Service Dogs at Universal Studios

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Written by Colt Rosensweig

On the penultimate weekend of April, Kaline and I got to go to Los Angeles to attend the LAWebfest Awards with Matt, Amie, and Patrick. I was very excited about Growing Up Guide Pup’s nominations for Outstanding Host and Outstanding Reality Series—and super proud that Amie won for best host!—but let’s be totally honest.

Kaline and Patrick on the red carpet in front of the Universal Studios arch in the sun.

The big time draw of a road trip to LA was to go to Universal Studios.

More particularly, to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And, of course, to do a team outing with Patrick and Kaline, something we just haven’t been able to do, for the most part.

Kaline is a pretty good dog for Patrick to work around, because if Patrick barks at him (not that he did much of that this weekend! He was awesome!), Kaline doesn’t really care. Kaline has been going on pack walks since he was a puppy, and at least once a day some dog goes completely ballistic at the sight of him. He has a lot of practice at not responding to that. And since Kaline doesn’t respond, it’s much easier for Patrick to calm down quickly.

The boys worked alongside each other beautifully all weekend.

They’re both incredibly handsome, so they drew a lot of attention. Whenever we set them up for a photo op, a ring of people would form almost instantaneously behind whoever was taking the picture, with multiple people snapping their own shots. That worked out pretty well for us, since people taking photos of your dog can’t photobomb your picture!

Kaline on the floor of the studio tour tram.

Patrick and Kaline worked multiple long days in sequence.

On Friday, while Kaline, Dad, and I were cruising down I-5, Patrick was encountering dogs, horses, and all manner of other distractions at a Pet Expo, then doing dinner with another service dog in training and his handler.

Saturday, we met in a nearby park for the boys to get some ya-yas out, as I like to say. Especially for young and/or high energy dogs, it’s essential that they have the opportunity to be rambunctious, silly, and playful before asking them to put on their Serious Work Faces. I let Kaline run around, and also practiced some tricks and obedience while a couple Little League teams were fielding grounders.

Then we headed to Warner Bros.

Studios to attend the screening of GUGP’s entry for LAWebfest, Episode 1 of Season 3! It was so cool to see it on a big screen in a theatre. This is the seventh year of the Webfest, and the first time it’s been held in an amazing location like the Warner Bros. Backlot. (GUGP has been involved with the Webfest since its second year.)

Patrick and Amie. Jennifer and Jaime

Several friends and fans attended as well. Jaime, another German Shepherd from Guide Dogs of the Desert, was there with his raiser, Jennifer, and her sister; we also met Amanda, a guide dog handler who is currently between dogs. Amanda came along with us to Universal, and boy were we glad she did! She is a fount of very useful information, and just delightful to hang out with.

We had to take a bunch of photos (of course) outside at the big globe, and on the red carpet. When we went in, we were directed to guest services, where the employees asked the two questions allowed by the ADA—are these service dogs, and what are they trained to do—and noted the dogs’ breeds and vest colors so we wouldn’t have any hassles inside the park. We were also offered passes to go to the front of the line. On Day 1 I passed on that … Day 2, when I was paying the (totally worth it!) physical price for riding “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” I gratefully accepted it (and didn’t end up needing it because there weren’t any lines for anything I wanted to see. Drat!).

Patrick and Kaline with the conductor of the Hogwarts Express in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal, as you may have guessed, is really crowded.

Despite all the amazing things to see, people still kind of lose their minds over seeing two big dogs. We had very few drive-by pets, which was nice, and only a few people that I noticed actively attempting to distract the dogs. There was food everywhere, of course, and tons of visual and auditory distractions for the dogs as well. They both did a great job ignoring these things and staying focused.

The Harry Potter area was just amazing.

We had a ton of photo ops for the pups, drank some delicious butterbeer, and explored Filch’s Emporium. Having been recently sorted into Hufflepuff on Pottermore (yes, I am a nerd!), I was on the hunt for some House gear. Kaline calmly helped me navigate the store, and blocked people from coming too close while I was browsing. We found a Hufflepuff employee (they all wear ties in their house colors), who not only helped me find a shirt in my size but asked me careful questions about Kaline’s personality before determining that he, too, is a Hufflepuff. How convenient!

Kaline leading while wearing Marauder’s Map collar with Hogwarts houses pull strap

Kaline and Patrick drew a lot of attention at Harry Potter not just because they’re dogs (and dogs are inherently super exciting) but because they had Marauder’s Map collars, made custom by the awesome Gramarye Cottage. Because I can never stop at just a collar, Kaline also sported a Mischief Managed tag from Aggie’s Anvil and a pull strap in the colors of all the Hogwarts houses from Snowflake Craft. Usually I’m the only one who really notices all the silly little touches I put into Kay’s “ensembles” but at Harry Potter, everyone noticed and was tickled.

We were all milling around by Filch’s Emporium and the Forbidden Journey ride when a couple employees came out and straight up asked us if we wanted to go on the ride. They explained that there were kennels where the dogs could wait for us, or, since there were five of us, we could do a “child swap” with them, where some of the group rides while the rest stay with the dogs, and then you switch. We chose to do the “child swap,” since it seemed a lot less stressful for Kaline and Patrick.

Kaline in the sun with Hogwarts behind him.

The employees led us on a shortcut through the castle—we got to see all the neat details, like moving portraits and Dumbledore’s office, but didn’t have to wait in the long line. Service dogs and service dogs in training do have to learn patience, but a line of 30 minutes or more is quite a lot to ask of them (to say nothing of the potentially physically disabled handlers). We ended up in a hallway off to the side, where we (Amie and I) could stay with the dogs while Matt, Amanda, and my dad went on the ride. Then we switched.

The ride was absolutely amazing, and I highly recommend it, even if it did somewhat anger the Roaming Gnome of Pain (my cutesy name for fibro). And the dogs handled the separation very well. Many people don’t think about the fact that service dogs have to be able to handle being separated from their handler without becoming super stressed. They’re with us almost 24/7, but there are always instances where they’ll have to be separated, and they can’t lose it. Separation anxiety is sometimes seen as a good trait in a service dog, but it really isn’t. When we returned to Patrick and Kaline, we didn’t come back to anxiety-ridden messes who couldn’t refocus on work—they’d both waited calmly with Matt and Dad respectively, and while they were happy to see us, they weren’t frantic and were able to go quickly back to work mode.

Kaline gently touches nose with Scooby Doo while Shaggy stands behind him.

The dogs also went on the studio tour tram.

Again, this is a lot to ask of any dog. I can’t imagine what they were thinking during things like the simulated earthquake (complete with flood, crashing train cars, and flames) or the Fast and Furious sequence. We knew it was all fake and for show, but they didn’t. Nonetheless, both dogs handled it nicely (I may have shoved a ton of yummy treats in Kaline’s mouth during intense parts—my version of hazard pay).

On our second day at Universal, we met several different mascots.

Patrick loved them. It was pretty adorable how he would very gently mouth their “paws” or fuzzy hands. He was especially cute with Scooby Doo and Shaggy. He really seemed to enjoy interacting with them.

Kaline, on the other hand, while he has no problem working around/ignoring mascots, sometimes doesn’t enjoy interacting with them. He did like Gru and the minions, which was a nice surprise, but Scooby … Not so much. While Kaline didn’t have much problem investigating Scooby, he was not pleased to find Scooby investigating him. He avoided it any time Scooby tried to pat him. Oh Kaline. You made Scooby sad.

Colt and Kaline (staring studiously at Colt and not the minion) with a minion.

I also tortured Kaline by taking him into Honeydukes in Hogshead (for the uninitiated: the epic candy store from Harry Potter). Floor to ceiling candies and other sweets. And packed to the gills with people. This is the kind of environment that tends to trigger panic in me—with Kaline, I just get slightly nervous. He will guide me through a crowd if I need that, and when I stop he stands behind me as a buffer. And if the panic happens anyway, he can find the exit and get me out.

We had an absolutely delicious lunch at the Three Broomsticks.

It was a very peaceful break too—behind the main restaurant is an outdoor seating area. We were seated in a little nook. It was really pretty, quiet, and relaxing. The dogs got to have a bit of a nap too—on really long days, service dogs learn to catch a nap whenever they can.

We didn’t stay too long at Universal, because we all had to get ready for the awards that evening. The highlight, of course, was Amie’s win! All in all, a most excellent weekend.

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