Since 2001, we’ve had a puppy in the house every single year.
14 years later, life is really different as we’ve taken a temporary break from raising service dogs. It’s not better or worse, but definitely different. It’s certainly less work, that’s for sure. No house training, no all-day trips to check in with the service dog organization each month.
Our life now is very different than we’re used to. Three our of four of our dogs are seniors. Seniors! When did that happen? Each of them is a released service dog. I distinctly remember the pick-up days for each of those dogs. And for those dogs who went back for advanced training before being released (Lily and Schooner) I remember the dread and heartbreak of turn-in day and leaving them at the agency.
Lily was just the second pup we raised.
She was feisty and a real handful. She had gotten so attached to Rocky, the first service dog, that I was seriously concerned that she’d fall apart when he went back to the agency for his advanced training. Turns out she missed him a lot, but service pup #3, Tango (who was keeper #2), was a nice distraction and he kept Lily busy so she didn’t have much time to cry in her food bowl about missing Rocky. Lily was released from service dog training for a few reasons. She has a tactile sensitivity that made her quite unhappy in a service dog vest. She hated wearing the vest and doesn’t really even like wearing a collar, even today. She also didn’t love working in public. She’s very friendly, but I liken her to an introvert who would rather stay home than go to the party. She’s most comfortable tucked under my desk, under the table, or in her crate. Being out in public wasn’t really her thing. She wasn’t happy with the life of a public working dog, so the agency made the wise decision to let her live the life she really wanted — a pet dog that didn’t need to interact with the world all day every day. She’s now almost 14, but can run circles around any of the other dogs (with the exception of Great Dane, Schooner — and she runs circles under him!). She’s active, fit, and can keep me walking at a speedy clip for miles and miles!
Tango, the handsomest yellow Labrador you’d ever want to meet (not that I’m biased or anything) is the second keeper dog.
We were very excited for him to become a service dog as his training had been perfect. He was cool, calm, and collected in public. Happy and cheerful, full of pep, yet sensitive to the mood in the room, Tango was going to be the perfect service dog. He unfortunately had some elbow trouble that was diagnosed on x-rays early in his training. The service dog agency didn’t feel it was fair to Tango or his future partner to work a dog who may develop physical problems later in life. I remember the call telling us he was being disqualified. I maintained my composure “Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that!” until I hung up the phone, then I jumped up and down like a loon and squealed like a schoolgirl, thrilled that this boy was ours to keep. Regular readers of the blog know that Tango is my favorite over all the others. It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve ever had that special dog that just gets you, you know what I’m talking about. While second oldest, he’s the one with the most physical problems. That nasty arthritis is really kicking in and it’s starting to really slow my boy down.
Nemo is keeper #3.
A total “man’s dog,” he mainly tolerates me while living for my husband’s affection. Once when my husband was on business travel for six weeks, we had a gentleman come over to fix something in the house. Nemo was attached to that guy the whole time he was here. Before the guy left, Nemo crawled his 85 pound self up into his lap and was the most contented dog you’d ever want to see. Visually, Nemo looks like the oldest dog, as he’s gone almost totally grey in his face. Silly and playful, Nemo is the one who’ll run around the yard doing zoomie laps while playing chase with me or the other dogs. A ridiculously handsome (and yet also goofy looking) dog, Nemo garners the most attention when we have him out. People seem to gravitate to his stately stature, his houndish face, and his friendliness. At the end of the day, he loves nothing more than to crawl into the LaZ Boy with my husband and drift off to sleep.
The big boy, Schooner.
The biggest, silliest, and sweetest Great Dane you’d ever want to meet, that’s Schoons. We had high hopes for Schooner as a service dog and loved the thought of him out working with someone in public. Big he may be, but he’s still quite a chicken. He’s afraid of thunderstorms, wind, and rain. It’s kinda hard for Schooner’s partner to go out only on nice days. When I got the call that he was being released, I was ready to get in my car at that very moment. I couldn’t stand the thought of waiting to get him. We love Great Danes anyway, and Schooner was a fabulous boy who had already lived with us and who had already been a part of our family. Did we want Schooner, they asked? Uh, YEAH! He had a rough transition from service dog to pet dog. Used to going everywhere all the time, he was unhappy for a few weeks, which led me to question my decision to take him. A couple weeks later, though, we figured each other out, got used to the new daily routine, and haven’t looked back. He’s a big bed hog, gentle, sweet, and oh so drooly. Man, can that dog make a mess of the floors and walls with all that goop. We love his silly self despite all the grossness — that should be a testament to just how much fun and lovable the big ox is.
Reasons we’re not raising.
The real reason we’re not raising service dogs, anymore, is Schooner. Well, yes and no. He’s our fourth keeper dog, which means we’d have five dogs if we were raising service dogs. Five dogs in the house is a lot for me. The mess of hair and drool that five dogs creates is overwhelming. I can’t ever have the house totally clean. There’s going to be dog hair or dog drool somewhere, no matter how meticulous I am (which I’m not even a little meticulous). Whichever way you look at it, five dogs was our tipping point. We didn’t feel like we’d be giving each dog what a fair shake if we had five dogs.
Time was another reason we didn’t get another puppy. I’ll be honest, the four dogs don’t get enough training time. They all love to learn and train, but I don’t have enough time to get each of them the training time they need. If we added a fifth dog, whose training schedule was not only demanding but also inflexible due to the service dog milestones that we needed to reach, our four would get even less attention and training. And with four dogs already, I wasn’t confident I could give the pup all the training, attention, and time in public that he (or she) needed to meet the service dog agency’s requirements.
Our senior dogs made it clear when we were raising Levi, that they’d just about had it with this whole puppy raising business. Puppies were fun for them when they were younger, but now puppies were just a pain in the neck. They began to look at me with disgust when they were all reaching about 10 years old with the “you have got to be kidding” look when the next puppy would come into the house each year. It was when we turned Levi in and I got to see the dogs begin to enjoy one another, initiate play, and return to their normal selves (that I’d kinda almost forgotten about), that I realized what a damper a puppy put on their lives. It was then that we decided to take a break from pups until we had more room in our house. Which means we’re not going to raise any more pups until our seniors aren’t with us any longer. So while I do miss raising puppies, I’m in no hurry to get back to it at the cost of losing one of our seniors.
Do I miss raising puppies?
Yes, yes, yes. Very much. I miss the opportunity to teach the pup all the cool stuff like self control, attention, focus, playing nicely, leash manners…all that stuff that most dog owners think is a real pain, I love teaching. I miss watching the weekly progress as their brains take in all the learning, process it, and then they incorporate it into their everyday lives. I miss the silliness that is a puppy! The playing, the barking, the craziness.
We’ll get back to it, I know. But it’ll be awhile. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the senior years with my old guys. They still keep us busy and they’re still learning things, too. I hope it’s a long time ’til I get back to puppy raising.