work of dogs
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Remembering 9/11 SAR Teams
September events honor human and canine rescue teams

As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, there are many victims to remember and many heroes to honor. Among those to pay tribute to are the hundreds of search and rescue (SAR) dogs who worked alongside police, firefighters, and other rescue workers at the World Trade Center. Like many others involved in the rescue efforts, canine SAR teams are mostly made up of volunteers who willingly put themselves at risk to help others.

SAR dog advocacy group, Finding One Another, is teaming up with the Tails of Hope Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing veterinary and human medicine, to honor SAR teams through a series of commemorative and educational programs.

The following are three highlights from their September calendar. The Finding One Another website has details on additional events.

Recognition Ceremony at Liberty State Park (September 11 at 1 p.m. in Jersey City, N.J.)
This ceremony will honor the canine SAR teams, veterinarians, Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMATs) and other working dogs and handlers that played an instrumental part in the 9/11 rescue efforts. The event will start with a processional march led by teams who served at the World Trade Center and end with SAR dog demos. Thousands of SAR teams are expected to participate in the event.

Penn Vet Working Dog Center 2011 International Conference (September 7-9 in Pearl River, N.Y.)
The theme of the conference is “Defining, Developing, and Documenting Success in Working Dogs.” Participants will discuss advancements that benefit working dogs and increasing public awareness about SAR dogs and the risks that they face on the job.

The conference is chaired by Cynthia M. Otto, DVM, PhD, DACVECC, Co-Chair of the 9/11 Tenth Anniversary SAR Tribute and Associate Professor of Critical Care at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Participants are expected to attend from all over the world.

SAR Photography & Artifact Exhibit (through September 2011 in West Nyack, N.Y.)
This exhibit at the Palisades Center Mall will feature photographs, large banners, and artifacts that depict the SAR community’s work at the 9/11 sites and elsewhere. A kickoff event will be held on September 9 and will include artistic performances and demonstrations. Portions of the exhibit will be donated to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

We owe so much to the dogs and handlers who worked alongside rescue workers on September 11th. It's important to advocate for them so that we never forget the risk they took, and still take, every time they come to the aid of people in need.

Dog's Life: Humane
Me and My (Unemployed) Dog

It’s another monday morning, and I’m reading the Times and sipping my coffee at an hour when most respectable people are already at work, or at least on their way. Like I used to be. Bam! The “Arts” section flies into my face as Tillie, my two-year-old Lab, head-butts her way onto my lap.

“You need a job,” I tell her as I rub her ears and wipe the sleep out of her eyes.

“Hell, I need a job,” I add.

It’s true. But had I been employed, Tillie wouldn’t have been here in my New York apartment, watching my every move to see what the day would bring. On the contrary, she was a direct result of my lack of a job — the beneficiary of my desire to accomplish something worthwhile while I had free time on my hands. Tillie is the second puppy I’ve raised for the Guide Dog Foundation. The first, Cathy, is now a working guide dog, and the pride of my life. Tillie, though quite wonderful, is a slacker. It was allergies that got her booted out of the guide-dog program and onto my couch.

So now we find ourselves in the same boat. Long days stretch ahead of the two of us like shadows on a late-summer afternoon. The intervals between our snack breaks seem to be getting shorter and shorter, and if either one of us makes even the slightest move toward the kitchen, the other is right behind. Our once-idle friends, who were always available for a romp in the park or a late-afternoon glass of wine, have moved on to big jobs and left us behind. Corey, Tillie’s favorite yellow Lab, is off guiding in New Hampshire. Leslie, my pal since college, is working such long hours that I rarely see her.

Too much free time can make you crazy. I recognize Til lie’s obsessive tendencies only because they mirror my own. She keeps a steady watch for the mean dog next door: I constantly check for Facebook updates. On our daily runs, she pees in the exact same three spots and I count my steps between lampposts. She chases her tail, I fruitlessly launch résumés into the ether. Really, the only difference between us is her lack of concern about money.

We did try the volunteer circuit, even before Tillie was tossed from Guide Dogs. An outing with an elderly woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease nearly gave me a heart attack, with my Parkinson’s lady hanging on to my right arm for dear life as Tillie yanked in the opposite direction on my left. Maybe we’ll give it another shot when she’s a little older. And the therapy dog thing? Let’s just say that neither of us survived the screening process. But I do suspect we’ll both get over that and try again, sooner or later.

I feel bad about Tillie not having a job. I understand how she feels. Like in the mornings, when that ad with Roscoe the bedbug-sniffing dog comes on TV and her head swivels around from its spot on my pillow, her eyes blazing with envy. Or when folks ask how Cathy is doing, and I feel like I should cover Tillie’s ears before recounting the stories about what a superstar guide my first puppy has become.

But then again, maybe I’m just projecting. Maybe she really doesn’t want to work. In fact, when I think about it, it seems as though those “allergies” that were making her so itchy right before she was about to go in for her formal guide-dog training suspiciously disappeared as soon as she was released to me. And she does love that couch. But in my opinion, she’s way too young for retirement. And so am I.

Now, together, we’re trying out a new job. We’re helping to raise Bau, an eightmonth- old future guide dog. I have a lot to teach him, and he has a lot to learn — mostly how “not” to do things. Like how not to trample the daffodils, how not to run down the stairs with a dog bed in his mouth, and how not to launch a stealth attack over a glass coffee table. Tillie’s lessons seem to be more focused on things like successful strategies for tug-of-war, tag and keep-away.

I hope Tillie doesn’t become too much of a role model for Bau. After all, I don’t want him to get any big ideas. He only has five months or so to go before he heads off to work, and I worry that Tillie’s going to make this whole jobless thing look a lot more appealing than it really is. I guess I’ll just have to keep an eye on her, and make sure she keeps her opinions to herself. The last thing I need is another bum under my roof.

News: Guest Posts
Beth and Harper Discover Height Matters
Seeing Eye dog and handler tackle new hurdles on the road to recovery

[Editor's note: Frequent Bark blogger Beth Finke recently broke her foot and has been keeping us posted about what it means for her and her Seeing Eye dog, Harper. Read installments I and II in what we’re unofficially calling the “broken foot chronicles” and her most recent update, below.]

I’m in orthopedic shoes now—a real relief after eight weeks in a cast! Harper seems relieved, too. No more worries about being stepped on by Big Foot.

Along with the wide shank for added stability, the soles of both of my new orthopedic shoes have extra padding. I put them on, and suddenly I’m six feet tall! I hold Harper’s harness from a higher elevation now. When I lift the harness and tell him to pull me forward, he has to adjust to a totally different angle.

The three breaks in my left foot aren’t totally healed yet, and these are the only shoes I’m allowed to wear until the end of the month. I’m not supposed to go barefoot, even in the house.

Our first venture outside with the new shoes was slightly disappointing. No blare of trumpets. Passersby did not burst into song. I commanded, “Harper, forward!” and instead of leading me down the sidewalk, Harper took me to a car parked in front of our building.

Poor little guy. For the past eight weeks all I’ve been doing is asking him to guide me to cabs! A verbal correction got Harper back on track, and we were on our way. First stop? Across the street to Harper’s favorite tree.

The bumps on the wheelchair ramp usually tip me off we’re at the street crossing. I can’t feel the bumps through the three-inch soles on my orthopedic shoes. “Harper, forward!” We cross the street safely. “Good boy, Harper!”

A dip in the sidewalk used to alert me that we’re crossing the entrance to a parking lot. A mound of dirt around Harper’s tree used to tell me I could take his harness off and give him permission to do his thing. With these thick-soled shoes on, I can’t feel much of anything underfoot. So I just say a quick prayer to the gods of pee and poop that I’m not allowing Harper to empty somewhere he shouldn’t, then lean down from my six-foot perch to unbuckle his harness. “Park time!”

Harper circles, and once he stops, I do my best to move my over-protected foot near his tail. I slip a plastic bag over my hand and lean waaaaaay down (gee, did I tell you I’m six feet tall now?!) to feel through the plastic for lumps near my foot. After picking the lumps up, I flip the clean part of the bag over my palm and throw the bag away. Success!

Harper and I have steadily increased the length of our trips since then—he brought me to a parked car again yesterday, but once I corrected him, we were on our way again—this time circling the entire block.

Today, he ignored the parked cars in front of our building altogether and responded correctly to every “right!” and “left!” on our two-block walk to the bank. “Good dog!” On the way home he waited patiently at the street crossing while I waved my arm to and fro in search of the walk button. It was lower than it used to be. Hey, did I tell you I’m six...?

Okay, never mind.

Once we got home, I did a joyful Tin Man dance in place. Harper circled around me, stuffed squeak toy in mouth, tail wagging. “Attaboy, Harper! We’re back!”

A trainer from the Seeing Eye is coming next week to visit some other graduates in the Chicago area. Eric will stop by to trail Harper and me en route—maybe he’ll have some pointers for the new, taller me.

Doctor’s orders are to continue wearing the clodhoppers until I return to the ortho clinic August 31. The Seeing Eye will send another trainer out if we need more help once I’m back on terra firma, and  I am very hopeful that at this next appointment the doc will give me the okay to wear my normal shoes again. And if that happens, trust me, I’ll be more than happy to step down from my six-foot pedestal!

News: Guest Posts
Future Guide Dog’s “Family Reunions”
Caleb reunites with his littermates

Once a year Guide Dogs for the Blind hosts their annual “Fun Day” at each campus, an annual recognition event for puppy raising volunteers to thank them for everything they do. It’s the biggest event of the year. The day provides raisers from the various territories with the opportunity to learn about new training techniques, changes in the breeding program, new community placement options and, of course, to meet littermates and other raisers.

Three of Caleb’s seven siblings were attended—Cleveland, Carol and Clinton—all are yellow and being raised in the Portland area. We were able to spend some time chatting with the other raisers and comparing notes on our pups. Turns out, there are definitely some shared traits. All of them have the same “hook” move: When playing, they’ll wrap a front paw around you and hang on. They are all cuddly, love to play and are generally mellow personalities. However, when it comes to appearances they are all over the map. Cleveland is significantly bigger with a wavy long Golden Retriever coat, Carol is very petite and Caleb was commended as the cutest, and I have to say I agree!

It’s hard to say if they recognize each other as sibling since in general they show the same level of enthusiasm for all dogs. But it was fun to see some of his littermates and learn how they have been progressing through their training. To date, all eight are still in program and none have been career changed.

We also had a few visitors this month. My mum spends part of the summer in Bend and along with her comes her Black Labrador, Hobson, who is a community placement from Guide Dogs. Community placements are essentially ambassadors. They are paired with active community members, educators and others who help spread the word about Guide Dogs for the Blind.

My mum lives in a retirement community in Arizona where she and Hobson do outreach work on behalf of Guide Dogs for the Blind. They speak to Veterans organizations, vision-loss support groups and social clubs about the services and options available for the visually impaired. Hobson is a wonderful companion for my mum as well as perfect representative for Guide Dogs. When visiting, he also provides some welcome instruction and mentorship for Caleb. Caleb has learned to respect his elders, a bit, and that just because there is another dog around does not mean we are opening a wrestling camp in our living room!

Add to this mix four of my siblings and their families including kids ranging in ages from 2 to 16 and we had a really different vibe for Caleb to experience. This was again invaluable socialization and training for him, on any given day there were at least five additional people in our house, kid’s toys all over the place, and mealtimes were crazy. With our house as the hub of activity, Caleb got a dose of what I grew up in. Lots of people, food, noise, activity and kids running around, he handled it all very well but needed a few long naps in between.

While summer may be coming to a close, we are preparing for our long awaited vacation to Montana for some fly fishing, hiking and relaxing. Caleb is going with us to the lodge and we are looking forward to giving him even some more new experiences. Until next month, enjoy the rest of the summer!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Girl Scouts Buy Badges for Police Dogs
Cookie sales fund the project

Girl Scouts in Troop 10470 met officers last year during a safety presentation by the police. The girls were saddened to learn that the canine police dogs did not have their own badges, and they decided to do something about it.

Buying badges costs money, and we all know how Girl Scouts raise money. They sell cookies. It took more than 1,000 boxes to raise enough money to buy badges for the five police dogs, which were presented to them on August 17, 2011. Each badge has the dog’s name on it, rather than an officer ID number, which is what human police officers have on their badges.

It’s telling that the Girl Scouts felt that the dogs, being police officers too, should have their own badges. To them, and to many adults, it just makes sense that dogs as well as people should have badges. They are part of a new generation growing up with the viewpoint that dogs are on equal footing with their human partners, which is why one girl had asked, “Why does your dog not have a badge?”

News: Guest Posts
Dogs in the Courtroom, Follow-up Part II
Facility dogs versus therapy dogs—critical distinction

Editor’s note: On Monday, Rebecca Wallick blogged about what an appeal in New York challenging the use of courtroom dogs might mean to the practice. Today, she explores the difference between facility dogs and therapy dogs, which is essential to the success of courtroom dog programs.

One concern raised by Courthouse Dogs founder Ellen O’Neill-Stephens, which I share, is the use of “therapy” dogs in forensic interviews with victims, or in the courtroom or other legal settings. There is a vast difference in training of facility dogs versus therapy dogs. There is also a vast difference in training between interviewer specialists, investigators and prosecutors, and volunteers wanting to be helpful. The former are prepared by training, experience and disposition to deal with the horrors of the stories they hear; the latter aren’t.

O’Neill-Stephens describes a case where a volunteer and her therapy dog were in the lobby of a child advocacy center when the child walked in and immediately started disclosing to the therapy dog’s handler what had happened to her—right there in the lobby. The volunteer, unprepared for the disclosure, was traumatized and required professional counseling. The child had to disclose her ordeal again, to the interview specialist.

In another case, the volunteer and dog were asked to attend the physical exam of the child rape victim. A privacy screen was placed between the volunteer and the child, with the volunteer holding the leash of her dog who was next the child on the exam table. When the child started to cry, the dog put its paws on the table and licked the child, providing comfort. But the evidence was tainted by dog hair and the exam had to be conducted a second time.

Of course, these volunteers and their therapy dogs are well meaning and only trying to help. But the consequences of mistakes can mean re-traumatizing the victim with another interview or exam, or even an inability to file a case because crucial evidence is tainted. Dogs utilized in legal settings should be facility service dogs specially trained for that work by organizations like Canine Companions for Independence (where Jeeter, Ellie, Stilson and Molly B were all trained) or other such programs that are accredited by Assistance Dogs International. Their handlers should be the prosecutors, interviewer specialists, victim advocates and police specialists who also work in the legal arena. Therapy dogs and their handlers, as wonderful as they are, belong in therapy settings.

News: Guest Posts
Dogs in the Courtroom, Follow-up Part I
Appeal challenges the use of dogs to comfort witnesses

On August 8, 2011, The New York Times ran an article about a criminal trial in June where Rosie, a trained facility service dog, was allowed in the courtroom. The case required that a 15-year-old girl testify about her father raping and impregnating her. Rosie, New York’s first judicially approved courtroom dog, sat at the teen’s feet as she testified.

The next evening, NBC Nightly News closed with a segment highlighting the use of facility service dogs in courtrooms to help victims—especially children—testify during trial. The spot included video of Ellie, one of the dogs I profiled for my article “Dogs in the Courtroom,” which was published in Bark’s May/June 2007 issue. It also included an interview with Ellen O’Neill-Stephens with her courthouse dog Molly B. O’Neill-Stephens’ disabled son’s service dog Jeeter was first used in a courtroom setting here in Washington State in 2003 and got this whole concept rolling. She has gone on, with Celeste Walsen DVM, to create Courthouse Dogs LLC, to promote the careful and thoughtful use of facility service dogs in legal settings—from forensic interviews to the courtroom. To date, ten states are allowing dogs in the courtroom. Countries such as Chile, Australia and Canada have asked Courthouse Dogs for assistance setting up programs.

The NBC News segment was prompted by the uproar Rosie caused, doing her job in that New York courtroom. Much was made of the fact that the defense team was going to appeal, in part because of the use of Rosie. One of the defense attorneys claimed that each time the victim stroked the dog during her testimony the jury would think she was under stress because she was telling the truth.

Well, yeah. Asking a child to recount a horrific event in a courtroom full of strangers, with her abuser staring at her, and defense counsel questioning her, is stressful. Historically, children have been allowed comfort items—blankets, dolls, teddy bears—while testifying. Or a support person—perhaps a relative, or victim advocate—in the observer’s section of the courtroom but within eyesight of the victim, to help calm them. These aids have withstood appeal.

As O’Neill-Stephens points out, “The dogs are often completely out of sight in the witness box, at the victim’s feet. Typically the victim simply holds the leash in their hands, which provides a sense of control for them, or they might bend down occasionally to stroke the dog’s head.” Done correctly, the use of a facility service dog in court to aid the victim would be less visible to a jury than comfort items. And certainly, the dog can’t be accused of trying to sway the jury with body language, or coaching the victim as she testifies, as some support persons have been.

As an attorney, I know that convictions are routinely appealed, on any and every basis possible. It’s one of the hallmarks of our judicial systems, and keeps everyone honest. Rosie simply provides the New York defense team with an additional ground. O’Neill-Stephens isn’t aware of any previous appeal regarding the use of facility service dogs in courtrooms although they have been used in that capacity for several years now. That may be, in part, because appeals can take years to reach full resolution, and the use of dogs in courtrooms in relatively new. Frankly, I welcome the appeals so that the issue can finally be resolved in favor of the use of dogs.

Here in Washington, Mark Roe, Snohomish County Prosecutor, remembers trying a case where he utilized Stilson, the facility dog associated with his office’s victim/witness advocates since 2006 and also profiled in my earlier Bark article. Roe’s case involved an 11-year-old girl testifying against her father, who had sex with her since she was nine. She was reluctant to tell a cop, or an interview specialist; it was gross and embarrassing. But she told Stilson, allowing for charges to be filed.

During pre-trial motions, Roe explained to the judge how Stilson helped the girl talk about her ordeal and sought a ruling allowing Stilson to be at the girl’s feet on the witness stand. Defense counsel objected to Stilson being in the courtroom, arguing that the dog being with the girl as she testified would amount to commenting on the evidence, sending a message to the jury that the judge must believe the girl because he gave her a dog.

As Roe tells it, “Judge Tom Wynne listened to arguments pro and con, and observed Stilson, lying peacefully amid the uproar between the parties. He ruled that Stilson was so unobtrusive that if the State elected, Stilson could be up at the witness stand with the child.” Roe chose to not have Stilson on the stand with the girl, however, because he didn’t want to create a possible appellate issue if the child could get through her testimony without him. Instead, Stilson sat in the back of the courtroom with an advocate, where the girl could see him, and be with him during breaks. “For all the jury knew, the advocate was an observer, and Stilson her dog.” The girl’s father was convicted.

According to Roe, “Service dogs don’t make it possible for us to prosecute child rapists. We have done that for years without animals of any sort. What service dogs do is make it easier on the little kids who have to go in and face the guy who abused them, in front of a room full of strange adults (one dressed kind of like a witch) on a day they don’t get to choose, and talk about icky stuff. Service dogs take something very hard but very important, and they make it easier. They accomplish this without saying a word that can be construed as ‘leading’ or ‘suggesting’ things to the child. They simply provide comfort and something to like about a situation kids don’t like at all.”

O’Neill-Stephens noted that in a recent, very high-profile murder case, the judge initiated a request to use her courthouse dog Molly B. The defendant, charged with rape and murder, was prone to outbursts in the courtroom. “The judge wanted Molly in the courtroom for the entire six weeks of trial. The defense was okay with it,” she said. “After all, courthouse dogs help everyone—jurors, witnesses, courtroom staff, lawyers and defendants—deal with stressful courtroom sessions. Ultimately, prosecutors decided against using Molly B because the case was already packed with possible appellate issues.”

Which is sad. Research shows that just having dogs nearby can calm people and lower their blood pressure. In courtrooms, these dogs could reduce the stress of everyone—judge, jury, clerks, prosecutors and defense counsel, witnesses and observers. Unconditional love for all involved. Where’s the harm?

Williams ended his NBC Nightly News broadcast on August 9, 2011 by saying, “Those are some good dogs.”

I predict that in ten years, this will be a non-issue, and facility dogs will be a regular feature of courthouses across the country.

► Tomorrow in Part II of her follow-up, Rebecca Wallick blogs about the important distinction between facility dogs and therapy dogs in courtroom settings.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Service Vest Controversy
EBay listing causes anger

No matter what you want to buy, eBay probably has it. Looking for an 1897 Pocket Kodak camera? What about a gold-plated mango fork? Or perhaps you seek a service dog vest about which the seller says, “Use this for your good puppy and take her shopping with you. May have to play blind or stupid, but you love your puppy.”

This listing, which is no longer up, angered many people. Those with disabilities or whose family members have disablities are offended by the suggestion that people should dishonestly claim that their pets are service dogs, when they are not specifically trained in that way. They are concerned about the harm this causes to people with disabilities. The legitimacy of all service animals comes into question when people try to pass off their dogs as service animals.

It can be difficult to know whether an individual dog is a service animal. There is not some simple way to identify them such as a government-issued identification card. Identification of a service animal or proof that an animal is in fact a service dog is not required in most cases, and a disabled person who is asked for proof of their animal’s qualifications or training does not have to provide it. (An exception is the airlines, which are able to request documentation or ask questions to verify that a dog is a service animal, under the Air Carrier Access Act.) If a person is asked to leave a business or denied service because they brought in a service animal, that person can file a legal complaint against the owner of the business for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.

What do you think of the wording of the listing on eBay for a service dog vest? How do you feel about the apparently common practice of falsely claiming that a dog is a service dog?

News: Guest Posts
Beth Decides What to Do about her Sidelined Seeing Eye Dog
Part 2 of the “broken foot chronicles”

A post I wrote for the blog earlier this month, I'd been toying with sending my Seeing Eye dog back to Morristown while I recovered from my broken foot. I knew Harper would get regular workouts with Seeing Eye trainers in Morristown, but I also worried what a temporary move back to Seeing Eye School might do to Harper’s mental health. Not to mention mine.

A few days after that post was published, my husband Mike took Harper to a regularly scheduled vet visit. I’m the only one allowed to use my Seeing Eye dog on harness, so Mike walked Harper to the vet on leash, making him stop at every curb. I stayed home, slumped in front of my laptop with my cast up on the back of the couch.

Harper checked out fine. Except one thing. He’d gained five pounds. So it wasn’t just about our mental health anymore. Now my broken foot was affecting Harper’s physical health, too. I cut Harper’s food down from two cups to one-and-a-half cups a day and gave the Seeing Eye a call.

John Keane, Manager of Instruction & Training, said that, yes, I could send Harper back to the school for a while. “Our trainers could walk your dog every day, and, of course, Harper would perform for them,” he said. “But really, what would that get you, Beth?”

Not much, I admitted.

Just like cars that squeak or malfunction at home but perform perfectly at the mechanic’s, guide dogs are notorious for behaving well with instructors. It’s working at home that really matters.

While stuck at home together, I do a daily obedience routine with Harper. I’m the only one who feeds him. I give him his water. I groom him. I play with him. Mike takes Harper outside for walks, and when Mike is away, friends volunteer to help. But I’m always the one who calls Harper to the door, and I’m always the one who clips the leash to his collar before they head outside.

“We usually only have dogs come back for help if they’re having problems in traffic, problems that are so serious they can’t be solved at home,” John said. In that case, trainers might try to re-enact the traffic problem while the dog is there in Morristown, to see if they can remedy it, then bring the dog back and work with the team in the graduate’s home environment.

I’d been doing my best to get out with Harper a couple times a week, even with the boot cast. It’s a fine balance, and I hear my voice sounding a bit more stern when giving Harper commands—I can’t risk falling again. And you know, Harper responds!

“You never know,” I joked with John. “Maybe he’ll be even a better guide after getting all this time off!”

No joke, John said. “Harper wouldn’t be the first Seeing Eye dog we’ve worked with who improved after sitting out for a while.”

I told John I hadn’t noticed Harper having any problems with traffic on our few trips out together, and he was very happy to hear that. He assured me the Seeing Eye would send someone out to give us a refresher course once my foot is healed.

“Just be sure to let us know the minute you get any hint about when you might be out of the cast.” John is the guy in charge of scheduling home visits, and he wants to get mine on the calendar.

Me, too.

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Puppy-in-Training’s First Summer
Swim lessons, playing with a pal and a new tattoo

To say we’ve had a busy month is an understatement. I got my first and only tattoo (more on that in a second), while Caleb has been traveling, trekking and celebrating his first summer in style. Summer has officially arrived in Bend and that means one thing around our house—getting outside as much as possible, preferably near water. For Caleb this meant his first swim lesson. Mind you, Caleb’s been splashing around in the river and creek for months but he’d yet to learn to swim. So we took him to one of our favorite swimming holes for a lesson.

Most people assume a Labrador will jump right into the water and begin paddling, and occasionally it happens, but little Caleb is a bit of a cautious gent. I knew it would take some coaxing. While a dog may instinctively know how to swim that does not mean he wants to. Knowing Caleb, we took it slow and played along the water’s edge, splashing around until he was comfortable with his surroundings and didn’t show any indication of stress. Every few minutes, I’d step a little deeper into the water and call him to me, not wanting to disappoint his mum he’d cautiously step forward and before we knew it he was swimming. We paddled around for a while, got out, took a walk for a change of scenery, and came back for round two. Now we’ve got a full-fledged swimmer on our hands.

Since we spend a fair amount of our summer in and on the water it’s important Caleb knows he can swim but that does not mean he can charge into water upon sight. He’s still got to maintain his ability to resist the urge to fling himself into the water, which is hard for a puppy, especially on a hot day. Needless to say, Caleb is just as happy to sit on the water in the canoe or kayak as he is to be swimming. Clearly being a cautious old soul has its benefits in this training exercise.

Thanks to the holiday activities and strange summer weather patterns, Caleb also got some experience with loud noises. Live music, fireworks and thunder have been very popular sounds around here. Knowing I’ve got a cautious old soul at the end of my leash, it’s very important that Caleb doesn’t experience a fearful or anxious reaction from me. Out for a walk one evening the sky erupted with a huge crack of thunder right above us, Caleb balked for a split second, looked at me and kept walking, on the next crack he simply looked up towards the sky and by the third installation he could have cared less. Without a reaction from me, there was clearly nothing to get worked up about. Never underestimate the energy that flows down the leash from you to your dog.

Another training exercise we’ve been able to work on is self-control. A slew of visitors, of the human and canine variety, have made home much more interesting for Caleb. Plus, we’ve had many new opportunities for socialization with more restaurants, movies and street fairs. We even volunteered at a half marathon.

Most of the time our household is pretty quiet—just the three of us, doing our routine. To mix it up, we had another Guide Dog puppy-in-training visit for a week. Suddenly, the humans no longer outnumbered the canines, it was going to be nuts. I expected chaos but all in all it went very well. With a schedule and routine there was little room for negotiating, the dogs could go from wrestling to relaxing with just one “that’s enough” command—impressive for a pair of boys whose combined age was not even a year! Vance was the first yellow Lab pup we’ve had in the house since Noah passed away; it was good to have some yellow fur around.

Speaking of my blonde bombshell, I had Noah’s paw print tattooed on my foot. A bit of the backstory: Before he passed away and before Jennifer Aniston made headlines with a tribute to her best dog, I said if I ever got a tattoo it would be Noah’s paw print on the bottom of my foot so he could take every step with me for the rest of my life. After he passed away, I told myself if a year went by and I still kept thinking about it was meant to be. Finally, I made the appointment and the evening before I was out on my paddleboard cruising up river for some exercise when I saw something floating in the water towards me. As it got closer I saw that it was an orange Kong on a rope—Noah’s favorite toy, the toy he carried on every walk and that we still have sitting in a bucket on our front porch. The next day, without a reservation, I got my tattoo.

Still to come this summer: a road trip to Montana and a road trip to Guide Dogs for the Blind to meet Caleb’s littermates!