If you recall a couple years ago, I did a post (here) about Hunter, the dog we were training to be a Diabetes Alert Dog for JR. I never told you the result of that.
Hunter was truly a fun dog! He ran around the farm all day, helping JR with chores, and generally finding entertainment in anything a good, farm-breed working dog would. He also LOVED having a job to do. He bonded very closely to JR, which was great, and by the time he was just around 7 months old, he began showing signs of alerting and scent recognition. He was well on his way to being an alert dog.
Sadly, though, as with many service-dogs-in-training, there is so much more to creating an all-around service dog than just achieving a specific task. In Hunter’s case, he was so full of energy, he was usually like a spring just waiting to explode at any second. On the farm, this wasn’t a problem. In public, however, it could’ve turned into a problem. No one in the general public had a clue, as by all accounts, he seemed to be a very well-trained pup, on his way to being a service dog. He would calmly walk alongside JR, or lay up under a table in a restaurant, or whatever we asked of him. The waiting however, was just more than he could comfortably bear. As a habit, I always have a foot or leg touching a pup I am training in public, so I always know what they are up to. In Hunter’s case, I could feel him just trembling with pent-up energy, and ready to leap out at the first temptation to play. It broke my heart.
Some issues can be outgrown. It is possible that Hunter would have outgrown this one. However, there comes a time when selfless and practical decisions must be made. First, and most importantly, I want to know that a dog is truly happy and enjoying his life–while at work or play. In Hunter’s case, he was a naturally happy dog, but I think having to remain calm in public was not something he enjoyed at all. Secondly, even though he could possibly have outgrown the energy, from a practical standpoint, I couldn’t risk it taking several years to have him able to qualify as a service dog. I learned in my past training that a good alert dog should be ready and able to pass a full exam such as the Canine Good Citizen Award by the time they are about 18 months old–preferably earlier. Hunter wasn’t even close. So, instead, we found Hunter a farm home with other mini-Aussies, where he was able to herd livestock and play and generally exert energy to his heart’s content. Last I heard, he was adapting beautifully, and the photos they sent showed a very happy dog indeed!
Giving up Hunter was a little harder for JR, as he was very attached. In fact, he slept with Hunter’s dog tag and a photo for several months after he left, and there were a few nights where he cried himself to sleep. That being said, he seemed to fully understand that it was truly the best decision for Hunter. JR knew he wanted an alert dog, not a pet, and we couldn’t have both at that point in time. Furthermore, we all agreed that Hunter’s presence was certainly not in vain. He had helped JR overcome some major fears he had developed with his new diagnosis. Since learning he was diabetic, he was always scared to leave S or I, fearing he would have a low blood sugar and not know what to do. For many weeks, he even slept on our couch, rather than going upstairs to his bedroom. Hunter gave him the confidence he so desperately needed to go back to living life as normal. For that, we will always be thankful to Hunter!