When Alex Ovechkin scores a goal at Capital One Arena, the cheers are deafening. Now, imagine the local star carrying a 10-week-old puppy down a red carpet to a similar crowd.
At the 2019 season opener on Oct. 5, that’s exactly what happened during the “Rock the Red Carpet” event. Fans instantly fell head over heels for Captain, a yellow Labrador retriever from America’s VetDogs, who would be making appearances at games throughout the season.
A few months later on Jan. 29, Monumental Sports & Entertainment (owners of the Washington Mystics, Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals) announced its first corporate partnership with America’s VetDogs, adopting yet another puppy to be trained as an eventual service dog. Scout just turned 12 weeks old, and will be seen alongside Captain at various sporting events over the next year or so.
Just like professional athletes train to stay in tiptop shape, these pups will too, so we wanted to get the inside scoop on what it takes to train local service dogs, especially those in the spotlight. We caught up with the team of trainers, handlers and employees to find out.
Scout is currently being trained by Hannah Bell and Monica Davis, communications manager and chief administrative officer for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, respectively. Captain is being trained by Deana Stone of America’s VetDogs (questions were answered by Erica Sandidge, marketing coordinator for the Washington Capitals). Find highlights from our conversations below.
If you could describe Captain and Scout’s personalities, what would they be?
ES: Captain is a confident, well-mannered pup, full of life and spunk. From the moment he stepped onto the red carpet in Alex Ovechkin’s arms, he has truly captivated the hearts of fans and players alike. Each player has developed a unique way of bonding with Captain—whether it be playing on the ice, greeting him after practice or chasing him around the locker room. He’s become part of the team both on and off the ice.
HB & MD: Scout is a rapscallion with a knack for adventure with a mischievous spirit.
How long will it take for Captain and Scout to become fully trained service dogs and be assigned to their future partners?
ES: Captain will be socialized with the Capitals until he is about 14 to 16 months old. At that time, he will return to America’s VetDogs to move ahead with his formal training for the next three to four months with a certified service dog instructor. After completion of his training, he will be placed and trained with his veteran.
Scout will be with us (Hannah Bell and Monica Dixon) for 14 to 16 months (just like Captain). Following his training, he will return to New York where he will begin his advanced training with a certified service dog instructor through America’s VetDogs.
What types of commands are Captain and Scout learning?
ES: The primary focus of Captain’s time with the Capitals is working on basic obedience and socialization. The hockey environment exposes Captain to many scenarios that help him learn to interact with people and work on positive behavior skills. Once Captain returns to the VetDogs training facility in New York, he will undergo a comprehensive training program created by VetDogs trainers to learn the four foundations of service dog training tasks: push, tug, brace and retrieval. Once Captain is matched with his veteran or first responder, instructors will customize his training in order to cater to specific client’s needs.
HB & MD: Scout is learning basic commands such as sit, down and quiet. Scout attends puppy training classes once a week with an instructor from VetDogs. Once he receives his 16-week vaccinations, he will start attending puppy training classes with other VetDogs in the area.
What’s the best part about training Captain, Scout and other service dogs like them?
ES: According to Captain’s puppy raiser Deana Stone with America’s VetDogs, the best part about training Captain is seeing his thought process once he is given a command. When a service dog learns a certain skill, it is incredible to recognize how their brain works to react or problem solve on their own.
HB & MD: Seeing Scout interact with people is a lot of fun. He’s an extrovert and attracts attention wherever we go. He’ll be a great companion for a service member one day.
Since he’s still a puppy, does he get time to play?
HB & MD: After a long day at the office, Scout will come home and partake in a round of zoomies, where he runs in frenzied circles around the apartment to exasperate pent-up energy.
If readers should know anything about Captain, Scout and other service dogs, what should it be?
ES: The most important piece of Captain’s story is the mission of America’s VetDogs and the end result of his training. According to Deana Stone, service dogs can give their handlers their life back, truly giving them a new sense of independence to remain grounded in unfamiliar public situations.
HB & MD: Service dogs have different routines and rules than other dogs. Some service dogs aren’t supposed to interact with strangers when they’re on the job. Make sure to ask the owner before approaching a service dog with a vest.
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