"A Dog Named Buddy"

This article first appeared in the October 2000 AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission. AKC logo
by Dick Shumer

Most people do not think of Newfoundlands when they think of assistance dogs. Dick Shumer, of Austin, TX shares Buddy’s talents with us.

VN CH Whisperbay's Tejas Compadre, CD, DD, WRD (Buddy) is my second set of legs. I have a disability resulting from severe back injuries and I usually use a cane to walk. In assistance dog terms, Buddy is a "walker" dog.

I have an older dog, Fagin, that I had trained to assist me. Four years ago, I knew I needed to find and train another dog before Fagin retired. After some research, I found a breeder I liked. Buddy was shipped to me when he was 12 weeks old.

Many assistance dogs are trained through organizations, then paired with their human partners. I trained Buddy myself. I evaluated his abilities and strengths at the time and began to train accordingly. He was a very self-confident puppy, full of joy. I used only positive, motivational training. I wanted Buddy to want to work and not be forced to work for me. I wanted Buddy to keep his attention on me at all times so I taught him off-lead heeling before I put a leash on him.

For several years, I trained Buddy to assist me in many ways. Before he was 3 years old, he was certified as an assistance dog. Buddy helps me stand, walk, climb, retrieve things and open doors. He assists me in performing more tasks than could be described. He picks up my cane, finds my glasses and brings them to me. Buddy pulls me out of bed when I have difficulty in rising. He places himself beside the bed, then goes into a "brace". This means that he stiffens his back and leg muscles to prepare to take my weight when I roll onto him. When I'm stable, Buddy gently backs away from the bed. I stand upright by pushing on Buddy's shoulders.

Climbing stairs by myself is nearly impossible. With Buddy, I can negotiate any stairway. Buddy places his front paws on the second step, his hind legs on the floor in a brace. I hold onto the loop on his assistance pack. Buddy stands in the brace position until I negotiate the first step. Buddy repeats this procedure until we reach the top.

I occasionally have severe muscle cramps which cause me to fall. Buddy is trained to crawl underneath me until my weight is on top of his shoulders and then lift me up. He carries me on his back until he finds a chair or some other support for me. He will stand sideways to the chair and roll me over on it, using his front paws to straighten me until the spasms subside.

Buddy pulls a wooden cart to the grocery store while I walk beside him. If I become tired and cannot walk home, I sit in the cart and Buddy pulls me, responding to my voice commands.

Buddy and I compete in NCA working events and belong to a local carting club. I trained Buddy for these activities because I love the water and hiking. Draft and water rescue training were essential to Buddy's assistance dog training as they strengthened the bond between us. Club members who are disabled comment that they would like to work their dogs in draft or water but have been afraid to try. I always encourage them, regardless of their disability.

Buddy thinks for himself. My retired dog, Fagin, now has problems getting up. After watching my wife help the old fellow to his feet, Buddy now goes to Fagin and helps him. Now my retired assistance dog has his own assistance dog!

It's hard to go out in public when you can't walk well and sometimes fall. It gives me confidence to know Buddy is by my side, taking care of me and keeping me from falling. Buddy is always happy, and he and I take delight in his favorite command, "Buddy hug". When I say this to him, Buddy stands on his hind legs, places his paws on my shoulders and gives me a big hug.

When his assistance pack comes off, Buddy becomes as silly as a puppy. He races around the backyard with my grandchildren and plays with Fagin. I look forward to many years of Buddy’s companionship and care. I love and respect this confident young guy. He is truly my best friend; he's my Buddy. – D.S.