Never has the saying “You don’t have to be mad but it helps!” ever been so true than when applied to the police dog puppy walker.
The puppy walker gets to enjoy all the challenging times, sleepless nights, house training, chewing, pulling, adolescent dog behaviour. Throw in restrictions placed by police puppy programmes and what you get is 12 – 18 months of pure mad canine chaos. Then just when the hard work is done, you hand back the dog.
So why do it? Why puppy walk? Well puppy-walkers are a special breed of people for which I have much admiration.
As an instructor and responsibility to manage puppy development. I set out to share their experience fostering a number of pups destined for frontline duties and I have to say. It was bloody hard work.
I first met one 8 week old GSD bred for purpose puppy at his testing session where he leapt un-leap able boundary and attacked an electric cable. Recovered and placed back in the test arena he did exactly the same thing again. A tough, strong willed little cookie with a ‘whatever’ attitude any rebel teenager would be proud and a sign of things to come.
Nothing could have prepared my home for the invasion of this little monster. “OMG!” all cried, “He’s so cute, just like a little lion cub” He stood in the middle of my conservatory surveying his new surroundings like an overseer surveying his serfs. Then with complete and utter contempt he ignored us all and chewed the blinds.
After several attempts to stop him with new cries from the family ringing out “We’ll leave that with you then!” I was abandoned, just me and him. I can recall thinking this boy is a maniac, I’m out of my depth here. This little bundle of fluffy canine cuteness was destroying my professional credence along with my blinds.
Out of desperation and not a moment I’m proud of I grabbed him rolled him onto his back and held him there. Like a wrestler waiting for a submission I sweated waiting for ‘His Cuteness’ to surrender to my will. What a wally, me not the pup. He did quieten down but when released he stood up brushed himself down, looked me in the eye as much to say “Is that the best you got?” then continued destroying the blinds. A new strategy, remove the blinds and play with him, eventually we wore ourselves out falling asleep together on the conservatory floor. I loved this little guy already.
As the days passed I learned much about his character. He chewed my furniture swallowing a 6” length of soft cane, a sock and numerous stones all of which needed my help to be removed as he tried to pass them naturally. He was unstoppable. The family accepted him for what he was and named him the ‘cute destroyer’. Over the park he wasn’t a dog fighter but would readily take on anything gaining a reputation.
Worried for his balanced development I agreed with a friend who ran puppy classes to take him along. My then wife, who by this time had also fallen in love with this reprobate volunteered to handle him. Ok, in short it didn’t go well, he bit her on the arm drawing blood when she was tasked to say “no” to him. The next week she again took on responsibility to manage him with a plan of wearing a long sleeve coat, he was only 12 weeks old what harm could he do. The coat strategy failed, he bit her on the leg through trousers drawing blood once more. I really loved this little guy.
But this was crises, he was destroying my home, bitten my wife, banned from puppy club, gaining a bad-boy reputation and not doing my credibility much good amongst the non-police puppy walkers. I was often reminded. “See what we have to put up with” and “Welcome to our world” and boy were they right.
As I left one Puppy-Sunday session I thought, ‘why are these people puppy walking? They must be mad’. Though, they were quickly winning my respect. These volunteers put a lot of work in.
The relationship grew between my family and the cute destroyer and we reached turning points, he stopped chewing everything, became house trained, relented from his role as park bully and through the application of positive training techniques to which his response was truly phenomenal he blossomed into a real police dog. He still retained his character but gradually these qualities were admired and not reviled.
The day came to hand him over to his new handler. The family were upset, he had become a part of our lives, much loved. But his life ahead lay in the role of police dog so away he went.
So why do puppy walkers do it? I know why. It’s a sense of achievement, it’s the pride of a parent when you see that newest of recruits become a prized police dog. You know that the handler has done the training but that would never have been possible without your puppy walking help.
Would you do it again? Yes of course and I did a number of times. His cuteness taught me a lot of lessons and as a result I became a better trainer, worked harder with puppy walkers, but, above all I learned to appreciate the dedication of the puppy walker. Don’t get me wrong, they are still mad, but in a good way.