The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Photo essay: A day in the life of a service dog in-training

6 min read
A brown and while dog sits in the backseat of a car. He looks very handsome.

The Weekly Ringer / Lauren Albert


Staff Writer

Enzo is my 7-month-old husky German shepherd mix, who is in training to be my service dog but is still very much a puppy. Aside from me going to work and attending classes in person, we spend all day together, so here is a glimpse of what a typical Friday looks like for us.

Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer

Our morning began at 6 a.m. when I took him out for his first walk of the day. We walked for about an hour, in a desperate attempt to tire him out so that I could get some homework done this morning. 

Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer

Towards the end of our walk, we practiced an automatic sit. The name is fairly self-explanatory; it requires Enzo to automatically sit whenever I stop walking. This is one of the most common commands that service dog owners and handlers teach during puppyhood, and it’s an extremely important skill to have because it is how he should behave in public—consider stopping in the supermarket while looking for an item or stopping at a crosswalk before going down a busy street. A service dog should know to stop when their owner stops, since their purpose is to be with them during whatever task, not just when they need active assistance. He did very well, and I stepped out to capture a picture of him. 

After our walk, I fed Enzo breakfast and then prepared a puzzle toy for him. Puzzle toys are designed to enrich dogs’ thinking because they require the dog to solve a puzzle in order to get treats. Enzo and I especially favor these types of toys, as they help with his processing skills for training, and the mental enrichment usually tires him out! He enjoyed his puzzle toy while I tidied up my apartment and got organized for the day.

Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer
Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer

After Enzo finished his puzzle and I got ready for the day, we headed to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee. Enzo has a seatbelt that he wears in the car, which clips to his vest rather than a collar to prevent neck injuries in the event of a collision. It’s also helpful in keeping him aware that he does not need to try and climb up and see me while I am driving.

Enzo came inside Dunkin’ with me, and he was a hit with the staff members. Because he was very taken by the smells of the donuts and the smiles he was getting from employees, I wanted to keep him focused, so I decided not to take pictures, and we were in and out fairly quickly. 

Outings with service dogs in training can be tricky, as they are highly important in getting the dog trained and socialized but can quickly become overstimulating for a puppy of Enzo’s age. To keep our outings productive and positive, I usually leave at the first sign of Enzo becoming unfocused or anxious. 

Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer

After we came home from Dunkin’, Enzo sniffed my coffee as I watched a documentary for one of my sociology classes. I told him he doesn’t need to sniff it, but clearly he disagreed. 

Usually, I take Enzo to the dog park at least once a day so that he can run off-leash to burn up some energy and have “dog time.” “Dog time” refers to a time when he knows he is not working and is free to play with other dogs. Unfortunately for us, the dog park was closed this morning due to rain, so we decided to go to PetSmart for some more training and socializing. 

Safety first! Here’s Enzo on the way to PetSmart demonstrating how his doggy seatbelt is clipped to his vest. | Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer
Practicing a 50-foot seated stay while customers walk around us. | Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer

Oftentimes, people will see me training in public and offer to get out of the way because they don’t want to distract Enzo. However, I readily welcome these distractions, as they are an important part of his public access training. He needs to be able to have people walk by him without reacting. 

Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer

This is Enzo practicing a down stay in close range while I do some shopping for his sister—my cat—Sephora. Typically, this is done with him directly by my side so that he’s not in the way of other shoppers, but I had to step back in order to capture the photo. Ideally, he would be lying parallel to my feet. 

Enzo’s favorite section of the pet store is the fish aisle, so as a reward for his hard work we stopped by to say hello. He really enjoys watching them swim, although the PetSmart employees may not enjoy the nose prints he leaves on the glass. | Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer

After we came back home, we went on another walk. Enzo and I usually walk seven to twelve miles together every day, which we usually break up into two- or three-hour walks. He is a very active mix of two working breeds, so he enjoys the exercise and the structure. People often ask me how I have a husky mix living in my apartment without destroying it, and my answer is very simple: I train and exercise him a LOT!  

All smiles on our walk! I removed his vest and swapped his leash so he would know that I don’t expect him to be working during this walk. | Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer

I live in a neighborhood with lots of children, so I usually do not have his vest on during walks. His vest—like most service dogs’ gear—says “DO NOT PET,” and I don’t want to discourage the children in my neighborhood from asking to say hello when he’s not working. Enzo loves kids, and he needs to be aware of them for his public access training. As long as they ask to pet him, I will always say yes, and he will always happily accept the attention.

After our walk, I rewarded Enzo with a braided bone I bought from the pet store. The bone is a prize for his hard work and also something to keep him busy while I finish up some homework. | Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer

I have a job working as a waitress, so Enzo is kept in his crate while I work. His dog walker is out of town for the weekend, so to prevent him from being in the crate for the duration of my nine-hour shift, I decided to take him to my mom’s house. My mom loves playing “grandma” and spoiling him, and he loves playing with her dogs, so it is a positive situation all around. Additionally, Enzo did not get his “dog time” at the park today since it was closed, so I felt some relief that he could spend some time with my mom’s dogs. 

Having a service dog in training can be tricky to balance work time and playtime. While I intentionally got Enzo to be my service dog prospect, I am also very aware that he is still a puppy and he needs time to be treated as such. Our day today was a pretty even balance of work and play; he spent the first half of the day with me working on training and got to spend the later half of the day just relaxing and being a dog. 

A bonus photo of Enzo enjoying his “dog time.” | Lauren Albert, The Weekly Ringer