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.5: Partner
It's funny how things change. Of course, as a dog, I didn't really understand that; in my mind I've lived from one moment to the next whatever that happened to be.
Every day was a new situation, a new adventure, but for humans it seemed to be everything was always going quickly and there was always many more things they had to deal with. Me, I was perfectly happy stretching out on my dog bed and taking a nap. The yawns said so.
It had now been almost a year since I had been taken from the kennels and I had grown up quite a bit. My paws were still big, that was a fact, I was black with a glossy coat, mismatched ears and amber eyes.
Every day I worked on my service dog skills, hitting buttons, picking up dropped items, and working on my newest skill, going under tables and learning to tuck in my tail so it didn't get stepped on. Like many of my skills this had a learning curve to it I had practice, but after several weeks I got the hang of it.
"Goliath, under." Beth instructed. I found it easier under a table where I could stretch out, but sometimes I had to go under chairs that was a little bit harder, but I was figuring out how to tuck my body into small spaces. The drills Beth put me through where I had to walk and crawl in small space helped.
"Good boy!" She praised at one particular training session when I was looking up at her from under a chair as if it were no big deal. At this point in my training I was no longer getting a food reward, but praise and scratches behind the ears were my reward, and I was perfectly fine with that.
I was learning things changed quickly. At some point certain dogs stopped coming to the training class that they were given to a person and didn't come back. I knew this would happen to me someday, but I wasn't worried about that.
One day, many new people came to the training class. Some of them were in wheelchairs and others were holding sticks in front of them that they moved along the ground; this seemed to tell them where they were.
I recognized one person in the group of strangers, it was the woman I had helped when she had come the one time just watching.
It was that day a change came for me. The day Beth stepped away as the trainers seem to do periodically. The day I met my partner.
I felt like everyone knew who my partner would be, maybe even I knew before I really knew. I gravitated towards that woman I met before. Her name was Callie and I knew she would be my person.
"Well hello!" She said in that happy voice I recognized, "you remember me? I bet you do? You been a good boy Goliath?"
My tail furiously; as much as I could without being too crazy if only to show her how happy I was. I leaned against her knees as she continued to scratch my ears.
"I think we can continue this powwow after class." Beth said with a laugh, "I don't think scratches and tail wags count as task work."
There were so many more things I had to learn working with Callie. I already knew she was limited in what she could do and I had to compensate for that, but I also learned I had to help pull her wheelchair and she held onto a small strap on my vest. I spent most of the next few weeks learning how to maneuver with her wheelchair through doors, and pulling her around things on the floor. While I had practice this as part of my training it was different doing it with my disabled handler.
I learned I had to be patient with Callie, she didn't put on my vest like Beth did, she was slower and her fingers were clumsy. I had learned I had to use the "paws up" command and put my weight in her lap so she could reach to put my vest on. The fact that I already retrieved my vest with little prompting seemed to help.
"What a smart dog you are!" Callie praised when she finally fastened my vest under my belly during an exercise. "You going to be such a big help, yes you are!"
I learned to retrieve many of Callie's personal items, sometimes including her entire purse if she needed something. One of my harder tasks was retrieving her crutches which she used to get around occasionally. The crutches were awkward to hold, but I did my best.
Learning to brace and balance Callie using my weight and body was whole different task. While I had learned to be able to support a human's weight with my body, going between supporting and balancing Callie when she was standing and walking was different. I was learning, like Callie, that we had to learn each other and be comfortable as we were and not how any human had trained me or what Callie had perceived me to be.
During one class they had Callie get into a chair and call me for help to help her to stand, get on her crutches, and walk a short distance.
It was slow and careful, but that was something I taught, to be slow and careful.
"Goliath, brace." Callie instructed.
I stiffened, preparing my body for her weight. I felt the firm pressure as her hand as she pulled herself up then waited a moment while she got her body under her before I began moving forward.
"Okay, let's go." Callie said. Then we began slowly walking across the floor. I was walking slow enough that I could balance her if she needed it, but not close enough to get in her way.
Finally we reached the other chair a few feet away and Callie sat down, she seemed tired after only a short walk, but I wagged my tail in an encouraging sort of way.
"Easy Goliath." Beth cautioned.
"I think were good." Callie murmured as she patted me on my shoulder. "Good boy Goliath."
I nosed Callie's knee and wagged my tail, if the humans were happy I was happy. I thought we made a good team too.6: Riding on the Bus with Dogs
I looked forward to each week I spent with Callie, she was fun and becoming one of my favorite people.
Along with our exercises we did in our training classes, we occasionally did drills out in public. One of the first ones I did with Callie was a trip to the local library. I knew by now Beth would step away, but I was okay with that. I was confident in my abilities, but it would take some getting used to taking commands from Callie and not Beth.
I recognized the other woman was accompanying us today; it was important lady, whose name turned out to be Shelley, who I hadn't seen in months, but after sniffing her shoes I remembered.
"We'll be taking the bus today." Shelley explained, "just to see how well you and Goliath navigate being in public together." She told Callie.
Callie nodded as she steered me and her wheelchair down the sidewalk.
"Make sure he knows when you want to turn." Shelley commented.
Soon we reached the bus stop. Many people were around and commented on how beautiful and well behaved I was. I sat down and waited for my next task. Shelley was scribbling something on a small board she was holding and murmuring in a low voice. Suddenly, when a child bounded up to me, reaching for me it was Callie who spoke up in a soft, but firm voice.
"No touch sweetie," she told the child, "he's working."
The child seemed disappointed but turned away towards its mother, who spoke just as softly, this time to Callie.
"Sorry, I didn't mean for him to cause any trouble."
"It's alright, no harm done."
Soon the bus arrived. I was used to the noise and I knew I had to behave. I walked up the ramp behind Callie as she maneuvered her chair around poles and other people. I could hear them talking all around us, but I stayed focused on my job.
I sat quietly as the driver secured Callie's wheelchair in place. Shelley momentarily took my leash, but she didn't say much of anything, not to Callie and not to me. She seemed as stern as ever, but as a dog I didn't have a good identifier for that particular human emotion.
As the bus began to move, Callie put me in a down stay. If I had my way I would have been up on a seat looking out the window like I did in Beth's car, but I knew I couldn't do that so and lay quietly next to Callie's wheelchair, my head on my paws. I liked riding on the bus, I had since Beth had first taken me on one. Eventually the humming of the motor and the chatter of the humans lulled me to sleep.
I was awoken from my nap by a gentle tug on my leash, not enough to hurt me, but enough to get my attention. Callie made a soft noise and said "time to go Goliath" and I got to my feet. Once again, it was a reverse of what I had experienced when we boarded the bus and a few minutes later we were back on the sidewalk headed towards a big building.
My first task was to open the big doors.
"Goliath, touch!" Callie told me firmly.
I touched the button with my nose and the doors began to open. Then Callie praised me and scratched me behind the ears.
"Goliath backup, behind!" Callie instructed and we practiced going through the door. At least by now I needed to tuck in my tail so it didn't get caught in the closing door.
"You can do whatever you like until the bus comes back." Shelley told Callie, "I'll just be here and observe how you and Goliath work together."
First we went to a series of tables with machines on them.
Callie told me "under" and made me lie down under the table while she tapped away at one of the machines.
Several minutes later, she was working her way through the aisles looking for things. It was good practice on my "behind" command and I walked quietly behind her ignoring most of the people that walked by us. Right now, I knew I had to stay focused.
Then, we went up the elevator to a different floor and into another room. This room also had many shelves and many people and I followed Callie where she indicated as she pulled things from the shelves, putting some things in a bag and others she placed back on the shelves.
Sometime later, we returned downstairs Callie's bag full of various items. Before we left Callie stopped at a desk and spoke to the human behind it.
"Hi, I like to check these out, please." She took her bag off her wheelchair and handed it over the desk to the woman, who dumped the books out on the desk.
"Do you have a card?" The woman behind the desk asked.
Then Callie was digging around in her bag for what I knew was her wallet, for I recognized the small object she eventually pulled out. Then I knew what I had to do. It was a string of commands that were my tasks for holding and giving items to another person, something I had worked on with Beth.
Callie handed me the card.
"Goliath, take it, hold it…" Then she gestured to the counter and indicated the woman behind it. "Goliath, up!" I put my paws up on the counter, still holding the card in my mouth. "Goliath give." The woman held out her hand, as if she wasn't quite sure what to expect and I gave her the card. The woman swiped the card in a small machine then handed it back to me. Then I took it back to Callie.
"Good boy!" She praised. "Very good."
We waited while the woman behind the desk scanned each of Callie's items over a small beeping machine then she put them back in Callie's bag, and handed them back to her.
"Enjoy!" She said cheerfully, "Come back anytime! That's a very smart dog you have."
Callie laughed softly and scratched my ears again.
"Thanks. We're working on it."
Then we left and Callie had me open the door again and we went to wait for the bus on the corner.
By this time, I was getting tired. While I was smart and enjoyed my job I wasn't a robot. I wanted my vest off, it was getting sweaty and itchy and my muscles were stiff being in the same position for a long time.
When Callie told me to lie down I only yawned, shook my head, and stretched and she gave me the command again. This time I complied with a sigh; I was ready to go home.
When I finally did get home I was happy when Beth finally took off my vest. I shook my body vigorously and stretched.
"Guess someone had a long day." Beth said with a chuckle.
I whined in response, cocking my head before settling down on my dog bed in the living room. I settled down for another uninterrupted nap while lazily chewing on one of my favorite squeaky toys. After my long day, I was definitely ready to eat by the time I heard the kibble being poured into my bowl.
Dinner time!7: Dog With a Job
Despite being partnered with Callie, I still had a lot to learn and my training was far from over. By now, I was 15 months old and it would be another 6 to 8 months before I was finally placed full time with Callie. I was still going to many places every day to improve on my skills and to become comfortable with different people in many situations.
One day Beth put on my vest and while telling me "time to work" and took me to her job. I had been to Beth's work before but she'd only walked me through when I could first go out and in public, I had never stayed there an entire day before. It reminded me of the place I had gone with Callie, there were the machines on the desks and lots of important people running around in the way humans did, in a no nonsense sort of way. Beth greeted a few people before heading to her desk. After setting down her purse, she told me "Goliath, under" and I crawled under the desk then stretched out, planning on finishing my morning nap.
I knew this was practice on getting me to lie quietly in a place that was very busy. It was one of the first things I have learned, though it seemed different for every situation because every place I went to had new smells and was a little bit different. Most of the time however, I was content to lie down and sleep, though I had learned in Callie's case I always had to keep one ear open listening for her commands and instructions. I was now used to the "click, click, clatter, clatter, click" of the machine Beth worked on and she even dropped a pen (I'm pretty sure it was on purpose) and told me to retrieve it. I knew she could get it herself, I had seen her do it before, but I did it anyway.
I was relieved, when I could finally have a break, Beth took me out to go potty and gave me my lunch, which she had packed in her purse.
"Good boy Goliath." She praised as I scarfed down my lunch. It was a small meal, but I was happy for what I could get. Service dogs didn't get treats unless otherwise prompted by their humans while they were working.
The other humans Beth worked with were used to me, but they had never seen me working in my vest before. I was still in training but the vest said I was working and shouldn't be distracted. I was still a dog and could be distracted, I knew that already.
It had been a long day! I noticed it took an extraordinary amount of energy for lying down and sleeping all day. When Beth and I returned home she took off my vest and I gave a vigorous shake.
"That's good, huh?" Beth asked laughing as I gave a long stretch.
I yawned and padded over my dog bed and laid down.
"I think you're right Goliath, maybe it's time to put our feet up." She responded as she scratched me behind the ears. After that Beth went to her recliner and turned on the talking box. I knew the thing that controlled the talking box was called a remote because I had to learn how to retrieve one for Callie. I listened to the man talking in the box for several minutes before tuning it out; listening to what was going on in the humans' world wasn't at the top of my list.
Sometime later, Beth turned off the talking box then went to the kitchen where I knew she was starting dinner. I followed after her because I knew my dinner was coming shortly. Now I understood why she was always so tired after coming home. Finally, after many months I was beginning to understand why people called learning to help Callie my "job".
8: Autumn Adventures
So the seasons changed again. From a hot blistering Midwestern summer to a cool, crisp, fall. This prompted changes in the things the other dogs and I were learning. We learned to be comfortable when the humans dressed up in strange costumes. This took some practice because the people I knew no longer looked like themselves; they looked like unusual things, objects and creatures I didn't know the names of. Eventually, however they had all of us sitting around the people in costume and doing our commands like usual. We had passed the test.
As one of our training exercises the trainers and our handlers (some of them our people we would eventually help for the rest of our lives) went out to a farm. The morning of this outing Beth seemed very excited.
"You ready to work with Callie today?" She asked as she fastened my vest.
I whined and gave a soft "woof".
Beth tousled my ears.
"I'll take that as a yes." She chuckled.
When we arrived, there were many interesting sights and smells, but I was working so I knew I couldn't go investigate. I hopped out of the back of Beth's van and waited for her next instructions and a short time later we met up with Callie who was getting out of her own car.
"Couldn't have picked a better day." Callie commented.
"Yeah," Beth agreed, "don't know how many of these we'll get before the holidays officially start."
Callie strapped me to her wheelchair.
"Hey Goliath, you ready to go on an adventure?"
I wagged my tail enthusiastically, but not too enthusiastically (I still had to be professional).
A short ways away, we met up for some of the other trainers and handlers. A short distance away I saw Sasha she was working with a tall thin man with dark glasses. She led him around using the harness attached to her. Her tasks were different from mine now, but like the rest of us she was still making a difference in a human's life.
We walked on the dirt roads which were strewn with patches of gravel. Along these roads were fences behind which were big animals, bigger than a dog (or any I had seen). Sometimes we were allowed to go up to these animals and investigate, but like everything else we couldn't react, we had to remain calm with our focus on our handler. Each animal seemed as uninterested in us as we were supposed to be in them, except for some of the smaller animals which made a lot of noise and chewed on things.
They were like puppies, I thought, but certainly they didn't look like any puppy I have ever seen.
After we walked around looking at the other animals. We were led by more humans off the path and through groups of trees. The trees smelled fresh and sweet some people were stopping to pick food off the trees and put it in bags. Callie did this with help from Beth and another lady. As they pulled the fruit on the trees I could hear Callie laughing, that made me happy.
This turned out to be another exercise.
Callie held out one of pieces of food.
I sniffed it, but didn't make a grab for it. Then as we turned around I sniffed at some of the food on the ground.
"Goliath, leave it." She instructed.
I didn't need much persuasion, this food didn't smell as good as the stuff that humans were holding.
"Leave it." She told me again, then held out the bag just in front of my nose. "Good. Take it, hold."
My mouth still salivating slightly, I took the bag in my mouth then walked with Callie as she headed back up the path.
It turned out I had to carry a lot of Callie's bags and many of the items that she got from a nearby shop (some of which were food) I had to do my job and leave these things. I even got practice working with another human behind a counter, putting my paws up and handing over a credit card or money. I was glad when Callie's human companion could help carry some of the bags.
Despite how tired I was getting, I even turned down a peanut butter biscuit (with some persuasion) offered to me… I was still working though Beth and Callie promised I could have one later. As we left the farm I continued trotting along next to Callie's wheelchair knowing the peanut butter biscuits were in someone's pocket. One of them had my name on it!9: Why Humans Bring Trees Inside
This is my holiday chapter, I meant to have it up before Christmas but that didn't happen. Hope you enjoy it!
Happy new year!
I was waved off by Callie shortly before what the humans called Thanksgiving with a "Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!" A kiss and a good scratch behind the ears.
"We'll see you sometime in January," Beth chuckled, "no formal classes over the holidays, except for a few practice sessions with us and the dogs."
"Yeah, Shelley mentioned that."
"Then of course there's the "Helper Paws" Christmas party, so I guess we'll see you there."
"Sure," Callie replied, "wouldn't miss it!"
It seemed the later that year got (though I was a poor judge of time) the busier the humans got. There always seemed to be food around, which for me, was an exercise in "leave it". I was a good dog, but I was by no means perfect.
I "cooked" in the kitchen with Beth, "entertained" her family and got a tail wag for every time her family said "what a good dog" I was. Not that I got tired of hearing it.
My biggest adventure (outside of training with Callie) was Christmas shopping. Everything seemed to be in fast-forward, humans rushed and bustled hauling large bags and talking very fast. However, I still had to remain calm tail wagging and staying alert for anything and everything. I worked on negotiating tight spaces and ignoring things when I needed to. Beth even walked me by a place in the mall that sold food, it smelled amazing, but I passed with flying colors.
"What a good boy," she praised, "leaving those pretzels. I'd give you a piece but I'm sure that's the last thing you need."
"Well, I guess we'll see you in a month for Christmas." Beth's brother Charlie commented as he shoved his 3 children out the door.
They embraced as they stood by the door. I stood next to Beth, will will tail wagging obediently. By now I knew not to dart out the door, I was a service dog in training-I knew better.
Charlie ruffled my ears.
"See you Goliath, you be good now."
"Well he'll be placed by next Christmas," Beth commented casually, "but he'll still be here next month."
"I have no doubt, until you move up in the world, right buddy?"
I cocked to my head, trying to understand what he was saying. I understood humans but only to a point, I had stopped trying to figure everything out on my own a long time ago. By now, my head was so full of commands and tasks I had little time to ponder day-to-day human speech.
It started snowing a few days before Christmas. By then the humans had decided to bring trees inside (something I didn't really get) and everything was sparkly and made my nose itch. The Helper Paws party was in the middle of all this, when the trainers, handlers and dogs got together. All the dogs were still on duty so we were still "dressed" as it were.
Everyone was in a large room with many tables and chairs. I saw many of my friends. I quickly spotted Callie, who greeted me enthusiastically. Her knees smelled unusually clean and she was wearing a fuzzy hat.
"Hey Goliath! How you doing buddy?" She gave me the usual scratch behind my ears. Then she greeted Beth with a "Merry Christmas" and gave her a hug. Meanwhile I took my place by Callie's chair. It seemed my view for the next few hours would be of table legs, but I was okay with that as long as I was with my favorite people.
By now, I was used to the noise level and was content to lie my head on my paws. There was music playing and the humans laughed a lot. They exchanged brightly wrapped bags and boxes, but none of this seemed to be for any of the dogs so I ignored it. Finally after the humans ate (another exercise in ignoring everything and being the best service dog I could be) it seemed the humans had decided we should have some presents too. The trainers brought out several little bags, there seem to be one for each of us.
I put my nose into the bag, it smelled good but had more of those things that made me want to sneeze. In the bag was a toy but at the very bottom were a bag of treats, which Beth told me I could have later (apparently this didn't mean all at once).
"Merry Christmas Goliath!" Callie said laughing, I loved it when she laughed, then I looked up at her, my new toy still in my mouth, squeaking happily.
Someone next to us held up what I knew now to be a phone. When I saw the photo later it was of Callie and me, Callie was kissing my head and I had my toy in my mouth.
I didn't know what all of this holiday cheer was about but it felt pretty good to me.10: Milestones
The spring brought many special milestones for me. By now, I was almost done with my training and would be placed with Callie soon. I was looking forward to being her partner and best friend; it was what I was good at.
At some point Beth and the other trainers, fosters and handlers spent a weekend at the park, one of my favorite places. They had invited some of the other dogs and they had food for everybody and lots of toys. Today, I was off the clock where I could just be a dog but it was still practice for being what Beth called "a gentleman" or what Shelley and the other important people called "socialization".
"You're such a big boy!" Beth said happily as she scratched me behind the ears. "You're 2!"
I wagged my tail happily. I didn't know what they were saying, but I knew they were as happy and excited as I was, today was going to be a good day.
I spent most of the time chasing and chewing toys. I also spent time playing tag with Sasha and my other friends.
Shortly after my party in the park I reached another milestone in my service dog training. There was still snow on the ground when I went to my home check at Callie's.
Her house was much smaller than Beth's, it seemed close to the ground with a fence around the yard. I could also smell flowers. Today, I was on duty, but this time I was with Shelley, who seemed a very serious, I wasn't quite sure what this was about, but I went with it. As Shelley let me out of her car the door was opened by Callie and I wagged my tail excitedly, but I knew now was not the time to greet her, Shelley had yet to give me my "visit" or "head down" command, a command that allowed me to sit with someone including my handler freely being close and accessible.
Right now I was in a heel position which meant I had to behave; I was good with that. First, Shelley sat down in a chair with me beside her, she put me in a down stay and I comply with me to the conversation with my head on my paws.
"Are you ready to take Goliath into your home?" Shelley asked.
Callie smiled in that way humans do, and in a way I was familiar with now.
"Absolutely! I'm still getting things together, but by the time you place him with me I'll be ready."
Shelley continued asking questions.
"You have places where you can walk him and take him to go potty?" She asked.
"Sure! I have a big backyard and there are also parks nearby."
"Well," Shelley continued, "I think a brief tour is in order," she stood up, "okay, Goliath, let's go, heel."
We walked through the house, into every room, the bedroom, the kitchen, which Shelley inspected carefully. On a small board she scribbled with what I knew to be a pen, a thing humans used for writing.
"Can I see the backyard?" Shelley asked.
"Sure," Callie replied, "no problem." We followed her as she rolled her wheelchair towards the back of the house. There was lots of sunshine and large windows and there was the door leading out into the yard. It led onto a slab of sorts and Shelley and I stood there as Shelley observed the yard. I looked up at her questioningly, even at the moment I wondered if I could go investigate.
"Great yard." She commented, "He'll be very happy here, lots of room to run. She looked down at me and I wagged my tail expectantly.
After we went back inside, Shelley sat down and made a few more notes before nodding in satisfaction.
"Congratulations, Callie and Goliath, you just passed your final home inspection. I'll be more than happy to leave Goliath here, just not today." She chuckled. "I think you still a few more hours to go and a couple more classes to complete."
"Yes, very close, we've been working very hard."
"I know, I've heard great things about both of you. Goliath is a great dog."
"I know, you don't have to tell me that. I'm so glad I got paired with him, and obviously he knows it too." Looking up at them both I just wagged my tail.