Guide Dog Puppy-in-Training’s First Summer

Swim lessons, playing with a pal and a new tattoo
By Megan Minkiewicz, July 2011

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!

Megan Minkiewicz has raised six puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Over the next year and a half, she'll write about her adventures as a volunteer puppy raiser for The Bark blog. She lives in Bend, Ore., with her husband Alex, a Quarter Horse named Chip, and a one-eyed goldfish named Flobie and Caleb.