to wag my tail. I couldn't wait to start this new adventure.
2: Basics and the First Test
I spent the next several days exploring Beth's house. She had an enormous yard and house with lots of things I had never seen before. In the kitchen I had my food and water, and in the living room I had my bed; it was much better than the one I had at the shelter, it was soft and comfortable… I would stay in it all day if Beth let me.
However, Beth had other ideas.
Aside from getting used to a house and how to be a "normal" dog Beth took me to classes with lots of other dogs to teach me better obedience. (I thought I was pretty good so far if "important lady" was happy, but apparently not.) I apparently had more to learn than I thought. Along with basic commands down, sit, stay, and come I also learned I couldn't jump on anyone. This wasn't even appropriate for the little dogs, which humans seem to fuss over much more than me. I also couldn't bark excessively for no apparent reason. While I found this a perfectly logical way to communicate humans didn't seem to like it much.
Outside of class, Beth did what she called drills, which turned out to be exposing me to any and everything I may be afraid of, which included plastic bags, garbage cans and umbrellas to name a few. I couldn't chase things but as long as I was rewarded with my squeaky hotdog I was happy. Usually on days when I had obedience training or drills I was pretty tired at the end of the day happy to curl up on my dog bed with my squeaky hotdog under my chin.
Life was good.
Every day I seem to be learning something new. Beth took me to all sorts of places; places I was pretty sure a dog had never been. I had learned I couldn't just "be a dog" in these places, I had to behave and draw on the skills I was quickly learning. She took me to many stores and even on the city bus, which reminded me of some big beast; bigger than a dog the way it growled and smoked. I couldn't have my toys with me, but I was happy to work for the hotdogs I knew were in Beth's pocket.
So I trotted along looking up at Beth, and even though she didn't talk to me as much as I would've liked I knew she was pleased.
Several months later "important lady" came back. She and Beth talked over my head. I couldn't figure out what they were saying that I knew they were talking about me, Goliath, so I just stood by waiting until they told me what to do.
"He's improved." Important lady said, I could tell she sounded surprised, "and that's just in 3 months I can't wait to start his task training."
Beth reached down to scratch my ears.
"It seems like he was made for service work he just pretty much ignores everything. I know he's interested because his ears and tail go up but as soon as I redirect him, he's focused on me or whatever he has to do. The bus didn't even bother him; it's like he's just along for the ride."
"In all my years I have never met a dog quite like Goliath." Important lady said softly, "e's going to be a great dog for someone."
My next outing that day was with important lady and Beth. We went to one of the stores that and I had been to before. Today it didn't seem as busy and there weren't as many people walking around giving me strange looks, but I was his to this by now. It was just like any other drill or practice Beth and I had done practicing my obedience in different situations making sure I could stay focused doing a job. She even had someone else take my leash and while I looked at the person and wagged my tail, I knew I couldn't be "that crazy dog" part of me wanted to be, part of me knew I had a job and Beth and important lady were depending on me.
"Good boy, Goliath!" Beth praised. "You're such a smart dog!"
I sat down and wagged my tail, looking to important lady for my next instruction.
"Look Goliath," she said, "I have something for you…" She pulled out a red cape of sorts. It went over my shoulders and had writing on it. I sniffed it, it smelled very clean and important just like how I knew important lady was and wanted me to be. Then she slid it over my head and buckled it under my stomach, it felt strange at first I knew most dogs didn't wear "clothes" as most humans put it, but after walking around for a few minutes I got used to it and hardly even felt it on my body; it felt natural.
As we left the store, I looked at my reflection in the glass of the door. The dog staring back at me looked very well behaved and obedient. The red vest out against my black coat it made me feel good. I looked at the eyes of the dog in the glass wondering if I could ever be what the humans seem to think I could be. I cocked my head as I looked at myself again in the little mirror next to the car, I shook my head trying to get my one ear to stand up like the other one, but it only flopped to the side… After a while I gave up.
Beth chuckled, I turned at the sound of her voice from where I was now lying in the backseat.
"All serious now, aren't you Goliath?"
I whined in response.
"He knows he's got something important to do," important lady said, her voice sounded slightly different, lighter somehow, though I couldn't quite figure out why.
"We are getting there." Beth murmured.3: Follow the Bouncing Ball
From my comfy dog bed I reflected on my life so far.
I had learned a lot! According to Beth I was now a service dog in training, though I still had a lot of work to do.
By now, I knew the vest meant work and every time Beth pulled it out and said "it's time to go to work, Goliath" my tail wagged and I eagerly waited for her to put my vest on. I thoroughly enjoyed my job (so far) and was excited for every adventure the next day brought.
Much time had passed since I had been taken to Beth's house. The seasons had gone from warm to cold and back again. I had seen my first snowfall and played and dug holes in the fluffy white stuff (Beth had laughed at me). In those passing months I had grown, I was starting to grow into my big paws, though I still felt weirdly uncoordinated, but Beth helped me with this; she made me realize I had two more legs and a long slightly plumed tail I had to be mindful of. In my mind that wasn't necessarily my first priority.
One evening, Beth took me to a new place. It was a big building and I could hear people and other dogs in the distant rooms. When we reached one of the bigger rooms I saw many other people and several other dogs, many of them wearing vests like I was. I could tell many of them wanted to play, but were restraining themselves. Right now it was time for us to work.
The class reminded me of my old obedience classes I had when I was younger it was a lot of the same commands, down, sit and stay. (Stay seemed to be very important). The drills were like many of the others I had done but the humans seem to be distracting us and wanting us to misbehave on purpose. One of their favorite things to do was to make us all lie down and bounce a tennis ball back and forth in front of us. My head came up and my tail wagged, but Beth, who was standing a few feet away, told me to stay. Sighing, I put my head back down on my paws, but continued to watch the bouncing ball out of the corner of my eye.
The other thing they worked on with us were various different commands, things I had never seen dogs do before. They taught us how to turn light switches on and off with our noses and paws, some of the dogs were taught to negotiate obstacles while a human held onto a special harness. My favorite thing to do was pick up objects that the humans dropped, I learned quickly I couldn't play with these things, but had to give them right back. If I dropped an item they made me try again.
Some of the objects felt strange in my mouth they weren't soft or squeaky like my dog toys, and a lot of them were difficult to hold, but I figured it out and Beth and the other trainers were pleased when I did.
I was also learning these objects had names. I already knew what light and switch meant even just from doing it a few times though I knew I had much more practice to do. I was learning what phone (a flat metal object) and keys (jangly things on a small metal ring) meant too; those two things were definitely some of the more difficult things to pick up and sometimes it took me a few tries.
Some of the objects, however, were easier to pick up like socks, which I was already familiar with, and a wallet. These things felt more natural to me and were comfortable in my mouth. Some of the older dogs could pick up very small items that were flat and close to the ground. They only used their front teeth and gingerly picked up the item before handing it back to the trainer.
After our training was over while the humans talked. The dogs played and finally I was able to be just Goliath. I made friends and raced around the large room amid the wagging tails. As much as I enjoyed what I was doing it out great to have some fun.
My special training classes became some of my favorite parts of the week. Not only did I get to see my dog friends but my human friends as well. I enjoyed learning new things and was eager to see where my journey would take me.
One evening, another person joined the training class. A woman younger than some of the trainers so I knew she was a new face. Unfortunately, I was "working" and didn't have time to investigate.
At some point during the class the woman who was in a rolling contraption I had learned was a wheelchair dropped her keys. By now, I was conditioned to pay attention to anything falling. In breaking my down stay I had been holding for the past few minutes I whisked across the room towards where I had heard the sound. Stopping just short of her knees I picked up the keys and was about to hand them back to her when Beth caught up with me.
"Goliath! What are you doing? Silly dog. You're not supposed to pick up her keys!"
The woman laughed softly and held out her hand.
"He's a smart one. At least he knows what he's doing."
"Goliath, give!" Beth instructed.
I did as I was told, though I felt I didn't need to be, I would've done it anyway. If there was one thing I had learned, it was the humans that couldn't move around as well needed my help.
"He takes the cake for intelligent disobedience this one." Beth muttered as she led me away. I looked over at the woman I had helped tail still wagging. Feeling satisfied, I went back down into my down stay to resume my exercise.
***Intelligent disobedience-in which a service dog disobeys a direct command to fulfill a certain task (usually in an emergency)4: Street Smart
It was Saturday. I knew it was Saturday because Beth didn't rush around like she did when she had to go to work. Things were a little slower today; she gave me my food while she made breakfast; she even put on some music.
After she cleaned up the dishes, she turned to me.
"Ready to go to work, Goliath?" She asked.
I replied with a single "woof" and ran to retrieve my vest from the hook by the door.
Beth laughed and scratched my ears as she reached to put the vest on me.
"Good boy. At least I know by now you're a morning person." She chuckled again.
We went to a busy street and I immediately saw many people and dogs, most of them from the training class. I put my paws up on the windowsill to look out the window, my tail wagging. Had I been less behaved I would have pulled Beth across the street, but I was a little bit better behaved than that. Beth assured me I could say hi after we crossed the street. She made me heel and I did so, but my tail was still wagging; I couldn't wait see my friends.
Each of the dogs was put in a down stay on a soft blanket; some of the dogs were told to go "under" the table. Under was a command I had yet to learn, but as I observed it seemed to be important. Then the humans talked and the only thing I knew was Beth was laughing and telling another one of the trainers, Anne, about what had happened at the training class the week before.
Anne was a tall slender woman with long flowing hair. She always smelled like dog treats and was upbeat and happy like most of the other trainers. The dog she was currently training was a poodle named Sasha.
"You know that woman Callie that came into observe?" Beth asked. "Goliath broke a down stay and went to retrieve her keys! No prompting and no verbal or nonverbal command. Sometimes that dog is too smart for his own good. Independence is good for service dogs, but it can make them a pain in the butt to train!"
Anne laughed in response.
"Makes you wonder who they'll get matched with. I either peg Goliath as a medical alert dog or definitely for mobility; he's certainly big enough."
While the humans talked, I did my own socializing while I could. I said hello to Sasha, who had become one of my best friends. After everyone had said an appropriate "hello" it was time to work and be good while the humans interacted.
It was very busy, and I can see why they were making us work in this situation we had to lie down and be quiet while the humans talked and after a while it seemed very easy. Young children wanted to pet me, but I stayed very still as they reached for my ears.
I got a very firm "leave it" from Beth as she addressed the children trying to play.
"No touch sweetheart, he's working."
A few minutes later the parents were finished with what they were doing and took their children by the hand, then they were led away. I never moved this entire time I only wagged my tail in a friendly sort of way.
"Good boy Goliath." Beth praised. I wagged my tail again, feeling extremely proud of myself.
After the activity was over, the humans began packing things in boxes and taking them back to the metal rolling boxes on wheels. Beth and Anne decided Sasha and I could do with some fun so they took us to the park nearby.
When we got there, they took off our vests and let us run. I barked and chased Sasha all over. She barked back and wagged her puffy short tail, her ears pricked. Beth and Anne even through tennis balls for us, which we happily chased and retrieved. It seemed people had learned not to underestimate Sasha, she may look like a pretty face but she was very much a working dog.
Beth laughed as she watched us play.
"You guys are going to make me lose weight, aren't you?" She asked chuckling. "At least that's one good thing going for me!"
Anne laughed in response.
"And people don't believe service dogs are allowed to play!" She chuckled. "Take off their vest and they're just as crazy as any other dog."
After a while Sasha and I were tired of our games and we lay down in the grass to relax. A short time later Anne and Beth put on our leashes and took us home. Even though I was tired, I was disappointed to say goodbye to my friends, but I was already looking forward to the next training class the following week.