Met Working Golden Retriever – American Kennel Club
The 2021 Met Gala was the fashion event of the year, but looking from behind the celebrities, a golden lady stole the show. Vail, a five-year-old Golden Retriever, is a working dog at the Met and has been seen in the background in many photos of the night. Vail captivated dog lovers around the world who wanted to learn more about this mysterious dog visible in the background.
MSA Security, the company that trained and placed Vail at the Met, produces dogs that detect potential threats and explosives at major events and locations to keep the public safe.
Michael Wynn, director of canine training at MSA Security, explains that the organization has nearly 700 teams of dogs and handlers working at sites across the country.
Vail has worked for MSA Security for three years and is the primary dog ââassigned to the Met, but there are half a dozen more dogs who join Vail when they host a large event where multiple dogs are needed, or when Vail continues on vacation.
Vail, like many other dogs working for MSA Security, was born and raised for work, but not necessarily for this specific job. Vail is what is called a “career change” dog. Its initial training was carried out by the organization of assistance dogs canine companions, which provides assistance dogs to people with disabilities across the country.
Wynn explains that they enjoy working with these career-changed dogs due to the extensive training these dogs receive as young as 7 weeks old. This basic initial training is invaluable for a dog who will be working at one of New York’s greatest cultural / tourist attractions.
âThe Assistance Dog Organization provides us with environmentally friendly dogs to work in places like the Met,â says Wynn. âLarge metropolitan areas that have big rooms with a lot of people and a lot of noise so that’s perfect for what would happen to vail as a complement to the security team there.â
Vail’s trainers at Canine Companions felt that she was too distracted for the job of guiding and her innate curiosity was also a challenge for the job they needed from her. However, the exact same behaviors make her ideal for a different type of job. âAnytime they’re very curious and using their noses, that’s why we’re looking to make them part of the MSA working dog team,â Wynn explained.
Why Golden Retrievers?
Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular dogs in the United States, and they are Wynn’s favorite when it comes to finding dogs to train at MSA. The temperament of the breed is particularly attractive. Specifically, their motivation to work coupled with their playful, relaxed and social nature makes them ideal for interacting with the public.
MSA typically works with sporting breeds including Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shorthaired Pointers for different types of work. For a place like the Met and other entertainment and sports venues, Wynn notes that Golden Retrievers like Vail are often suitable both because they excel at work and their friendly nature puts the audience at ease.
Vail’s training began at the age of 8 weeks. Although she had not yet changed careers, the basics she had learned to become a service dog were essential in preparing her for the job she would later have as a working dog at the Met.
Wynn noted that things like early socialization, intentional exposure to different environments, and having good social skills with others are central to what helps make a great working dog later on. After changing careers after leaving Canine Companions in California, Vail went to MSA’s main training center in Windsor, Connecticut.
Dogs like Vail spend 60-90 days in additional training before being paired with their handlers, then receive 15 days of on-site training at their new workplace. MSA working dogs are trained using positive reinforcement based training and the dog’s preferences dictate what their rewards will be. Wynn noted that Vail is very motivated by food, so for her “it became the main reward, then followed by praise and play” from the manager. Even after training, the rewards don’t stop! On the job, dogs like Vail continue to be rewarded with treats, praise, and affection.
Interact with visitors
If you happen to be in New York City and visiting the Met, you might just see Vail! Unlike a service dog who should be completely ignored while working, Wynn explained that his working dogs can interact with the public. “The dog wants to stay social, and we want the dog to stay social.” He explained that it was okay for members of the public visiting the Met to approach a handler and ask if he’s okay with greeting the dog. The handler will then determine if his dog is actively working at that time to determine if it is the right time for his dog to interact with visitors.
Vail’s Work-Life Balance
When Vail isn’t working at the Met, she lives at home with her teacher Michael Lynch. âMSA is unique in that it provides a single manager, single use system,â says Wynn.
The heart of MSA’s approach is that dogs build a strong working relationship with a handler and spend their time off at home with that handler. âWe want the dog to move out of the work environment into a social and relaxing environment at home. It’s about playing, exercising and spending some quiet time with the family before resting at nightâ¦ If you think about what people do, they work long days, then they want to be. relax before returning to work.
This routine is ideal for Vail. âVail is very work-oriented. She loves coming to work and enjoys doing her job very much, âexplains Lynch. When Vail isn’t working she likes to play with great chew toys, and she “loves being outdoors, hiking and running around a river and lake near her house.”
In addition, she likes to train on her days off to keep up to date with her work. For Vail, going to work is a lot of fun, Lynch notes that “Vail’s favorite part about working at the Met is it’s like a big family.”