The Service in the Dog …

“If you ever find yourself lost in the world, I’ll be the light to guide you …”


Hi. It’s me. Marshall…
I told you I would be back to tell you more about my life and my job. Although my specialty training is for being a Hearing Dog, I received the same beginners’ training as the big Service Dogs.

“The Guide Animals Act” applies to any one of us who passes the certification testing.

The Act says that we may accompany the person who uses us anywhere that they can go legally. That means restaurants, stores, planes, trains, taxis, bakeries, butcher shops.

Anywhere means anywhere. If we are going to be in public places, we must learn an extraordinary level of obedience. That pretty much is what we are all doing the first year of our lives. The most unbelievably selfless people volunteer themselves to become Puppy Raisers for PADS. These people normally receive us into their homes and lives when we are still very young. I was 3 months old when I arrived at PADS. That is unusually old. Most PADS puppies go straight from a PADS’ Breeder/Caretaker home at 8 weeks of age to their puppyraisers.

These wonderful people help us learn everything we need to know. They enforce rules about toileting … they teach us to walk politely on a leash, and notably how we must ignore squirrels and birds when we are on leash; how we must behave on the bus and SkyTrain. They take us to work with them.

Everywhere our people go, we go as well. Most importantly they take us to PADS’ weekly puppy training classes where PADS’ ADI certified trainers instruct us on How to behave in public … It’s just like school for puppies! These volunteers take us on group outings to places we have never seen or been to before – a seemingly endless and imaginative bunch of places where a mere pet is not allowed.

It isn’t too scary when you go with other puppies-in-training and people you know and trust. Strangers in stores always look at us and smile. They know we will grow up to be amazing working dogs.

There wasn’t anybody available to take me permanently right away, so quite a few of PADS’ volunteer puppy-sitters know me. It takes a lot of volunteers to help PADS’ professional staff deliver the training programs necessary to graduate Assistance Dogs. A lot of PADS’ dedicated volunteers helped me when I was little. Finally, when I was 6 months old, Shelley Kunzel felt sorry for me changing all the time and convinced Matt Mills that they should keep me until it was time for me to go into specialized training six months later.

Every day I went to work with Matt. I had to get up awfully early … and me a dog who likes his sleep. We rode the SeaBus from the North Shore which was really good experience. I spent my days in Matt’s office with him. He made me practice good behavior all the time. When we came home, Shelley took on the huge undertaking of teaching me everything I needed to know to make me both welcome and successful in public places. An awful lot of work for them translated into a lot of practice for me. I got really good at it! Marcia says she will never find a way, even after all these years, to let them know how extremely grateful she is for the gift of time they devoted to me. She says my public access behavior is “stellar” I think that means I am a star!

I told you last month that I am half Cairn Terrier and half Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. That tells you I am genetically programmed to chase things and that I love water and birds. I had to learn not to do those things that come naturally but it was worth it. When PADS’ instructor, Pam Houston, did my certification test in Ladner, she positioned me on a pedestrian bridge over the slough with ducks swimming below me. To pass, I had to lie and then sit … for a very long time… all by myself … without moving. Wasn’t that fiendish of her? However, as you already can guess, I passed that test and all the others with flying colours.

Pam was so proud of me, she cried. Oops, running out of time again. Sorry, next month I will tell you about my special duties as a Hearing Dog.

Matt Mills currently sits on PADS’ Board of Directors and lives in Calgary. Photos donated by K9 Studio Photography & Kristina Zambrano —