(Submitted by New OGDA Puppyraisers, John & Mary):
The first time I ever noticed Occupaws I was driving on Hwy. 51 in the southeast part of Madison, WI where I saw their big billboard with a cute yellow lab puppy (Echo) on it. I was intrigued about this organization and thought I would look it up on the Internet. I did so and found a phone number for the organization. The nice lady on the phone suggested I come to an Occupaws training night held spring thru fall at a local warehouse. I did so in mid-August and was amazed at what was being done with these incredible canines.
On the particular night I attended the training session, they had a few “extra” dogs there. Immediately upon my arrival I announced I wanted to consider volunteering and a dog leash was handed to me with a grown lab on the other end. Geyser was my dog for the evening and it was mentioned that he knew the routine pretty well. So, right into the training session I went. I was quickly instructed how to hold the leash and was told that if I repeated the commands I heard and copied what everybody else in the room did that Geyser would do the rest. It was amazing and a bunch of fun and the dog was sometimes doing things before I even asked. As a group we started walking in a big circle each trainer with a dog on their respective leash. Two little very cute puppies were in the middle doing a smaller circle and we all whirled around. It reminded me of a slightly rehearsed folk dance. Occasionally, people and dogs would get out of step. When that happened, a quick correction of the dog was completed and then we continued. Sometimes we altered our speed from a quick walk to a stroll and back to the quick walk again. Sometimes we would all come to an abrupt stop and sit our puppies down or lay our puppies down. I was told this last task can be used on a city bus, street corner, when working at an event with the dogs, or anytime it is needed.
Once the lead trainer felt we had enough walking and commanding done we were all instructed to go back to our seats, command our puppies to lie down and rest and some organizational announcements were made. Then, two of the puppy trainers stood up and took a stroll with their dogs to the front of all of us. They proceeded to command their puppies to sit down to our left and dropped the dogs’ leashes and commanded the dogs to stay in place. Each trainer then strolled across the room to our right and stood there. The dogs’ eyes never left their personal commanders. After a few moments the dogs, frozen from the stay command, came to life when told to “come” and trotted over to their trainer. I was impressed. Soon after that I began to realize that each of us training a dog that night was going to do this little trick as well. I really wondered if, given my newness to commands, Geyser would follow my directions. Lo and behold, when my turn came, I was surprised that he did follow my directions. It seemed obvious to us all that he wasn’t as enthusiastic as he had been in the past with more experienced trainers. Once I called him “Geyser, come!” he slowly strolled over to me as if to say, “alright, I’m coming”. This first experience with Occupaws was great fun and inspiring. I decided I had to check this out further over the next several weeks.
Note: Next week John and Mary will be taking home their first OccuPaws puppy, one of the black bundles pictured above.