Transitions – The Return of a Service Dog Puppy

Yesterday morning I caught the portion of The Diane Rehm show in which she interviewed David Rubenstein, the founder of The Carlyle Group. Mr Rubenstein, now a billionaire – and one of the country’s leading philanthropists, reminded me of something I’ve learned before: Much, if not more, can be learned from failure as from success. It was a good reminder that the fluffy pup now underfoot since Monday morning was good to have back.

Zilla is now a nearly 10 month old caramel colored 35 pound medium sized multi gen labradoodle from Riverbend Labradoodles. She is one of many service dog puppies I had a hand in raising/training this year. She first arrived into my care in late April as a young pup. [ She’s the blond featured in this little video called Teen Dog Outing ] She spent 2 1/2 months living with me. Socializing, potty training, developing a core of manners, playing, learning from wiser older dogs, meeting and playing with a variety of other puppies, resting, growing, playing more, sleeping more, going on a variety of public access outings and experiencing life in a positive and consistent way. She also had somewhat regular visits with her “end users” — in this case a family which included two sons, the older one, 7, on the autism spectrum. She was raised and trained and loved and socialized — just like every other service dog puppy that comes into my care.

In my experience from the past 10 years of service dog training, early placement with “end users” is ideal. It helps develop the bond and empower owners to learn the skill set necessary to move forward in training the dog for function. Functions of service dogs vary depending on individual needs, but the benefits and improved outcomes are often astounding and immediate. Whether needs are visible or invisible, medical or psychiatric, social or emotional, for adult, teen or child, a well bred, socialized and trained dog can help mitigate symptoms of disabilities in ways that the most experienced human professional cannot accomplish. The most important part of the placement is the ongoing support after placement. To help guide, support and ensure owners understand the reason for protocols and follow them — to trust in the process — and to keep lines of communication open. I have had the pleasure of working with many teams in the past as well as currently and most certainly in the future as well. I take great pride in seeing teams develop and grow and overcome dependencies on medications or expensive and non productive therapies or avoidance of social interactions. To see greater confidence, relaxation, a calmness and centering enter into a place that was chaotic and stressful and fraught with tensions.


Sometimes, however, there are failures.

At the very end of the agreement entered into with Zilla’s family, it became clear The End Users were incapable and/or unwilling to trust in the process. They instead forged off in a different direction which pretty much counteracted everything I had ever expressed was important to continue. Communication ended. It took time but after four months of no direct contact we produced a resolution which resulted in the return of Zilla and a full refund.

Upon her initial return I observed a very bad case of submissive urination. She forgot how to sit. She avoided eye contact. She jumped up on people and furniture with impunity. She was unsettled and unsure and a “hot mess”. She couldn’t stay still, she clearly had learned to avoid being grabbed. She was jumpy. I knew I had some work to do to help get her back to a place of confidence, redevelop her manners and improve her reliability.

I often talk with clients about The Three Day Rule. I believe that it takes 3 full days of consistency and management to impose a fundamental change on a dog’s behavior — determine what you want, define it, reinforce it and maintain it. So no surprise, three full days of structure and consistency later, she has… relaxed. She has played with many dogs, gotten muddy, gone on public access outings, reconnected with old friends and made some new ones. She has become increasingly more responsive; sweetly happy. She unfolded into a calm, stable, well mannered and joyous dog.  This morning as I sat down on the floor to wipe her muddy paws, she practically swooned and rubbed against me as if to say “I’m so happy to be back”. And I am so happy to have her back. Now for the repurposing! Interested in an already started service dog? Let me know!




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