We have added a fourth dog. And it’s not a service puppy in training.
We raised this guy two years ago with the expectation that he’d be a brace (balance) dog for someone. He went through his puppy training with us quickly. We had him a mere ten months before he went into advanced training. He stayed at the service dog organization in the advanced training program for 15 months. He was 99% perfect!
Service dogs are held to a very high standard. They need to be medically sound (no allergies, no dysplasia, no skin conditions, etc.). Sadly, he would occasionally bark and pull toward another dog. Working as a brace dog, his leash manners need to be perfect. And they almost are. But not good enough. I can’t lie: I did a happy dance when I got an email from the organization saying that he was being released and did we want him.
Did we want him?! Yes, I’ll be right down, I said! It actually took a week due to scheduling conflicts, but the big oaf came to live with us permanently last Saturday!
I was thrilled, yes, but I was sad, too, because Schooner is a fabulous dog — he had so much of what it takes to be a service dog in training and could have done so much good. But risking someone’s safety — even though he was unreliable just one time out of a hundred — isn’t ethical, regardless of how good he was in every other way. Would you want to drive a car whose brakes worked 99 times out of 100? It was a tough decision for all involved, but it was an easy one for us: Yes, we’ll take him!
We live with three other career changed dogs: Tango, Lily, and Nemo. Service dogs in training get to go everywhere with their trainers. They get used to going anytime we pick up the car keys, so the transition from service dog in training to pet dog can be a rough one. The first time since Schooner’s homecoming when I left the four dogs to run errands, I watched Schooner closely on our Dropcam. The poor boy howled for quite some time after I left. I had forgotten just how hard the transition could be.
Since that first howl-fest, he has gotten better at staying behind and I’ve gotten better at my departure routine. Instead of a frozen Kong, which he quickly abandoned, Schooner now gets a fresh peanut butter stuffed Kong which gets him working right away and affords me a few moments to leave without being watched. I’ve since watched the happenings on the Dropcam while I’m gone and he’s now sleeping on the couch with the other dogs more often.
We are taking the next few weeks to let Schooner adjust to his new life and settle back into our routine and our household. We want to get him into therapy work so he can continue to do good. His manners are impeccable and we’ll be working hard to keep those up to the service dog standard. Look for more Schoons stories, pictures, and for him to show up in our dog training videos!