Bocker the Labradoodle has many roles: He’s a model, therapy dog and tutor. And owner Marie Shelto (Bocker) says he understands how to behave when doing all of them. When the pup visits a local elementary school, he gives kisses to his students and settles down with his head on the book as a child reads to him. As a model for print and TV ads, he’s adept at learning tricks. And he regularly shows off his smile when he visits hospitals and nursing homes.
“He’s got human eyes,” says Shelto. “There’s just something special about him.” Anyone would have to admit that Bocker does have a pretty impressive resume. In addition to therapy work and making appearances for human and animal charities, he’s been a movie extra, appeared on The View and will represent Labradoodles on Animal Planet’s Dogs 101, which will air on the cable channel in October. And Shelto has even organized a group of other Labradoodle service dogs called Bocker’s Buddies.
Even when he was a puppy, Shelto says Bocker always stood out. He was pensive and quiet among rambunctious littermates at his Virginia breeder. (Shelto and her husband, singer Steve Shelto, sought out a hypoallergenic dog because of his asthma.) At obedience class, Bocker paid close attention to the trainer and seemed to learn faster than his classmates. He quickly got certified through Therapy Dogs International and started visiting people in need of cheer. Even other animals seem to know he’s a gentle presence: He’s friends with cats and has had deer and chipmunks stand just feet away from him.
Bocker also has a special gift for working with kids. He spends three hours a week as a Tail Wagging Tutor in upstate New York, where he listens to children read. Studies have shown reading to dogs helps kids relax and understand what they’re reading. After all, who wouldn’t feel better with a big, fluffy Labradoodle with encouraging eyes by their side?