Here's a story that sums up why we're doing what we're doing: training service dogs to give persons with disabilities a more fulfilling life, independence, and companionship. For Elaine Beckstrom, who is training one of Boston's litter mates, she will attest it also gives the family peace of mind.
Elaine's son, Jake, was injured in a diving accident and has received a service dog from Helping Paws. She is always sharing stories about Jake and Miles to the class, which gives us that "real life" perspective in training the dogs.
This is an especially good story about a young man with determination and the service dog who helped him through an adverse situation.
"The end-of-summer highlight for Jake was the chance to go to the practice round of the PGA tournament at Hazeltine Golf Course with his friend Kent. The PGA does not allow dogs on the grounds. However, Miles being a certified service dog, goes where Jake goes. This was a big advantage when it came to meeting golfers.
Jake said they would be lined up behind the rope along the course. However, Miles would be standing next to Jake and often times his tail would be sticking out under the rope swinging back and forth in its normal happy wagging sway. As the golfers came down the fairway, they would look ahead and there was this dog’s tail sticking out on the edge of the green, waving back and forth. Let’s just say that it was not something they normally see and got some attention! Many of the golfers came over to speak to Jake and Kent, and of course admire Miles. The golfer Mike Miles was especially impressed by Miles name. Sergio Garcia took a ball out of his pocket and handed it to Jake. Plus many others visited with them and gave their autographs. Tiger remained elusive though and had to be admired from a distance.
Jake anticipated attending this event for days in advance and has talked about it endlessly afterward. What a wonderful thing to do on August 11th. Jake said he hadn’t even stopped to think about what day it was until a woman, visiting with him at the golf course, asked how and why he was in a wheelchair. Jake told her, “It was a diving accident and it happened when I was 16…. Four years ago. Four years today actually!” He had not thought about what day it was until that very moment. And given the fun he was having, I don’t think he gave it much thought the rest of the day either. We are so thankful he had something fun to do…
But the most amazing memory of the day was yet to come from Miles.
Jake and Kent decided to stop to get something to eat on their way home from the golf course. Kent was going to run in and get it and Jake and Miles were going to wait in the van. It was very hot that day. Jake wanted to leave the AC on, so they decided to leave the van running and Kent could lock the doors and they would be safe. Jake said, “I have an extra key here in my bag.” Kent thought that meant a key fob that Jake could push to unlock doors so he just jumped out, locked the doors and went off to get the food. It really meant a single key inside a zippered pocket that Jake had no way of reaching…
Hmmmmm ….. For the 10 minutes that Kent was gone, Jake sat there thinking about what they were going to do. His cell phone batteries had died earlier in the day so he couldn’t call mom and dad for the spare set.
Jake decided to ask Miles for some help. He sent Miles up to the passenger seat and tried to get him to step on the rocker switch that locks and unlocks the doors. Miles wasn’t quite sure what Jake was asking him to do. He got in the seat. He stood in it. He sat in the seat. He repeatedly stepped up onto the side of the door, but he didn’t step on the rocker switch.
Then Jake asked Miles to go over into the driver’s seat. Jake was trying to think of all the commands that Miles knows, and figure out which one would lead him to step on that rocker switch. Rise. Stand. Step up. Push. Miles stepped onto the armrest, stood in the seat, sat in the seat, then curled up and took a rest. He knew Jake wanted him to do something, but there is no Helping Paws command for “unlock the door!”
By now Kent was back and encouraging Miles from outside the van. Jake called Miles to his side in the back of the van. He spied the lock on the side door. It has a tall, narrow door lock post. Jake is strapped into his wheelchair, which is strapped into the back of the van. He could point in the general vicinity of the lock, but he couldn’t give too many more clues than that. Jake pointed and said “get it!”.
Miles found a tennis ball rolling around on the floor of the van and decided he was supposed to get that. “Get it!” Miles kept getting the tennis ball. Finally the tennis ball rolled under the back seat and Miles couldn’t get it anymore. Jake tried to point at the door lock, Kent was outside the window tapping on it. “Get it!”
Miles started to get the idea of what they wanted him to do. He went toward the door. He had to first “rise” up with his front paws and lean across a gap of about 6 inches, and finally got his mouth on the door lock. Much encouragement from Jake and Kent.
Now what command to use? “Tug!” Jake said. To Miles, tug means pull. Miles had the lock in his front teeth and was pulling on the lock. Unfortunately the lock needs to go up to be unlocked and “up” is not a command Miles knows. Hmmmm …. Jake wasn’t sure what to do but keep encouraging Miles to keep trying.
I don’t know how he did it, but Miles, being the best service dog in the world, somehow figured out that he needed to turn his head sideways to the window, grasp that narrow door lock stem with his BACK teeth to get a better grip on it, and pull up. Jake and Kent were amazed and ecstatic! Miles was ecstatic! He had made his master very, very happy and was getting lots of praise and treats. We were all to shake our heads in amazement when they told us the story. A very nice ending to a very nice day for Jake.
(As I’m learning how to train Izzo, a Helping Paws dog now 6 ½ months old, I’m learning that the clicker technique we use encourages the dogs to figure things out for themselves. We have a particular behavior in mind that we are trying to teach. But the dog has to figure out what that behavior is via our marking it and rewarding it, incrementally. Miles was trained with this method and I can see how it allowed Miles to experiment with different behaviors for Jake. It wasn’t anything he was specifically trained for, but Miles knew that he should keep trying and he would be rewarded! All that being said, I still don’t know how he did what he did. Miles is a very smart and amazing dog!)
Miles is Jake’s hero everyday, but especially on days like August 11, 2009, where he was both a professional golfer magnet and a locksmith all rolled into one big furry, lovable man’s best friend! "
To read more about Jake's adventures with Miles visit their website.