by volunteer puppy raiser Anne Garretson
A friend, looking at one of my proud mom pictures asked, “How did you get all three dogs to sit still and pose like that?” The tired old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall popped into my mind - practice, practice, practice.
The man in front of the grocery store… “how did you get this little puppy to say hello so nicely? Look at him paying attention to you! I wish my dog were that good.”
At the vet… “I wish all our patients were this calm. He’s not squirming, he’s letting me look in his ears and doesn’t care. It makes my job so much easier. Best of all he’s not stressed. Good job, Miller!”
Practice, practice, practice.
The other day at the office, Miller practiced doing nothing while I worked at my desk. Yup, that’s right. Doing nothing. A service dog’s life is on-off, on-off constantly. He needs to practice paying attention when I need him to be alert and resting when I don’t. He tried to get me to play for a bit and I ignored him. He lay down on the blanket beside me and got rewarded. Pretty soon he curled up on the blanket for a snooze.
This morning he wore a Captain America shirt. While he’s little, he’ll get used to wearing all kinds of things as the experiences prepare him for the BluePath vest he’ll wear one day. He spun in a circle for a minute trying to catch the shirt, then forgot about it and started to play with the other dogs.
Miller comes from great lineage. He’s also inquisitive, confident, attentive and eager to please. These are traits I can’t take credit for. My job as his puppy raiser is to help him develop his inherent great qualities and redirect the not so great ones – like when he considers chewing on houseplants. :) Life provides consistently provides opportunities to practice, practice, practice - all day long.
We practice every little desirable behavior and build on them; that’s how we shape this little puppy into a well-balanced, well-mannered dog. Because when he’s out on the job working as an autism service dog, how he behaves cannot be a distraction or danger for the parent and child who’ll depend on him.
But don’t worry… both now and later in life as a working service dog, this sweet, goofy pup will always have time to play, to snuggle, and to receive endless pampering and love. He’ll make sure of that!