Becoming a deputy with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department requires a lot of training and education. That's especially the case with the department's newest recruit who spent the last two years training every single day before becoming Sheriff Scott Goddard's partner in the field - and boy, does he turn heads.
He's blond and he wears a vest and badge like everyone else, but he has two good feet on any other officer at the department. No, he's not tall.
He's a dog.
Lincoln is just a pup, but he's incredibly disciplined, as he should be, spending most of his life training for work with the exception of his first eight months. He was born March 29, 2017, in a caretaker home in Eden Prairie.
“Someone volunteers to take that female and raise and care for her and whelp litters. The sires usually come from outside of our organization,” said Sue Kliewer, Helping Paws client services coordinator and service dog instructor. “The bonus to us to have our own breeding program is we can predict when puppies are going to come into the program. Then we can start their training when they are 8 weeks old. A whole litter literally comes into our program at one time.”
The nonprofit organization deals exclusively in golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers. Their friendly appearances lend themselves well to the Helping Paws focus.
“We used to just place service dogs with people with physical disabilities and our mission statement reflected that, but a few years ago we expanded to placement with people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), so we wanted to make our statement more broad,” Kliewer said. “Now we're placing facility dogs like Lincoln.”
He didn't get a name until he moved into the home of his trainers, Mike and Debbie Hogan, now of Minnetrista. All Lincoln's siblings were also named "L" names as a part of Helping Paws' policy. With the Hogans, he would be molded and tested to see if he would be the right dog for the job. Ultimately, Lincoln proved to be perfect for his eventual career.
“One of the things that's nice about the job Lincoln's going into as a facility dog is that Lincoln is pretty laid back,” Kliewer said. “That's one of the things that suits him well. He has a good temperament for this type of work. Scott wants to use him with children in the community and people coming in to do interviews after perhaps being a victim or witness to a crime. Young people who have been traumatized. They want a dog that's pretty gentle, pretty laid back and is totally comfortable being in that environment without getting stressed. That's pretty much Lincoln to a T.”
The presence of a dog can have a calming effect that is helpful in traumatic or stressful situations because having a dog present can decrease stress hormones and increase pleasure hormones. In a courtroom or after a traumatic event, that means helping children or victims to calm down so they can answer questions. At a traumatic event, that means helping victims to recover.
Lincoln was enthusiastic about learning to work and intelligent as well. Equally important, he has always been affectionate and mild-mannered for a puppy.
“He's happy to have work, but also happy to chill out and just be there,” Kliewer said.
The Hogans are part of Helping Paws' volunteer training group. Trainers meet regularly to receive directions from Helping Paws. Each week the organization assigns new lessons and curriculum to the dog trainers, and every day for that week they work to master commands. On a regular day, that means waking up for a morning walk followed by grooming and then training in 20- to 40-minute sessions throughout the day as appropriate.
“There might be different time frames where you come across certain situations that are a training moment,” Mike Hogan said. “You don't want them getting into the dishwasher, so you make them sit and drop and stay. Then you go to the dishwasher so they won't get into it. They aren't allowed to have any table food, so you keep them off counters and out of the dishwasher and things like that. “
Because dogs like Lincoln have to interact with many people in many environments, training spills into the public sphere as well.
“When they are very young you want to be socialized, so you want to get them to be exposed to every type of person from babies to old people to people dressed differently and anything different so they don't come up against something where they are unsure about a person,” Hogan said. “You get them accustomed and socialized to everyone they can, including other dogs and animals.”
There can be challenges in training each dog. With Lincoln, elevators became a surprising challenge. Though he had ridden elevators before, his first trip to the Mall of America caused him to regress briefly.
“We got on an elevator, and we had worked on elevators before, but this one was particularly fast,” Mike said. “It dropped quickly. All of the sudden he got very scared to the point where he wouldn't go up or down stairs or an elevator. We had to go up two floors to the parking ramp where our car was. I had to carry him up two flights of stairs to get to the car because he was so stressed out.”
Retraining took about two months. In addition to elevators, Lincoln may have been too eager to constantly work at different times - calm, but eager to work.
“One of his hardest things to learn was 'Just chill,' you are supposed to lay down and do nothing, like if I was working with him he was supposed to lay down and stay there,” Hogan said.
At any time it could have been possible for Lincoln to wash out of training for health or behavioral reasons. Helping Paws has 60-70 dogs in training at a time, and not all make the cut.
“Less than 50% of the dogs go from being puppies to being placed as service dogs because not all dogs are meant to be service dogs,” Hogan said. “That's why they go through the training - to wean them out.”
Before training was finalized, but after Goddard's references and application had been processed, Kliewer brought Lincoln, still in training, to visit Goddard's office and home to see how he would handle those environments and Goddard's black Lab, Reload. As with all his other lessons, Lincoln did well.
Before Lincoln could officially come back and live with Goddard, however, it was the sheriff's turn to be trained.
“I've been to training throughout the years relating to law enforcement tasks and duties, but it was one of the better trainings I've ever been to,” Goddard said. “The training was for me. He's fully trained. He knows the commands and what he's supposed to do. It was really building that partnership and really bonding.”
Goddard had to learn Lincoln's cues, approximately 60 of them, including cues to turn on lights, open doors and even cuddle or kiss. He also had to learn to see the world from Lincoln's eyes so he could help set Lincoln up for success when they work together. That means being aware of their surroundings, like discarded food, garbage cans and other things that can be tempting and distract Lincoln from his job. He is well trained, but being Goddard's partner, that meant they had to know how to work together.
“It was really building on my ability and comfort level on how I'm supposed to work with him,” Goddard said.
Goddard sees in Lincoln what everyone else saw in Lincoln. He's a very calm dog and very intelligent. He seems to think through commands and challenges and he's eager to work. However, Goddard was delightfully surprised to find out his new partner wasn't all business. When he clocks out, he has a different personality.
“A lot of people would still say he's coming out of a puppy stage,” Goddard said. “You take off his uniform - his backpack and halter - and get home and he truly turns into a puppy again. He'll run around, bark, chase the other dog. It's unique that he's so calm and such a professional demeanor when he's here in the office and representing the office, and when you bring him home he's just like a toddler running around screaming. It amazes me every time we go home.”