Showsight Presents the Schipperke

NITTANY: A SCHIPPERKE’S STORY

hand commands as well. This meant even more learning, not just for Nittany, but for my children and I as well. I had to make sure the kids were using the proper terms and hand signals so that Nit- tany wouldn’t get confused. Thankfully, the kids were good about taking the time and worked hard to make sure that they didn’t cause any problems, setting us back. I had planned on putting in an electric fence. However, before her official classes started, the kids were teaching her basic com- mands and walking the perimeter of our yard every time they took her out so that Nittany would know where her boundaries were when she was outside playing with the kids. With the training classes and all of us working with her at home, reenforcing what she was being taught in class, it wasn’t necessary to put in any type of fence. After the first two months of her training, I was told that she was to go everywhere I went and always in her vest. She understood very quickly that if her vest was on, she was working. The hardest thing for me was getting across to strangers that she had a vest on. She was a working dog, please don’t touch her. It was amazing how rude people were, especially those with small children who wanted to pet her and pick her up. Nittany was very good with that, she would sidestep closer and “chuff” the people under her breath. No barking, growling, or anything threatening; just that soft chuff, letting them know the child had crossed the boundary—please pull them back. Since a majority of my time was spent at work, I slept on one of her pink baby blankets, so it would smell like me, and placed it in one of her smaller beds. I took her into the office when the only ones there were the Officer of the Day and the Staff Duty, both of whom made rounds to all the barracks in the area. I figured that this would be the best time to give her a tour of the building and let her inspect my office. I placed her bed with the blanket in it in the cubby hole beneath my desk. This was the ideal place for her to be. She could see and feel me, and she could see everyone who came into my office. As long as I was calm and not getting upset, she stayed there quietly. The moment she felt me tightening up, she was assessing the danger and keeping me on an even keel. She had been coming into the office with me for over a month, and anytime I walked out of my office for anything, she was right with me. One afternoon, I was headed down the hall to get a cup of tea and we passed my Executive Officer. We were going in oppo- site directions, and right after he passed us he asked rather loudly, “Why is there a potbellied pig in his building?” I struggled not to laugh and told Nittany to sit. She sat down and fixed him with that bright, inquisitive look as if she were saying, “A piggy? And I don’t get to see it?” I politely informed him that Nittany was my service dog. I knew he had received the memo about her being here, because he had signed-off on it just as everyone else had. He asked me just how long she had been coming in with me, and I told him that she

Nittany was calm, but I could feel myself getting overwhelmed with everything I was being told was expected from me and all that I was going to have to do while going through the classes with her. Not to mention all the homework that I would be taking home for my children and myself ! The first day of class, I walked in with Nittany heeling on my right side with a pretty purple harness and leash set that my daugh- ters had bought her for her first day of school. Nittany was so proud of her “pretties,” chest puffed out so that everyone could see. When I stopped to sign-in, she sat down by my foot, waiting quietly for her next command, and took stock of everything and everyone around her. I was worried that she would take off towards the other dogs wanting to play. But she never moved. She just calmly waited for me to give her a command. One of the younger instructors walked over and asked if he could help me. I looked up from the forms and told him who I was and that Nittany and I were there for the class. He laughed in my face and told me that Nittany would never be a good service dog; she was just too small and high-strung. He told me that she would never graduate and it would be better to get a refund before the class picked up. I looked at him, a man who was more than a foot taller than me and out-weighed me by more than a hundred pounds, and calmly informed him that he was wrong. She was no less than the larger dogs. After all, when I had stood on those painted yellow footprints on Parris Island, the drill instructors told me that I would never be a good Marine. I wouldn’t even make it through boot camp. They had been wrong and so was he—and we would prove it! The stipulation of my total involvement in her training proved to be a genius move on my Godfather’s part. Not only was Nittany learning what she needed to learn in order to become the service dog I needed, I was being retrained as well. I was extremely focused on what I was doing. I tuned out everything that wasn’t pertinent to what I was doing. And for the first time in a long time I wasn’t dwelling on anything that would upset me and set me off, causing an anxiety attack. Nittany had no fear, and I used to wonder when she was going to decide to go play with the Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers, Dobermans, and Great Danes in the class, resulting in injury or her becoming an hors d’oeuvre for the much larger dogs in the class. Thankfully, she never did. She always stayed by my side, watching, and would occasionally sleep while the instructors were instructing us, explaining and demonstrating exactly what they wanted and needed the dogs to do. I noticed that most of the dogs did the same thing Nittany did. But once we stood up, all the dogs were up and at attention, ready to go. Nittany was so intent and eager to please, she learned the commands within the first half dozen tries. The classes were intense and long, but Nittany stayed right on top of everything. She not only learned verbal commands, but

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