Written by Alice Munley
So there we were—it was mid-winter and we got the call from Paw Pals Assistance Dogs: there was a new little puppy selected for training as a service dog. Having made our application and met all the requirements for puppy raising, we learned we were approved to welcome him into our lives and raise him for 12-24 months, giving him the needed training and exposure to daily life with all its buses, trains, planes, and all things in-between.
We had prepped ourselves for the arrival of a new puppy, and now hoped that we were ready. It helps that we’ve had several years of experience. We learned over the years that every puppy is very different and each and every little pup comes with his or her own individual strengths, weaknesses, and challenges.
It was time to embark on our newest puppy adventure.
Who was this newest itty-bitty ball of fluff waiting for us? Little did he know that he was about to join a family of wonderful four-legged sisters and embark on an extraordinary adventure of his own that we hope will lead him to a life-partner and a very special role as a service dog.
Puppy pickup time was set and preparations made to make the two-hour drive and greet our new little puppy. As we started the drive, I felt as though my stomach was full of fluttering butterflies. My excitement was off the charts, so to speak. No matter how many puppies came before this pup, there was no shortage of excitement for this little guy.
And so we met. AWESOME! What an amazingly beautiful snow-white giant ball of pure fluff! WOW! Soooo tiny and soooo soft.
Our new little foster puppy named Cam’O (we quickly nicknamed him “Camo-whamo”) settled gently and warmly into my welcoming arms. It was love at first sight for Ken and me. We hoped Cam’O would feel the same about us. His calmness and relaxed little body told us he was feeling pretty good about us, too. His trust of us seemed instant and that was very reassuring to us.
After spending some time to learn more about Cam’O and allowing him time to check us out thoroughly, we gathered up his gear, including his beautiful red puppy-in-training cape. He will need to wear this special cape when he is socializing in public. The red cape identifies him as an official assistance/service dog in training; with him, we are granted certain access rights given to working service dog teams. Cam’O loaded into a safe and secured puppy crate in our vehicle and seemed quite happy with his travel accommodations as we headed for home, his new home for the next 12-24 months.
Cam’O is a male Golden Retriever.
He was born in Colorado out on the eastern plains. His official name is Cream de la Cream Cambridge Knight, but he will be called Cam’O. Cam’O was born December 19, 2015 to Monroe and Blue. As you can see from his pictures, he arrived as a snow-white fluff of soft fur. Without those beautiful dark eyes and black nose, he could easily get lost in a deep drift of Colorado snow.
Now starts a journey, for all of us, full of countless adventures, blessings, new friends, and new experiences.
Upon our arrival home, Cam’O was greeted with some skepticism by his new sisters:
“Oh no, another new puppy!”
“Better watch out for those sharp little teeth!”
“Will he ever stop running around and around?”
“Do you think he’s going to stay for long?”
After a mild amount of excitement and concern, these new sisters realized the little guy was not going to be much of a problem to them and so they relaxed and settled down, proceeding to supervise his explorations around his new home. He was so tiny they didn’t seem to think he was a threat to them as he easily could scoot under their bellies.
Cam’O’s sleeping arrangements were pretty nice to start as he got to join the other “sister” dogs in the “parents’” bedroom, sleeping in his very own special bed in a crate. The other dog beds were scattered nearby so Cam’O could keep them all in sight and see how content they were, which helped him relax. The daily bedtime routine started on the very first day but took several days to become a normal routine. After a couple of weeks it all was working like clockwork.
The evenings ended with all the dogs, including Cam’O, going outside for their last time to relieve (potty) at about 10:00 pm. Cam’O was always on leash, as this is part of his training to relieve with the command “get busy.” Cam’O would do his business, come back into the house, and go directly into his kennel/bed for the night and quietly fall fast asleep. The trick there was to exhaust him enough that sleep was all he wanted. It worked.
Morning wakeup time is 5:30 am. Cam’O again goes outside on leash, does his business, and returns to his crate for another 15 minutes of quiet time, mostly to learn that Mom and Pop are in control of the routine. He has learned to wait patiently and now totally accepts that routine. After some quiet time he is allowed out of the crate and given his breakfast. Again, there is a routine. Cam’O must sit and wait until he is given the “okay” cue to begin eating. He has learned that lesson well too and is near perfect now. He sits patiently and watches me quietly as I dish up the food and set it down in front of him. He doesn’t make a move until I give him the “okay.” He’s awesome! After his morning meal, he has free time to enjoy his chew toys before the other dogs join him.
In the days that followed, Cam’O learned that he was about to embark on a new routine that would include a big and bold adventure, starting with daily trips in the car and ending at Mom’s place of work: a first grade classroom. “Wow? Little kids!” Now Cam’O is thinking that could mean fun and games with all those little ones … or maybe not. Cam’O quickly realized that he and the students were all there to learn. His new “classmates” and other students would learn that Cam’O was NOT there to just play; however, there will be opportunities for calm greetings between Cam’O and students, and perhaps more such free time as Cam’O learns to be more calm and remember the proper behavior he is learning for life as a service dog.
Don’t misunderstand—at home Cam’O is “off duty” and gets plenty of playtime with his “sister dogs”.
In fact, by evening he is exhausted. They have usually managed to tire out this exuberant puppy. Several nights of the week we take him on an evening outing or to puppy class. Life is very normal for this puppy dog: full of fun, learning, adventure, and most of all love. What more could he possibly want?
I set up a small crate for Cam’O in the corner of the first grade classroom to allow Cam’O quiet time and to nap as needed as the students work on their daily lessons. Lunchtime for the students also means lunch for Cam’O. After a quick trip outside to relieve (in a designated area and on command), I bring Cam’O back to the classroom and feed him his lunch next to his crate while the students head to the cafeteria for their lunch. Cam’O sits and waits very patiently until given the “okay” to begin eating. However, he still dives into his food and empties the dish very quickly. Let’s just say that Cam’O has been an eager eater from day one.
Following lunch, the students have a short outdoor recess.
Several days of the week, Cam’O and I join them at recess. Cam’O has learned to sit or stand and just watch all the different activities. There are all kinds of balls bouncing, rolling, and being kicked around, kids jumping rope, playing hopscotch, shooting basketballs, or just chasing around and playing tag.
Cam’O watches all this activity with great interest. Occasionally a ball rolls right up to him.
At first he was unsure about those big balls. He has now learned that the balls won’t hurt him and that he must not play with them or run around with the kids. Sitting calmly on the playground is part of his role there and is how he prepares for his future job as an assistance/service dog.
There are moments when students are given permission to greet Cam’O and he is given permission to greet the students too, if they can all remain calm. This is a very important lesson because Cam’O must learn to ignore the activity of all other people when he is fully grown and working as an assistance/service dog. In that role he will be required to be calm and give 100% of his attention to his partner and to the job of assisting that partner. These early lessons are important in the final outcome of his work as an assistance/service dog.
When Cam’O walks alongside me, on the sidewalk or in the hallway of the school, he walks with a sort of strut.
From day one he seemed to take great pride walking right by my side, holding his head and tail high, his chest puffed out and his back ever so straight, and with an obvious swagger in each step. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was preparing to be a show dog—preparing to show off his glamour as he might strut across a stage at some big event. It’s really quite cute and has been noticed by many others. I guess he’s just showing great pride in training for a job as an assistance/service dog.
While Cam’O seems to excel in many areas, he has some limitations too. He’s still very young and still has a lot to learn. Not too long after his arrival at his new school, he discovered small items around on the floors in the classroom and in the hallways, not to mention all those tiny little rocks on the playground. When Cam’O discovered items like small erasers, pencils, crayons, tissues, etc. he must have thought it was his job to clean up. Yuck! He soon learned that was NOT his job. Another new command was added to his growing vocabulary of commands: “leave it!” This is followed by an excited “GOOD BOY!” when he leaves the item laying right where he spotted it on the floor. Praising him more and more for ignoring those tempting items on the floor soon taught him that his best option was, just as the command stated, “leave it.”
Cam’O has already shown great intelligence.
He learned very quickly the exact door in the school hallway was his classroom and which door he should approach for entry into the school. He knew there was something special about the school office too because those ladies made a big happy fuss over him and when given the chance, so he likes to head into the office. As we depart for the day, he heads in the exact direction of the parking lot and the car. He isn’t necessarily anxious to leave school, just anxious to get home to his big “sisters” and some playtime.
It’s exciting to imagine what kind of a match is awaiting Cam’O when he finally completes his advanced training at about two years of age. He’s sure to be loved. Wherever we take Cam’O for socializing in stores or other types of businesses, or just walking along the street, he attracts adoring attention from everyone whose path he crosses. His personality sparkles.
To now say that our wait for Cam’O’s arrival was well worth it is an incredible understatement. He is a warm, affectionate, loving, cuddly, sweet, responsive, gifted and a most special puppy. AWESOME!
It is our continuing job now to help this puppy discover his personal strengths and overcome any weaknesses as he grows and trains for life as an assistance/service dog. We will love him and keep him safe and healthy as we introduce him to a new world of different and wonderful experiences and adventures.
Stay tuned: more Cam’O stories to come!