I was reading a news article (it can be found as the last entry on “Service Dogs in the News…” page) and what got to me more than the article itself (though I can relate…) was some of the comments people had made about how the dog being at the woman’s work wasn’t really “training” the dog to be a service dog. I cannot disagree more.
For Bear, he had two unique elements to his training and his journey to becoming such an important animal. He needed to have someone (his trainer) who would teach him all his commands, teach him how to behave and show him his place in the world. I believe a lot of few dogs could learn the 80+ commands that Bear knows, and I bet they could perform them at home just fine. The other aspect of Bear’s journey to me, was that he had to also be able to suppress his own desires and do what was expected of him. I believe this is where puppy raisers and puppy sitters come in at.
I have read through Bear’s journal.. I read what his first over night visit was like out of the prison (he was raised at Bedford Hills in NY). I read about the first time he heard a car radio (and looked like the “RCA Victrola dog” as one sitter put it). I read about his walks on the beach, his encounters with small dogs and birds. I read one report describing his first encounter with a walker and him seeing someone on a scooter… To some people, perhaps not educated on just what these dogs need, it may not seem like this is all “training”. It is. I cannot express to everyone who played a part in Bears life how grateful and thankful I am for the wonderful training you have put into him. It makes a difference to me when we go somewhere and he knows to go under my chair. It makes a difference to me that my Labrador.. who is hard wired to chase things like birds and squirrels, is steadfast by my side.
I think what has to be the hardest thing for these dogs to overcome is putting aside their desires in order to stay on task. My husband is amazed every time we take Bear with us somewhere how well behaved he is. I know that training him tasks is incredibly important, but I can imagine that a lot of dogs who manage to learn all the commands may end up not making it to a full fledged service dog on account of them not acting appropriate in public.
So don’t let anyone for a minute make you think that what you do isn’t “training”. Because of all of you Bear hardly reacts to seeing birds scatter, doesn’t mind the loud shopping carts, knows to settle in when it looks like I won’t be moving for a while, ignores food on the ground, ignores other people (we are still working on kids, he perks up so much when he sees them). I know that the raisers and sitters who had Bear treated him so very well and I can tell by everything I have read from your reports as well as how he acts, that you all did a wonderful job! I know some of you were conned into doing things for him when he was a puppy (the stairs! More than one or two of you were conned into carrying him up them.. I laugh every time I read those parts! Those and the car.. haha!). You took the time to take pictures of him. You exposed him to every situation he could possibly be in for the most part! Because of the time you took to expose him to things I was able to be properly matched with a dog who loved children, was laid back, slept through the night and was very very loving and loyal.
I don’t mean to ramble on, but if you read nothing else from the open letter, I want the people who worked with Bear to know their hard TRAINING paid off for his Veteran (me :o)), and to those who are raising other puppies for other organizations, or Puppies Behind Bars, keep doing what you are doing and fight the fight to have your dog recognized as a true Service Dog in Training. I don’t know what we would have done had Bear only been allowed to be in a mall for a few minutes one time. Real life doesn’t work like that for us! Ah you get my point. Keep up the good work, it is recognized!