Have Dog, Will Travel

First day lessons
By Stephen Kuusisto, March 2018

“Our new dogs require praise—lots of praise,” said Linda. “It’s all in the voice. Nowadays a guide dog loves it when you say, ‘Good dog’ with a tone of true joy. Try it!” And we all said, “Good dog” just as Linda had shown us.

Corky raised her face to look at me, her big yellow snout pointing straight up. And every dog in the room did the same. Something palpable went around our circle—the star of praise that only dogs can see was released by our voices. “Good dog!” We said it again and again. Our overdramatized tones were like stylized laughter in an opera. All tails were wagging.

“We say, ‘Good dog’ because Guiding Eyes dogs really want to work,” said Linda. “They have been through many months of training. These dogs enjoy their jobs. But just like you, they require praise. From this moment on you will be saying ‘Good dog’ as much as a hundred times a day.”

Who affirms good things even a dozen times a day? Who makes “talking goodness” a habit of her or his minutes? I sat with my Corky’s head on my shoe and thought about the “talking blues”—as a literary guy I’d studied vocal sorrow— but never had I considered a running, day long practice of spoken good. “Good dog” would become my hourly practice and over time (though I didn’t yet know it), dog-praise would change many of my habits of thought.

“You’re going to say, ‘Good dog’ when you come to a flight of stairs and she stops; you’ll say it when she comes to a curb and waits; you’ll say it again on the far side of the street when she shows you the up curb. You’ll say it when she sits obediently in a bank or post office; when she ignores strangers; when she walks past a fenced yard full of barking dogs.” We practiced it then, praise, undiluted, with rising notes.

From HAVE DOG, WILL TRAVEL by Stephen Kuusisto. Copyright © 2018 by Stephen Kuusisto. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
 

Stephen Kuusisto teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of Planet of the Blind, a New York Times Notable Book and Don't Interrupt: A Playful Take on the Art of Conversation. His latest book, Have Dog, Will Travel, was published in 2018.

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