Hello, my name is Judson!
I'm your average 2-year-old Labrador retriever with a full-time job. What, do your 2-year-olds not have jobs? I guess it would be hard to get a job when you wear a permanent pee pad around your body. But…how do they earn their treats? I get treats when I learn one of the 42 commands I have to master before I can graduate.
Oh, woof, I never explained what my job is. I'm a service dog! Well…a service dog in training at Canine Companions. Imagine it like doggy college, and my major is helping people, and I double minor in being cute and snagging treats!
I'm in the last six months of my two-year training, hoping to graduate in August (paws crossed)! Once I graduate, I can dedicate my life to helping a human who wasn't born as lucky as you or me to lead their day-to-day life with a little more ease and companionship.
Don't give me those puppy eyes! It's my job. I don't get all mushy about your nine-to-five — smile! Gahh...yes! I love it when people smile; it reminds me of my foster family. When I was a pup, Canine Companions paired me with a family that raised me for a year and a half until I was big (and potty trained) enough to start this six-month intensive.
In a few weeks, the service dog recipients will come live with me and the rest of the new service dogs at our huge facility for a two-week sleepover where we'll get paired (forever and ever, heh) and go through the last weeks of training hand in paw. But I have a lot left to learn before then, and the sun's coming up, so I have to get my training started.
Follow me around if you want to see what a day in my life is like. Heel! Just kidding — come on, I'm late for breakfast.
First order of business: I need to put on my big-boy vest so people know I'm at work.
I'm not a morning dog, but I'll get up if food is involved. I leave the kennels with my roommate Reuben and our classmate Oxford to meet the rest of the service dogs and our trainer Lauren in the main training facility.
This is when we get our first feeding of the day. I learn much better on a full and frequently rubbed belly!
Hey, how's it goin'? See how good I am at small talk? That's because Lauren works on appropriate greetings with us. The other dogs and I learn to politely approach and shake paws with the people we meet instead of jumping all over them.
Now we flex our focus muscles. Dogs get a bad rap for being distracted by squirrels and shiny objects, which is…well…valid. For this exercise, Lauren booby traps the floor with squeaky toys, treats, and tricks. Now get this: I have to walk around as if none of this stuff is even there! This is so I don't get distracted by things I encounter when I'm out and about with my new human in the real world.
Think of my training kind of like a video game — once I get past the toy stage and the treat stage, it's time to battle the boss. But by "battle," I mean "kindly coexist with." Our boss' name is Baxter. If you can't tell, he's a cat. My trainer thinks that if I can keep calm and carry on around Baxter, I can pretty much do anything. Watch. Watch how I don't get all hot under my collar when he's around.
This is an exercise in what the humans call "generalizing"; I call it "ignoring." As service dogs, we have a get-in-free pass to anywhere our companion takes us. That's why I have to work on behaving in high-stimulus situations. I call it ignoring because we'll be ignoring your "No Dogs Allowed" signs. ;)
It's almost lunch, but first, we just have to run through a few more commands. "Get," "step," and "give" are probably the commands I'll use most often. When my human needs something, I'll be able to fetch it for them. I hope they don't mind slobber, because what has four paws and no thumbs? This handsome guy!
Be cool, be cool. It's time for equipment training with Jamie Nolastnamey. She sits in the wheelchairs and other handicap equipment while I practice walking, sitting, and navigating around them. She's pretty quiet, and all the humans call her "dummy," but I think she's pretty cute, so try not to embarrass me, OK?
Watch how I nose to turn on the light. Yes, I meant nose. In case my companion can't reach the light switch, Lauren has been teaching me to flick it up with my nose when she says "light" and push it down with my paw when she says "switch."
Time for more nose training! Besides using my snout to turn lights on, I also use it to push drawers closed and press buttons, like ones that automatically open doors. This exercise is pretty easy. Reuben and I have a joke about it: "What, like it's hard? S'nout rocket science!"
Speaking of Reuben, it's time to meet the rest of my class outside for normal dog time. (Sorry, that's industry language for running around, playing fetch, splish-splashing in the pool, etc.) Come on, we need someone to throw the ball. But throw it to me!
Woof, I'm exhausted. Now this…this is the best part of the day. At the end of each training day, I just get to sit here and be pampered. Lauren comes to snuggle with me and, while she does it, she uses all these fancy brushes to keep me looking this good and gives me a pedicure. After that, it's pretty much lights out around here.
I'm not great at goodbyes, so...thanks for stopping by! Next time you see me, I'll be a Canine Companions grad, off to lead a life of service with my new family! If I pass you on the street, I might not be able to say hi because I'll be working, but just know that I love you, OK?
Remember when I told you that the next time you'll see me I'll be a Canine Companions grad? Well, it's official! I did it! Sorry…I mean "we" did it (but it's mostly still me). After two years of intensive training with my trainer Lauren, I finally mastered the 42 commands it takes to become a service dog.
Not only that, BUT...I've already been paired with my lifetime companion! His name is Evan, and he's 12 (in human years). Evan and his family came to the Canine Companions training facility in Long Island where we had a two-week sleepover to bond.
It's hard to say goodbye to Lauren and all the friends I've made while training, but I can't wait to be a part of Evan's family!
Well, I have to go get ready for the graduation ceremony. Evan and I get to walk across the stage like in the movies. Cue the graduation music!
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Special thanks to Canine Companions for Independence.
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