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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