The first “official” Assistance Dog in the U.S. for a person with a disability other than blindness was a black lab-golden cross named Abdul (translates as “faithful servant”) and was trained by Dr. Bonita Bergin in the mid-1970's. He partnered with a young woman with muscular dystrophy named Kerrill (Kerry) Knaus. Abdul worked for Kerry for over 13 years.
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Who is Boone? Boone is the hard hitting, gritty reporter for The Daily Chew, the online periodical spreading news of “Good Dogs Doing Good Things”. Boone interviews dogs in all fields of service, rescue and celebrity, to find out what it takes to be a “Good Dog”. As a one year old seasoned longhair dachshund, he has a unique perspective on the world.
“Actually, I go to this facility right here at Canine Companions for Independence in Orlando. I’m not sure where my brothers and sisters are going but I hear they have all moved on to the Advanced training also. I’ll be here for 6-9 months before they determine if I can be placed with someone in need. What’s really special is that there is no charge for the person who I get to go live with. I could end up going anywhere in the country…I will really miss Robin and Paul.”
“How would you feel if we kept in touch and chatted after you finish up here in Florida?”
“I’d love it!”
Again, I’ve met another incredible canine hero. These guys never cease to amaze me. Now, I’ve got to go catch some rays and see if I can get someone to put a little umbrella in my water bowl…chew at you soon.
“Are there some specific skills that you learn to be a Canine Companion?”
“A couple of them are things like picking stuff up off of the floor, learning to push elevator buttons and pulling a manual wheelchair. I’m not so keen on the elevator button thing. Some people should wash their hands more.”
“Can all dogs become Canine Companions?”
“I think the puppies need to start at the special breeders program and sometimes donated puppies but not all dogs make it through the training. It’s pretty involved and the dogs need to be very calm and be able to avoid being distracted easily. I believe that the puppies are all Black Labs, Golden Retrievers or a mix of the two. I’m a mix.”
“I don’t think I’d do so great. I’m calm…except when food is involved and, well, squirrels, Frisbees and cute poodles and …oh. When did you get to start wearing that cool vest? Do you wear it all of the time?”
“I began wearing it around the house to get comfortable with it, and now, I wear it almost always whenever we go out in public. It’s quite comfortable and gives people an opportunity to see my skills in action. A lot of young kids want to come over and pet me but Robin usually makes them wait until they ask permission. Not all dogs are ready to be approached in public and people should be cautious. That’s why they call it “training”. I’m sure that when the trainers do take other puppies out, they are ready but I think asking first makes sense.”
“It seems like there’s an awful lot of training that has to happen before you get to move on to the next phase. Do you get much “down” time?”
“Oh, yeah, Robin and Paul gave me a GoughNut toy, which is awesome, by the way, and a mess of fetching balls. I get lots of exercise. And there always seems to be time for cuddling and snuggling. Sometimes I get to watch the TV thing. I don’t quite understand it but there are always dogs and horses to watch. They must be very clean because I can never smell them.”
“No, only for a little bit. We stayed together for about 8 people weeks at the breeder/caretaker’s place in California and then I got to fly to Orlando to live with my volunteer puppy raisers, Robin and Paul, for the next year and a half.”
“Oh, you got to fly, too ,eh? Hope you kept your biscuits down.
While living with Robin and Paul, did you get to just goof around, chase the cat, dig holes, you know, do dog stuff?”
“Well, there was some of that but I had to earn those opportunities. They very patiently taught me about 30 different commands which I can do without even thinking. A couple of the things I learned are “under” and “lap”. When Robin commands “under”, I find a desk or table to go lie down under. When she says “lap”, I put my front legs across her legs and she can check out my ears, eyes and teeth. It’s also nice to be sort of snuggling with her. After I master a particular skill or command, Robin or Paul will give me a treat…my favorites are the liver treats made by a company called Bil-jac. Boy, are they yummy! From what I hear, I get to go on to Advanced training and learn 20 more commands.”
Zwiebel is very big. Well, maybe I’m just sort of small, being a dachshund and all. As a young 21 month old black lab/golden retriever mix, “Z” maybe outweighed me by 60 pounds. For all of his size, he was very gentle and quiet.
The Black Labs and Golden Retrievers I’ve met in the past have been over the top with loveable vitality. “Z” just exuded a warm, accepting sort of energy that just made you like him. Very cool.
After the standard canine greeting rituals (not going to describe them here) we sat down to talk. Zwiebel has a very deep, soothing voice like a grandpa’s that rumbles when you hear it.
I thought I’d start off with the easy stuff first:
“So, Zwiebel, can I call you “Z”? The ‘zw’ thing is tough for dachshunds.”
“Sure, Boone, that’s just fine. I get called all sorts of stuff, but “Z” works.
“Great. To get started, are you an only puppy or do you have some brothers and sisters?”
“There were actually seven in our litter. The tradition around our place was that each sibling was named with the same starting letter. Our letter was obviously Z. My sisters were Zazzie, Zhi, Zeta and Zelda. My brothers were Zoltan (I always liked his name) and Zeus.”
“Did you live with the whole gang?!”
They train and prepare talented Good Dogs to be Assistance Dogs, Service Dogs, Skilled Companion Dogs, and Facility Dogs. To be honest, I’m not sure what all of these guys do…but I think I’m going to find out.Through our network, a dog Named “Zwiebel” has come to our attention and so I am headed south to find out just how special he is. I’ve packed my SPF 50 sun protection, got my cool surfing jams and towel, oh, wait, this is a business trip…I have my brief case, dark sunglasses and business collar on. Zwiebel, Robin (Zwiebel’s person) and I agree to meet at the gazebo on the campus of Canine Companions for Independence in Orlando, Florida.
I usually limit my travels to up and around the barn because of my short legs and, well, I just have so much to do. Important things like interviewing Heads of State and things like that. Really. My editor, on the other hand, has different ideas.
I have to go to Orlando, Florida. I mean, why there? Because a Good Dog, who is a Canine Companion, lives there, that’s why. By the way, flying is not my favorite.
It seems that there is a group called Canine Companions for Independence that has one of their facilities down in Florida.
By Boone, the Intrepid Pup Reporter for "The BooneDoggies"
January 23, 2014
An Interview with Zwiebel, a Canine Companion
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Note: On November 8th, 2013, Zwiebel entered into professional training. We will keep track of him and his progress.
Good luck Zwiebel!
“Well, Z, just looking at this beautiful campus, it must take a bundle to keep it up. I’m pretty sure you don’t get too involved in that part of it but do you know anything about how they keep it all together here?”
“Essentially, we Canine Companions do have a lot to do with keeping this organization going. I heard Robin talking about this. She said a lot of the funding comes from private donations and grants, which are large gifts given to help do certain projects and stuff. They also hold a thing called a “Dogfest Walk ‘n Roll”. It’s a blast! People raise funds for the organization and then get together for a long walk with about a million other dogs and people. It’s really fun. Sometimes the event isn’t held in towns that everybody can get to…and, well, everybody should try, so they hold a “Virtual Dogfest” where they can participate online…whatever that is.”
“Where do you go next?”
During the first week of January 2014, Robin and Paul took on a new puppy and will be raising him to be a Canine Companion. Follow along as we document Kermit’s progress through his training.
The First Assistance Dog