This week I joined the staff dog program. I’d spent a decade in the pound rescue program, and my move to minimum security from medium ended that tenure. I had considered entry into the rescue program here in minimum security, but passed on it because I didn’t want to have to deal with the internal politics. Guys can be a bitchy lot.
Thankfully there is another dog program. It involves daycare, boarding, and training of staff owned dogs. The men in this program all have extensive experience, on average 7-10 years, and all of them have earned federally recognized apprenticeship certification. These are the guys that truly understand dogs and the ins and outs of training and care. All of them are in it for one common purpose: the dogs. A position came open this week and I pounced.
My first dog is a 7 month old AKC certified purebred German Shepherd name Kyzer. He’s owned by one of the guards, who has brought him to me for reinforcement training. Some people get a dog for a pet, others seek them out for their breed ability or utility such as for protection. Kyzer falls into the breed ability and protection category. A dog like Kyzer will set you back $5,000.
Participating in the staff dog program is a lot of work. This post is a snapshot of my first days with Kyzer. It’s a glimpse of how I live in this world.
Day 1 With Kyzer
Sunday (3:00am) I go to bed. I’m a night owl, and this is my normal time when I know I don’t have work the next day. It’s 11:30pm or earlier on work nights.
(5:15am) Someone is tapping on my bunk. Who the hell is tapping on my bunk?! I open my eyes and notice it’s one of my bunk mates (I live in a specially fenced in, four-man dog cube in a dorm). One hand is motioning for me to get out of bed, his other is holding a leashed German Shepherd. Wtf? Is that Jade? Jade’s a German Shepherd he regularly provides daycare for.
I crawl out of bed. He’s trying to hand me the leash. What’s going on? I immediately think that something bad has happened. I notice that one of the guards is standing at our gate. Is that a Walmart bag in his hand?
Realization dawns on me. Shit, I think, that’s Kyzer! But I thought the program administrator said Kyzer wouldn’t be in until Tuesday? I take possession of my first dog since leaving the pound program. And you know what? Man, it feels friggin’ great!
(6:00am) I fill Kyzer’s bowl with water and another with dog food. Kyzer laps down gobs of water. He’s a hit and run drinker, so I follow him with a towel, wiping up trails of drip all over the place. I notice he doesn’t touch his food. I coax him to eat, and he dismisses my attempts. He’s panting and antsy. He’s nervous, I think, and probably has to shit too.
(6:33am) Count clears, and I take Kyzer outside to potty. He promptly rewards me with two giant piles of crap. Solid, not runny or out of the ordinary. That’s good, I think. Yup, he had to shit. He doesn’t pee, which I find surprising considering all the water he guzzled. I make mental note.
(6:40am) Today will be all about acclimation. I will spend time observing Kyzer interacting with the other dogs in the program. Got to make sure he’s compatible, and if there’s issue, to always keep them separated. Plus, his owner wants him exercised and worn out by the time his shift is over. Apparently Kyzer has a lot of energy at home, and well, being a pup he has the tendency to take it out on the furniture. His latest assault was on a new set of blinds while chasing down a fly. “Did he at least get the fly?” I asked. “Yeah…,” his pops said, “he got it.”
Introduced Kyzer to Roscoe, Rosey, and Apollo. Roscoe’s a Pit Bull mix, Rosey is a Pit/Shar Pei mix, and Apollo is a Pomeranian/Husky mix (Pomsky). He looks like a miniature Husky. Kinda cool; a girl’s dog to be sure. Kyzer takes to the dogs without issue and they to him. So it’s play time for the next three hours.
(8:00am) Kyzer is back playing with the other dogs. He gets winded more quickly than the regulars. It’s normal for ‘new’ dogs, as most of the time they’ve spent their days at home sitting around or chewing on furniture. He’ll be spent by the time his pops comes for him.
(10:00am) I feed Kyzer. He guzzles water again, and I follow him with a towel. He doesn’t touch his food.
(10:10am) Kyzer’s owner checks in on him, and I let him know how things are going so far. He tells me his kids sometimes feed Kyzer by hand. Hmmm, I think.
(10:20am) I feed Kyzer a handful of food, and he takes to it eagerly. He then eats the whole bowl this way. I feel better now that he has eaten, but I hope this isn’t a habit for him. He guzzles more water…and the towel is now soaked. Where is all the water going? I wonder.
(11:30am) Count clears and I take Kyzer outside to potty. He squats and pees…and pees…and pees. Damn, Kyzer! Even I would be proud of that one. No poop this time. I’m grateful. Kyzer scratches and kicks back grass with his hind legs and stares up at me. “Okay, okay,” I say, and we go back inside.
So this is the mid-morning part of a typical day with a dog. Since Kyzer’s owner wants him worn out by the time his shift is over, Kyzer will be playing with the dogs until 2:00pm. In the meantime, I’ve made note of things that Kyzer needs work with. I noticed that he sometimes pulls when on leash, and doesn’t know ‘heel’ well yet, so this will be worked on in the coming days.
(1:00pm) I take Kyzer outside to potty and he rewards me with a steamy gift. I bag it up and dispose of the baggie in the dog poop trash can outside the housing unit.
(1:07-1:45pm) I walk with Kyzer and another dog handler, my cube mate D.B., who has Roscoe with him. Kyzer walks well, but I notice each time we pass the shade of the tree along the walkway Kyzer pulls toward it. It’s 87F outside, and I’m wondering if he’s at his limit. We’ve spun four short laps so far. On lap five Kyzer decides to stop in the grass and lay down. “Ah,” I say to Kyzer, “your ass is worn out, huh?” So I take Kyzer in for a large bowl of water. He guzzles a bowl, and I wring out another towel.
(1:45pm) I wipe Kyzer down with a damp washcloth and a few squirts of great smelling waterless doggie shampoo. The dogs can get smelly from hours of playing and slobbering all over each other, especially on hot summer days. I then brush him down until he’s all new. I take his leash to his collar and we sit together in the air conditioned dog room and wait for his owner to finish his shift. Kyzer promptly lays down beside me and falls asleep.
(2:10pm) Kyzer’s owner arrives. I go through a brief overview of Kyzer’s morning, provide my observations, and otherwise tell how well Kyzer took to the other dogs. Kyzer will be back tomorrow I’m told, 5:00am sharp.
(2:15pm) I watch how Kyzer acts as he departs in the distance with his owner. He looks taxed, and I’m pretty sure Kyzer will be asleep in the truck before he gets home. Just as his owner wanted–worn out.
I go back to the cube, gather up Kyzer’s blanket along with the towels and rags I used throughout the course of the day, and put them in the wash. I wash both his bowls with soap and water, dry them, and put them into his dog box. The box also contains a dog tennis ball, a rubber chew toy, another collar, a couple of bags of food, and a bag of professional dog training treats his owner uses and asks that I also use. I then slide the box under the bunk until 5:00am the following day. Exhausted, I catch a cat nap until count time. Before falling asleep, I go through the entire morning in my mind. I think about every moment and every action Kyzer made and nothing bad stands out in my mind. Man, I can’t wait until tomorrow!
So now I ask you: if you were tasked with training a German Shepherd like Kyzer, how would you go about doing it? German Shepherds are unique breeds, and they have their particular quirks and needs. They’re vocal dogs when they play, and they are fiercely loyal. I always try to maximize training by playing on a breed’s strength. If you own a German Shepherd, is there anything that you’ve discovered that you think may benefit Kyzer during his sessions? By all means, let me know!