Watson’s Journey so Far…

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Well…it’s been forever since I last wrote. This semester has been a blur! Between training Watson, taking a full course load and trying to maintain my meager social life, the time to sit down and write has sadly eluded me! But I hope to rectify that oversight going into the glorious months of summer.

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Watson is now 78 pounds and 7 months old. Sometimes I can’t believe that he has grown so much! Then, I look at the food bill! His paws are still huge in comparison to the rest of him, so I expect he will continue to thrive!

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Over the past several months Watson’s personality has emerged in full force. He is easy going, content to lie beneath my seat for hours during class. He greets everyone everywhere with a grin and a furiously wagging tail. “Leave it” is a command we work on tirelessly so that I can walk through campus undisturbed, but he still gazes longingly at anyone we see, and if I give him permission to “greet”, he saunters right on over and demands to be pet. He is unfailingly gentle with children; even the occasional pulled tail is greeted with ready forgiveness. Watson is insatiably curious; perhaps this is in part due to the impossibly high food drive that he possesses, but his nose is always working and when off leash he thoroughly explores our surroundings. A most important aspect to his personality, I believe, is his need to please. He loves to train and his tail waves merrily when he gets a command right. Now, anytime I drop a quarter, his leash or my pen, he scrambles to collect it for me. The drive to please is something that Rally lacked; although Rally loved being with me, he approached his tasks with seriousness and focus, whereas Watson embraces work with enthusiastic delight.

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Watson has developed a “working manner” when he is in vest, which never ceases to amaze and intrigue my friends and the people we meet. Out of vest, Watson is a complete puppy. He is goofy and sly, lazy and curious. He routinely tests my limits and will give me attitude if he doesn’t get his way. In vest, Watson displays more focus. He calms himself, focusing on his tasks and even though his tail never stops wagging, he can resist the urge to greet people most of the time. The change is remarkable and I am very pleased that Watson can handle the transition between working dog and pup.

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Watson has made huge leaps in his training since I last posted. He has learned how to open the fridge and get me a bottle of water, and he recently learned how to open handicap doors. He has progressed to a hands free leash I belt about my waist. Yesterday we worked with him on escalators; he passed with flying colors, yawning nonchalantly as we rode up and down and practiced stepping safely off and on. Additionally, Watson’s understanding of his tasks has increased. He now fetches me anything I point at and he knows how to do DPT, which has been a great help to me in recovering from a migraine.  We are working on him ignoring dogs and people when in vest. It is no easy task with Watson’s adoration for all creatures great or small!

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A great milestone in Waston’s training was when we took him to see the Avengers at the movie theater. Sitting through a movie with the loud sounds and ignoring the rest of the audience can be difficult for a dog, but Watson did excellent! He even resisted the popcorn and candy that was scattered on the floor!

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I have begun working Watson in Rally’s old vest because Waton’s current vest is getting too small! It was a proud moment for me when Rally’s vest fit Watson perfectly–and the “do not pet” patches have been excellent in deterring Watson and the public from greeting one another.

This Wednesday will be the conclusion of the semester, and I am ecstatic that Watson has completed four months of class at my side. He has learned so much and I can imagine the next ten years with him at my side, working to keep me healthy! Watch out world! Here we come!

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Watson Learning!

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Watson has learned to do many things over the past month, including fetching my medication bottle, opening drawers and cabinates, and picking items up from the floor and handing them to me. So proud of him!

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Today, we did even better, working on leash control, heeling and picking up objects with distractions! I’ll upload the vid later! (:

Cheers!
-Kendall and Watson

First Trip to the Store! (:

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Today was a big day for Watson! Not only did he get to spend the morning at the gun range club, meeting several other older dogs and being pet by dozens of patrons, but we stopped by the grocery store on the way home!

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This was Watson’s first trip inside a place where pets are not allowed. I pulled on his “in training” vest, made sure he had emptied his bladder on a threadbare patch of grass, and then we advanced into the store. I was a little nervous; grocery stores have slippery floors, lots of tempting food, bustling people and loud noises. As this was my first time ever entering such an environment with Watson in his “in training” vest and on lead, I was a little anxious to see how he would react.

I was relieved when Watson entered the store, looked around and proceeded by my side across the entrance. At his age, heeling is difficult to teach, but we had the basics down and he pretty much stayed at my knee as we navigated the isles. He wasn’t interested in the meat section and only started a little as a grocery cart wheeled past. He gave a few whimpers of self pity when I advanced too quickly for his little paws to keep up (I’m used to Rally’s long stride and forgot to slow down) but otherwise he was silent. When we stopped I coaxed him to sit and asked him to lie down; about 80% of the time he obliged, even with all of the distractions and hustle around us.

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The cashier and other shoppers were impressed by his composure and leaned over to ask questions about which organization I was raising him for and how old he was. I answered, first making Watson sit before accepting a quick pat on the head. Then, after a final spin around the vegetable section, it was time to go. We paid and left, Watson keeping swift pace at my side.

I was so proud of the not-so-little guy! I’m sure I was grinning like a love struck fool as we exited the store and got into the car. When he turns four months and has had the last of his shots, we will expand our adventures to include other places, but for now I am satisfied with a quick jaunt through Safeway to test the waters and to judge his temperament and training. The work I’ve done so far in socializing and teaching Watson had paid off, and although I know we have so far to go, I sensed for the first time a glimmer of the service dog he will become.

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The Adventure So Far…

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School is done! Yay! Suddenly I’ve got all the time in the world! It sounds wonderful, but now I find myself wandering aimlessly around the house, at a loss what to do. Fortunately, the task of raising Watson fills every waking moment, so I am enjoying long walks, short training sessions, and countless adventures and challenges.

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Watson is now 25 pounds, and I am relieved to see that the calm demeanor that drew me to him in the first place is still very much intact. He watches his surroundings with curiosity, then playfully bounds into the fray. He sleeps most of the day, passing out by my feet in a heap of golden fur, and he’s almost sleeping through the night. He eats an amazing amount of food a day, catches onto commands quickly and shows genuine enjoyment in working. So far, he knows come, sit, down, go potty, and we’re working on heeling and “bring it” for retrieving my medication bottles.

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Raising a dog is a challenge it itself. Raising one to become a service dog seems, at times, an impossible feat. A normal puppy can get away with barking and hesitating on commands and perhaps can be forgiven for having a wild streak. They might attend puppy kindergarten or be taught a handful of basic commands, but on the whole, being a puppy is an enjoyable existence.

Watson still has time to be a pup, but every task and adventure he has, is geared towards teaching and socializing him. Instead of wrestling we play “bring it”. He is already comfortable picking items up in his mouth and returning them to me. Instead of leisurely walks we explore the neighborhood in search of grates, cobble stone, slippery sidewalks and any other foreign surface. We peer at Christmas lights, watch cars race past, and sit for passing cats and dogs. Yesterday I got Watson a head harness; although all service dogs should learn to heel on and off leash without the use of a tool, head harnesses such as a Gentle Leader or a Halti help the dog stay focused. I like to be able to feel without looking which way the dog’s head is turned, and the loop over the muzzle gives me greater control over any sniffing or curious poking. As he was adjusting to the Halti and finally stopped rubbing his face against everything in the house, we started to train a heel. The lead is clipped to his flat collar so that while Watson gets used to wearing a head harness, his young bones and growing joints won’t be under any stress.

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Puppies destined to be service dogs are also treated differently in the household. There are no tidbits or treats slipped to Watson at the table, no freebies given without a task completed. His crate training is progressing; we are at ten minutes of pitiful crying and door rattling before he surrenders to sleep. As the dog who will accompany me for the next decade of my life, I am constantly evaluating and judging Watson, noting what needs work, what we have accomplished, and what we still need to do.

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Raising a puppy would have been impossible without the help of my entire puppy. Mum is been an angel. I don’t know how she does it, managing the household and three dogs without breaking a sweat. She has taught Watson how to go to the bathroom on command; something I am incredibly grateful for when it’s freezing outside at two in the morning. She also taught Watson to sit and lie down before he even turned ten weeks old! My Dad and younger sister also help with Watson’s training; Dad holds a daily puppy petting fest, and Quinn doles out treats and rough play equally. Our neighbors and friends are even involved; they come over to play with Watson and reinforce his love for all people and living things. My friends in Reno are simply amazing; without any hesitation they have embraced Watson as my shadow and look forwards to when I bring him up to school next semester. Morgan, Alex, Ryan and Kash’s enthusiasm for Watson’s presence is in particular very humbling. Without those wonderful four people in my life, I would be far more hesitant to embark on this journey.

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Now, sitting at the gun range, Watson slumbering peacefully at my feet, I consider the work that we still have to do. We need to perfect his heel, work on retrieving objects, stay and other basic commands. Most importantly, there are so many places that I want to visit with him so that he gets gradual exposure to as many sights, smells, sounds and settings as I can. So far, there has been no sign of him alerting, but strangely I’m not worried. All will be well. (:

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MEET WATSON! (:

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We picked Watson up from the breeders on Saturday, and boy was I excited! I had been counting down the days until we were able to take him home on the calender, and when the moment finally arrived when we pulled up in front of the house and I saw the play pen full of puppies, my heart just melted! The breeders had taken exceptional care of the puppies. They all looked sleek, plump and energetic, no longer snoozing little balls of newborn fur but now jumping and bursting with energy.

Watson was easily recognizable, even in the middle of his other brothers and sisters. I saw his white blaze on his forehead and scooped him up from the fray. He sighed. I wondered if he even had an inkling of the purpose for which he was born. He looked adorable, and the thought that my well-being and health would eventually rest in his paws made me sincerely grateful for the research and hard work I had put into choosing him.

The breeders-who had become more like benevolent grandparents-patiently answered all of my questions, gave us a thick folder full of advice and information, and sent us on our way.

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In the car, Rally curiously sniffed Watson and promptly turned his back on him in the back seat. I’m sure he was thinking, “who the heck is this?” as Watson gnawed on his tail and pounced on his paws.

The two hour car ride home was uneventful until Watson started to grumble and lick his paws. Experienced pet owners will notice the warning signs, but Rally had rarely thrown up with me and never got carsick, so I just thought it was cute when Watson began to lick Rally.

Sure enough, two minutes later, Watson retched, sending a warm stream of half digested puppy chow all over Rally’s butt and my leg. Rally didn’t even react other than to glare balefully at me. I started laughing and my parents quickly rolled down the windows. Watson burped happily and snuggled down in my lap for the rest of the rather smelly trip.

Once we got home, it was time to introduce Watson to Tagg, my parents Yorkie/Maltese pick who we swear is really a cat in disguise. Ever since turning seven, Tagg spends his days either snoozing on the gray leather chair overlooking the driveway, or else snoozing in Dad’s lap in his red leather chair. Tagg and Rally ignore one another, but I could see the resignation in both older dog’s faces when Watson bounded up and pounced on Tagg. He’s a bit bigger than Tagg, but Tagg had the advantage of knowing how to run on tiled floors, and skittered into the safety of Dad’s chair. Watson followed him, hopping and skidding on the slippery floor, yearning to play. Three days later, Watson seems to have reached the conclusion that Tagg will not play with him ever, but whenever Tagg happens to trot by he’ll take a half-hearted nibble on his tail.

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Crate training proved to be harder than I anticipated. Tagg isn’t crate trained, and Rally was already trained when I got him. Still, we thought, it can’t be too hard to teach. After all, as humans we understand that staying overnight in a crate isn’t a death sentence. Sleeping alone is fine. Besides, how loud can a puppy get?

Boy did we find out! Watson’s crate was spacious and beautiful, carved wood with a sturdy gate. Dad had even put a false wall in the middle of the crate so that Watson had a cozier, warmer place to sleep. He had a plush pad to lie upon, blankets to snuggle under, countless chew toys and teething rings to occupy his mind, and the entire evening of waltzing in and exploring the confines. I put Rally’s bed right besides his own in case he got lonely, and when Watson dozed off, scooped him up, put him in his crate and shut the door. He yawned, curled up and was soon snoring. Feeling pretty good about ourselves, we congratulated one another on the success of crate training and went to bed.

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Thirty minutes later a yowling jolted everyone awake. It sounded like someone had set fire to the tail of a rabid squirrel and sent it up a pine tree. Nothing we did could block out the noise. My headphones at top volume couldn’t gain me a wink of sleep, and I spent the entire night miserably wondering if the puppy was dying, if he was hurt, if he was scared and lonely. I got up whenever the crying got urgent to plop him on the grass, say “go potty” and wait in vain for him to empty his bladder. My Mum shuffled out to my bed and wondered if we shouldn’t let him out, if only so as to prevent the neighbors from thinking we were torturing rabid squirrels, and I desperately reviewed my notes and research.

“Some crying is anticipated.” One website read. “Expect a degree of moderate whining.” Another advised. I put down my laptop, adjusted my ear plugs and wondered at the sheer lung power Watson was capable of. He certainly wasn’t slowing down. I almost unlocked the crate, but then I remembered all of the sage wisdom that I had been told; don’t unlock the crate, he’ll quiet down eventually. It’ll only teach him to cry so that you’ll let him out…soon he’ll adjust…he won’t hate you in the morning…

Around 6 AM Watson finally dozed off and the rest of the household breathed a sigh of relief. Dad got up for work, red eyed and rather ungrateful that I had chosen to raise a puppy, and as he was gathering his things I tentatively opened Watson’s door. Out he came, bright eyed, tail wagging, licking my face and squirming with delight. After his sleepless night of ceaseless howling, I had thought he would be shaking and traumatized,but he soon demonstrated that he possessed either a very short memory or a loving disposition, because throughout the day he waltzed right back into his crate to fetch toys, snooze and watch the happenings of the household.

Now, three entire nights later, Watson just slept until 8:30 AM! I woke up several times in the night, suspicious of the silence, and this morning had to shake Watson awake so he could go potty. He grudgingly climbed out of his crate, went pee, and returned to the warmth and plushness of his den. I sent a mental prayer of gratitude towards the advice written in the handbooks and websites.

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Since we got him, Watson has displayed a laid back, curious and friendly attitude. He mouths and pounces on anything that moves, smells good, smells bad, is shinny, is textured, has four legs, has two legs, has shoelaces, is soft, is hard, is squishy and anything that he thinks will play with him. He’s got to play with our neighbors small dogs, met new and interesting people, got pet and cooed over, and even got to meet his first cat, who denied his enthusiastic requests to play and spent the entire visit glaring at him from the bookcase. He’s heard sirens, smelled gunpowder and ridden like a champ in the car (without even throwing up once!) Yesterday I let him drag his leash around, and he had a blast visiting the little play set behind my house. Today, we’ll go down the slide and introduce him to walking on wobbly textures.

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At this stage in his life and in training, all I want is for Watson to see and hear as much as possible, and to love Rally. And boy does he love Rally! He follows that leggy cranky dog from one end of the house to the next, bouncing on his stomach, gnawing on his ears, pouncing on his tail. Whenever Rally sits, Watson sits. Whenever Rally sleeps, Watson sleeps. I’m not sure how much Rally appreciates his new fan, and sometimes he glares at me in resentment as Watson squeezes besides him in his crate for a nap, but the two seem to be coexisting nicely.

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When I return for Christmas and winter break and Watson is 10-11 weeks old, I’ll take Watson to puppy school and start on more socialization. Right now, I’m just grateful he sleeps through the night and can settle down in his crate without wailing like a banshee!

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A Trip to the Emergency Room…

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Monday morning found me at the hospital with severe abdominal pain, and as I dragged Rally’s vest over his head and led him into the Emergency Room, I was grateful for the high degree of training that kept Rally calm and composed. A man in a wheelchair wearing an oxygen mask looked ready to faint dead away; a husband and his wife were huddled on the plastic benches nearby looking nauseous and clutching barf bags. A young gentleman was clutching a bloodied bandage to his hand and staring at us with wide eyes. The room smelled of vomit and misery. If I were a dog with a dog’s sense of smell, I would have probably bolted for the door but Rally followed me amicably to the nurse’s station.

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Fifteen minutes later we were admitted, taken into the an examination room. Alex was with me; he settled down on the straight-backed chairs while Rally curled up on the floor. The nurse came in to draw some blood, and at first didn’t notice Rally until she moved around the far side of my bed.  Putting in an IV, it took another nurse nearly five minutes before he realized Rally was in the room. I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful of Rally’s presence or resentful; staring at Rally, the nurse spent a good ten minutes fruitlessly trying to locate a vein and insert an IV in my forearm. Everyone brightened visibly when they saw Rally, and while he sniffed curiously at their feet, he remained calm and content to remain on the floor.

I noticed that while the nurse was drawing my blood, she was very nervous and kept glancing at Rally. “Will he bite?” She asked, only half joking. “Will he attack me?”

“Of course not!” I exclaimed, but I was not truly surprised by her hesitation. I had heard too many horror stories about “service dogs”.  Curious, I asked if the hospital saw many service dogs accompanying their owners. The answer; “not many real ones”. Surprisingly, it seems that owners will slap a vest on their poodle and drag the poor animal into the hospital, claiming they are service dogs. Needless to say, the hospital environment is very stressful for dogs-much less ones that haven’t been trained and exposed to the myriad of smells, sights and sounds. Their owners are likely in agony, being poked and prodded and having blood drawn by white-coated strangers, and the dog is expected to sit still and remote. It seemed like a steep order for an untrained dog, and yet the staff admitted they could do little to discourage the stream of “service dogs”. “It’s frustrating,” my doctor sighed, “but what can we do? If owners claim their dog is a service animal, then legally we are obliged to take them for their word.”

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A few hours later Rally became uncomfortable, his hip achy from lying on the tile floor. He settled down at the foot of my narrow bed with a groan of delight, where he remained for the rest of our stay.  He watched the third X-Men movie, meant the various doctors and nurses and technicians who cycled through my room, and watched the hallway outside of my room.

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(Before morphine)

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(After morphine)

As it turned out, I didn’t have appendicitis but rather a mild inflammation, so after a hefty dose of morphine for the pain and instructions to rest, we were discharged. Leaving the ER, a nurse stopped us, noticing Rally.

“I just want to thank you.” She said, “I had a patient who wasn’t doing so good, and then she saw your dog walking past her room and she perked up. Thank you!” That made my day!

On the drive home I thought about Rally’s unwitting influence on people around him. Dogs are incredible creatures; when navigating malls, airports, movie theaters or grocery stores, whenever people see a dog they usually light up. Humans share an incredible bond with animals, especially dogs, and I was glad that even though the hospital visit was far from pleasant, at least someone’s day had been brightened by seeing Rally.

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Meet Watson: My Future Service Dog!

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Yesterday I selected my puppy from his litter! The date has been circled on my calender for the past month, and the night before I could barely sleep, I was so excited.

Starting with the right puppy is very, very important. One of the reasons that owner training has such a high failure rate is that people often choose the wrong puppy. It can be difficult to discern aptitudes and personalities as puppies, and some people end up with a dog that is too shy or too independent for service work. Because I had done so much research in choosing the breeders, and had made absolutely sure that the parents were sound, wonderful dogs, I now only had to choose the right dog for service work from the litter.

Early in the morning, my friends Morgan and Alex and I drove down from Reno to meet with the breeders. The puppies were six weeks old, and I couldn’t believe how much they had grown! When we had last seen them at two weeks of age, their eyes and ears were still closed and they were tiny! Now, they were bouncing, tumbling balls of golden fur, alert and energetic. I thought I would keel over from cuteness overload.

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It’s very important when picking out a puppy that you listen to the breeder’s advice. After all, they have the most experience with the puppies having observed them closely and being unbiased. I had already discussed the kind of puppy I was looking for extensively with the breeders, and they suggested Number Five and Number Seven from the litter.

I was immediately drawn to Number Five. On the first day we visited with the puppies as infants, Number Five had been my absolute favorite. He was a larger puppy, with a darker coat. He wasn’t all gold, but had a white blaze on his chest and tiny white socks on his back paws. His laid back attitude, combined with the two hours he spent snoring in my lap, made my heart melt, but I knew the decision of which dog to choose had to be made based on a series of tests and not solely on emotion. Now, four weeks later, I was delighted to see Number Five had caught the breeder’s eye as being a strong candidate, but I forced myself to breathe deep and begin the tests.

Service dogs have to be respectful of their human handlers and never display any aggression. I gently tugged on the puppy’s tails, limbs and ears, wiggled a finger in their mouths and rolled them onto their backs. Both Number Five and Seven submitted happily and without any complaint, not struggling or crying or growling, even when tipped backwards in my arms or suspended from the ground under the armpits for a short time.

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My next test was to gently squeeze the puppy’s webbing between their toes. The ability to forgive a stepped on tail or a stubbed paw is vital; the public is always tripping on, stumbling over and veering around service dogs, and a dog that held a grudge would be undesirable for work. Happily, both puppies yawned and didn’t complain.

I then held each puppy’s paw in my hand. I wanted to see what the puppy would do when they couldn’t withdraw their foot. Biting or throwing a fit would clearly be unwanted reactions; both Number Five and Seven did excellent, submitting and waiting patiently until I released them.

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Next, I tested the puppy’s reaction to noise. Shopping malls, streets, bus stops, grocery stores, classrooms, movie theaters and other such public places are all noisy and service dogs must be confident and calm enough to handle sudden, unexpected sounds. I let the puppy play for a few minutes, then clapped my hands loudly right over the puppy’s head. Number Five started, stared around, then approached me. His curiosity and recovery from the noise was a great response. Number Seven didn’t even twitch, and also approached me to find out what exactly had caused the sound.

Curiosity and the desire to discover new experiences are vital characteristics in service dogs. Timid, fearful dogs would make for poor working companions. I watched as Number Five and Seven explored the porch, pounced on the garden hose and tackled the cushion I was sitting on.

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Number Seven was very food motivated; he immediately and repeatedly located the treats I had brought. Number Five was interested in the food, but when given the choice, opted to curl up in my lap or explore the porch instead of being focused on the treats. As service dogs are trained to ignore all types of human food, they need to have a good balance of food motivation and discipline. Too high of a food drive would make teaching the dog to ignore you when you are eating or to resist a piece of food on the ground more difficult.

My final test was to check the insides of each puppy’s mouth. Black or molted coloring was an indication of a strong sense of smell, a very important quality in my dog, seeing as the pup would have to learn to smell the subtle changes in my bloodstream and alert me to an oncoming migraine. Both Number Five and Seven had black coloring in their mouths.

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Next, I asked the breeders for further insights about the puppies; were they overly dominant with their siblings, what were some characteristics they had noticed, how confident and focused was each dog? I found out Number Five had displayed an aptitude for smell; his nose was always working and he was more focused and stoic than his brother, Number Seven, who was energetic and playful. Number Seven was a lighter color than Number Five, and had a tendency to be more out going. Both dogs had excelled at all of my tests; each offered different energy levels and personalities.

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In the end, I chose Number Five. His calm, focused demeanor, keen sense of smell and patient, willing personality won my heart, just as he had done the first time I held him as an infant. Had I been at a stage in my life where I had the time to go hiking and be more active, than Number Seven would have been a better choice, but as a full time student finishing school and hopefully embarking on a teaching career, I knew the next decade of my life would be spent studying at desks and working in classrooms. I needed a dog that would be content remaining at my side for hours.

With his focused character and easy going disposition, Number Five was a perfect fit. I have always loved the character of John Watson from the adventures of Sherlock Holmes; Number Five embodied his stoic, dependable and loyal character, so I named him Watson.

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Once I made my decision, the breeders let us hang out on their porch and play with the puppy’s mother and grandfather. We discussed when we would return to take Watson home and we watched as Levi (the puppy’s grandfather) tirelessly wrestled with his tennis balls.  All too soon, it was time to say goodbye. Reluctantly I nestled Watson back into the pile of puppies, and we headed home.

The entire two hour drive home I couldn’t stop smiling. Even now, I grin as I type, because I am one step closer towards training my next service dog. I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my family and friends, and I am deeply honored that Watson will spend the rest of his life as my partner and best friend. He’ll graduate college with me, start my career as a teacher at my side, walk me down the aisle and be my shadow for the next decade. His journey has just begun.

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  Watson, at 10 days and then at 6 weeks old. 1460070_785806038144114_4054851051479243230_n