Spirit presents the sweetest face. A 6-month-old mix between a golden Labrador retriever and maybe a dachshund, this miniature version of a lab is a nice size.
But she won't share that sweet face with a stranger on the Bentonville square quite yet. She's in the zone. So is Brittany Vandevort, her 16-year-old trainer.
Spirit has learned to sit and stay, and when a stranger approaches, that's just what she does -- with no aggression. Vandevort, seemingly without thought, offers Spirit a treat for this good behavior.
But once Vandevort says OK, Spirit will jump in that stranger's lap and shower him with puppy dog kisses.
Spirit is a puppy in training for Soldier On Service Dogs, based in Fayetteville. Vandevort will raise and train the dog for about one year "or until she's no longer a puppy," said Angie Pratt, president and executive director of Solider On Service Dogs.
"As a puppy, she normally welcomes strangers," Vandevort explained one day last month. She brought Spirit -- complete with a too-big Soldier On vest -- to the square for training. "But she's starting to do her job. She stands in front of me and tries to protect me. She also really likes people, and it's a benefit for her to be with other people."