The newest addition to the Washington Capitals organization has been creating smiles and melting hearts since his arrival on October 5. We’re talking about Captain, the Capitals’ team dog and veteran service-dog-in-training. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Della Young takes a look back on Captain’s first month with the Capitals and notable moments in his training, and speaks with Captain’s handler, Deana Stone on training Captain and his accomplishments thus far.
Rock the Red Carpet Debut
Fans were introduced to Captain during the Rock the Red Carpet event on October 5 prior to the Capitals’ Home Opener against the Carolina Hurricanes, making his first appearance with Capitals’ team captain Alex Ovechkin and attending his first game that evening.
Caps Canine Calendar Photoshoot
Captain is Mr. Photogenic. The puppy got to take part in the annual “Caps Canine Calendar” photoshoot, which features Capitals players with their own pets and dogs from Homeward Trails Animal Rescue. Captain had another paparazzi experience with goaltender Braden Holtby and had the camera all to himself later on.
Supporting the Nationals
Captain has also supported the Washington Nationals throughout their postseason play and World Series victory. He sported Nationals gear during the month and made little visits to Nationals Park. “Baby Shark” has become the unofficial anthem among Nationals fans; Captain joined in on the fun by dressing up as a “rally shark”. When the Nats visited Capital One Arena, Captain was among the first to greet them upon their arrival.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) November 4, 2019
Hockey Halloween Winner
Each day leading up to the week of Halloween, Captain was dressed up in different costumes such as a “pawlice man”, Olaf from Disney’s Frozen, and the Avengers‘ Captain America. His costume appearances were so impressive, that he was deemed the “winner” of Halloween by the NHL and ESPN.
— NHL (@NHL) October 29, 2019
Shut it down. The @Capitals‘ puppy just won Halloween 🎃
— ESPN (@espn) October 30, 2019
Future Service Dog
Captain has definitely had a fun time in just his first month with the Capitals. However, being a part of America’s VetDogs program, an important quality of Captain is his 16-month training to become a service dog for a veteran or first responder with disabilities. Once Captain’s basic training is finished with the team, he will go back to America’s VetDogs, a non-profit organization based in Smithtown, New York, for a few months of final preparations before becoming an official service dog.
On October 15, Captain met with local first responders and law enforcement during a Capitals practice. This encounter helped Captain in his socialization and connection with such personnel for the future. He also visited the first responders of D.C. Fire and EMS on November 5.
— Captain (@CapsPup) November 5, 2019
Recently, Captain has been working on name recognition with eye contact and focusing on his handler, Deana Stone. This is an important characteristic of a service dog, who must establish a connection with their handler.
Class was also in session! The Capitals’ team puppy trained with fellow furry friends from America’s VetDogs and the Guide Dog Foundation at Medstar Capitals Iceplex. The mission of “puppy school” is to get the dog comfortable and excited and enjoy the overall experience. In the first class, puppies were getting acquainted with different surfaces.
I had the chance to ask a few questions to Stone, Captain’s raiser, about the young Labrador’s training and Captain’s personality.
How and who selected Captain for the Capitals?
Based upon his easy-going, yet confident nature, Captain was selected by the America’s VetDogs’ puppy department staff.
Do sports, hockey specifically, play a role in training a future service dog? If so, how?
“I believe the role that the Capitals play in the training is mostly with the exposure to so many new smells, sights, and sounds. This is something Captain would not have experienced being a part of the project. Another great learning element is seeing players in their gear, especially with the helmets on…even though he cannot see their faces at times, it’s no big deal.”
When Captain leaves the team to return to America’s VetDogs, he will be working with various trainers to then be paired with his veteran or first responder. Some Capitals staff members have also been learning how to handle and train Captain. This creates comfort and trust with someone other than Deana for Captain.
How has Captain acclimated to the sights, smells, and sounds, and experience of practices, games, and team functions?
“Captain has acclimated better than imagined to everything he has been exposed to so far!!” Deana says she is very proud of the Caps’ team puppy, who has taken to the environment better than expected. The most important thing for Deana is to ensure he is not overwhelmed. She starts off by having Captain wearing dog-hearing protection at games, but slowly removes them as he gets used to the noise. “I was at a game a few nights ago and he easily slept right through all of the crowd’s cheering,”
What are some of Captain’s unique personality traits that make him different from other dogs you have trained?
“I would have to say that Captain is one of the most affectionate pups I’ve raised so far. He’s silly and so sweet,”
What are a few of Captain’s favorite things like food, TV shows, fun time activities, etc.?
Judging by Captain’s tweets, he really loves the Capitals’ practice rink. Deana agreed that he enjoys playing on the ice at Medstar Iceplex. As for the food at this time, Captain “absolutely loves” eating his dog food kibble.
What has been your favorite part of training Captain?
“My favorite part of training Captain is when I see that he stops and thinks about the things I ask of him”. “I love when he decides to listen to my cue, especially when he might be uncertain if he’s doing it correctly.”
The handlers train their puppies with “positive reinforcement”, which “allows them to make choices (obey and get a reward or choose not to listen which means no reward)”.
Captain has learned the “down” cue and its meaning. When Deana practiced the cue yesterday, Captain would look at her for a few seconds after she said the word “down”. He then slowly started moving his front legs into the down position.
“I could just tell that he was really thinking about it to make sure he understood what I was asking him to do,”
Not only do fans have the opportunity to enjoy Captain’s company and cuteness at practices and other events, but they also get to watch his progression as a future service dog and his growth as a future helper to a first responder or veteran.
By Della Young