[Editor's note: Please help us spread awareness about this wonderful assistance-dog training organization by sharing this story.]
Can Do Canines has a motto for its puppy-raising program: It’s not a pet, it’s a mission. It’s an apt description. The Twin Cities–based nonprofit trains assistance dogs that are paired with human partners across the upper Midwest, bringing them freedom, independence, and peace of mind. During the course of 12 to 14 months, puppy raisers teach future service dogs 50+ commands, from retrieving a phone to pickin’ up keys. It’s also a puppy raiser’s job to love and care for the pup (natch) and introduce her to the world.
“Puppy raisers are critical to Can Do Canines as they are the ones who socialize these dogs the most,” says Nancy Weitgenant, CDC’s puppy program coordinator. “We can train them, but it takes countless volunteers to socialize them.”
Tysley Taylor is one of those volunteers. She signed on to be a puppy raiser in 2012 and chronicles life with assistance-dog-in-training Kimba on her blog, Puppy & Me. The 14-month-old black lab is in the final phase of training and soon will be placed with her human partner. Here’s a look at Kimba’s journey from playful puppy to dog on a mission.
Eight Weeks: Puppies are typically placed in raiser homes at 8 to 10 weeks of age. “This is ideal because the puppies are in their socialization stage of development,” says Weitgenant. Here’s Kimba with Taylor on Dec. 21, 2012, the day they met. “It was predicted to be the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar,” says Taylor. “Nope. It was the day my new life began.”
Ten Weeks: Kimba’s first few weeks were all about house training and socializing. Like any brand-new assistance dog, she had a packed social calendar from Day One: She was required to meet 100 people in her first three weeks with Taylor. Here’s Kimba with Anne, well on her way to her goal.
Three Months: Along with basic obedience commands (the ushe “sit” and “stay”), assistance dogs need to master tasks like “tug” to open a drawer, “touch” to hit buttons, and “clean up” to put items into a bucket. Here, Kimba is working on waiting at the top of the stairs until she hears the command: “OK.”
Four Months: Kimba had a tough time getting her footing on a Pergo floor. But, like all assistance dogs, she needs to be able to walk on a variety of surfaces with confidence. Eventually she got the hang of it, but Taylor says, “It was cute to watch.”
Eight Months: One practical and necessary skill for all assistance dogs is to wait patiently while his or her human is at rest. Kimba’s cue to chill out under Taylor’s chair is “down under.” “Whenever I work at my laptop or eat dinner, I say ‘down under,’ and she slides under my chair,” says Taylor. “She has to stay until I say ‘OK.’ This is so important in restaurants and on public transportation.”
Eleven Months: Despite her well-documented hatred of her cape, Kimba does great when out and about. One added bonus to sportin’ her Can Do Canine colors? Kimba and Taylor get to be ambassadors for the program. While most folks are respectful and just want to talk, Taylor noted that just after this pic was snapped in Target, “a guy was snarky with me because I wouldn’t let his kid pet Kimba,” she says. “I fight that battle a lot.”
One Year: Raisers bring puppies through beginner, intermediate, and often advanced training before the pooch is eligible for final training with Can Do Canines. Kimba was having a hard time mastering tug, until Tysley discovered the pooch’s kryptonite: liver treats. Last November, Kimba tugged a door open to pass her Level II skills test. “My heart soared,” says Taylor. “I was so proud. I get tears in my eyes even as I think about it now.”
In addition to taking puppies on individual trips, raisers must attend twice-monthly classes. “We go on group outings together,” says Weitgenant. “We recently took a light-rail ride to downtown Minneapolis, where we visited a coffee shop and the IDS Center.” This is Kimba’s first group outing on the light rail. You go, girl!