Saturday, December 20, 2008

News: ADA Revisions Possibly Delayed

The ADA revisions signed into law last September by President George W. Bush scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2009 may be delayed due to disagreements in the EEOC. See my previous post on the changes that effect service dogs and their partners.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Task Training: Emergency phone retrieve

Retrieving or the ability of a dog to take, hold and carry items in them mouth is the core for many of the common tasks service dogs perform for their disabled partners. A dog does not need to be a natural retriever to be able to do this, but it does help. While an emergency phone retrieve sounds simple enough on it's surface, one must be careful to train each part of the behavior in turn and avoid lumping steps together

Behaviors Needed for Emergency Phone Retrieve:

1. The dog must learn to take items of a variety of size, textures, shapes and weight in it's mouth gently.Tip: Some people inadvertently poison this behavior in their puppies by disciplining their pups for having valued human objects in their mouths. If your pup is playing with your shoes, remote control, mail, or whatever calmly trade them for something they can have and reward them for relinquishing treasured items. There are many ways to teach your dog to take items:
Capturing- waiting for you dog to do something naturally and rewarding them for the behavior. This is a great a way to train behaviors since it requires the dog to think about the thing it was doing when you clicked and repeat it. This cements behaviors very well with dogs. The down fall of this method is it requires humans to be very patient and avoid giving and cues (vocal or body) that the dog might misinterpret for a cue for another behavior.
Shaping (Video not captioned)- rewarding dogs for increments of the desired behavior. In this case taking an an item in its mouth. This is a great method for a dog that is not a natural retriever, like Shilo, to take items in their mouths. This methods you must meet the dog where they are and build the behavior. Pick an object- a 12" one inch (or smaller) piece of PVC pipe works great because it's lite, long enough for the dog to put its mouth on it and you to keep a hold of it, and its made of plastic. Many of the items we ask service dogs to retrieve are made of plastic, so this is a good tool to get them accustomed to the taste and texture of plastic while learning to firmly but gently hold these objects in their mouths.
2. The dog hold learn to hold on to the object for varying amounts of time with out beginning to chew on the item. The trainer would want to end the behavior behavior before the dog drops the item or takes it away to play with it. If your dog only wants to hold the item for a second then meet them there and click when they grip the item. Do this several times then begin lengthening the hold by seconds each time. It will take a while to get a dog reliably holding things for durations on a minute or more, but the slow work will lead to a dog who can reliably hold delicate cell phones, credit cards, and medication bottles.
3. The dog must learn to relinquish the items when asked. Unless the dog have been previously taught to play keep away, or that relinquishing items to humans means they never see it again, dogs usually learn to give an item to hand pretty easily. This is true when using clicker training because the dog will automatically let go of the item in order to get the treat. So you can click for the hold say give and hand over the treat. You can also work on this specifically by asking your dog to let go/ give you a favored toy. You can go over (or call your dog) and say you cue word and show the treat. The dog will want the treat and give you the toy. You will want to stop showing the treat after the first few repetitions, but you will want to continue to reward for the toy at 100% for a while. When the dog is eagerly giving you the toy for the treat you will want to start randomizing when the dog gets a treat and maybe return the toy to the dog and invite them to play as a reward. This way the dog learns that giving something to you doesn't mean they never get it back. This is very important in case the dog has something truly dangerous and you need to get it from them in a hurry.
Here is a video on teaching these first three above steps Pickup and Give Back: Training to Touch, Mouth, Take, Hold.

4. The dog will need to learn that it can walk and hold on to the item. Some dogs will do this naturally;however, dogs who are not naturals may need to learn they can walk and hold onto the item at the same time. Neither of my service dog have been naturals at this. They would rather leave the item an move freely. This is a behavior that could be captured but it may take the dog a long time to figure out what exactly it was doing when it got clicked. Shaping may work better in this instance. Teach aa good hold then take a step from your dog, most will take a step toward you so they will be in optimum treat receiving range and continue adding steps.
5. The dog needs to have a recall so he will bring the item back to you from a distance.
6. If your phone is on a counter, table or wall mount that is not with the dog's reach with four on the floor, you will want to teach your dog to do a "paws-up" to be able to reach the object. Teaching a dog to paws up should be done on purpose because you don't want you dog to figure out it can counter/table cruise for goodies. Take care to make sure to keep you counters and tables clear while teaching and proofing this.
7. Your dog will need to learn to go a way from you to get the phone. (Make an already long behavior chain easier on you dog by designating a specific phone the emergency phone and ensuring it is always in the same spot when you dog goes to get it.This will also give you piece of mind that you know where the phone is and how long it should take your dog to come back to you with it.) Gradually increase the distance you are away from the phone when you give the cue. Make sure the dog can get the phone and bring it back to you from every room in the house. When the dog can do this on a random reinforcement schedule, go back to being next to the phone and sit on the floor. This changes the dogs picture of what is going on and may confuse some when the dog can handle you sitting on the floor, switch to lying down, sitting on furniture, climb in the shower, ect. Most dogs will take you being oin the floor as a cause for concern or invitation to play, so do not skip the step of asking them to perform the behavior with you in various positions your life could depend on them associating you on the floor with a need for the phone one day.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Let It Snow!

Shilo wanted to share her first experience with snow here with everyone. Some people think my life as a service dog is all work and no play, well that couldn't be further from the truth! Though, mom says we can't go to the dog park today because the car is buried in snow. Mom also, says to tell you to forgive the video quality, since it's her first try.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

News: Working a Service Dog in D.C. Need a cab... Don't hold your breath

In the article, On D.C.'s Streets, Blind Injustice, the Washington Post shines a light on the problem of catching a taxi in D.C. as a disabled person partnered with a service dog. I can relate to Mr. Kelley's frustration as I have had some of worst experiences traveling with a service dog in the D.C. area. Let me share with you a few examples of my time in our nation's capital.

Incident No. 1

I was staying working a huge conference and attending some meetings and I needed a taxi to get where I was going. Now as the article points out I am a double whammy when it comes to getting a cab in D.C.. Not only am I a person partnered with a service dog but I use a manual wheelchair. Therefore, I decided to call ahead for a taxi. I will never forget the more than 20-minute argument I had with the dispatch. It went like this:

Me:Hi, My name is Melissa Mitchell, I would like a taxi in a half an hour to go to ABC address. I would like you to tell the driver I am in a manual wheelchair that folds up and I will have a service dog with me.

Dispatcher: Is it a Guide Dog?

Me: No, it's a service dog.

Dispatcher: Is it a Guide Dog?

Me: No, I use a wheelchair. The dog is trained to provide mobility assistance.

Dispatcher: Is it a Guide Dog?

Me. No, it is a service dog as defined by the ADA. He provides assistance to me with my disability.

Dispatcher: (everyone together now) Is it a Guide Dog.

Me: Look, my dog is a service dog and I am allowed to have him accompany me. You cannot refuse to transport me or him. Now I need a taxi to go to ABC address.

Dispatcher:I'm not sure.

Me: Well, I am. My dog is service dog as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I only called so I would have a cab for sure.

Dispatcher: Your cab number is 1234.

I was already exhausted and my day hadn't even started yet!

Incident NO. 2

The second time happened while I was traveling with my boss to D.C. on business through Dulles International Airport. We managed to get there on time, gather all of our luggage and get in the taxi line. The man in charge of the taxi line is supposed take your name and ensure that both passengers and drivers get passengers in the order they came, preventing issues over who gets what taxi and cherry picking of customers. Well, we got on the list and the taxi man asked us to stand and wait in a specific spot. We did as we were told. We stood there a good 20 minutes watching people who came after us get in cabs and ride away. Finally, we thought there was something strange going on, so we went back up to the taxi guy and asked why people who came after us had gotten cabs before us. He says "I called an access cab." We said, "we did not ask for one, but since you called how long will it be?" He says, "Oh only another hour." We could not wait for and hour and a half and demanded to be put in the first available cab. Well, he was amiable. We told him that he should ask people whether they need and access cab and how long they would be waiting. We then set about getting in to a regular cab. This turned out to be easier said than done. The first cab who pulled up got out and said he could not take the dog because he was Muslim and had a copy of the Koran in the car. Not wanting to be culturally insensitive, we let him take the next person. The next cab cam up and said he did not want to take the dog and since it was okay for the previous guy, should be okay for him too. At this point we have been trying to get a cab for about 40 minutes! We were more than a little annoyed. Then a third taxi driver gets out of his cab and starts arguing with the second that he should take us and stop holding up the the line! We actually ended up going with the third driver because the taxi line guy sent the second driver away with no passengers for breaking protocol.

Tips for Taking Taxis with a Service Dog
  • Teach your service dog to sit/ lie on the floor in both the front and back seat foot space
  • Make sure you keep your dog's head oriented away from the driver
  • Do not allow your dog to eat or sniff in the cab
  • If your dog becomes ill... take care if it. I cannot tell you how many drivers made me swear my service dog would not vomit or eliminate in the cab before taking us, stating that dogs had done these thing in the past and the owners had left the driver to clean it up!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Note: New Links added!

If you never look to the right of the entries on this blog, you are missing a wealth of resources!
I have added:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gifts Service Dog Partners and their Service Dog will love

No matter what holiday puts you in the festive mood, getting the right gift for your four-legged companion can boggle the mind. This can be especially true for the friends and family who may want to thank your service dog for the service and energy they have brought into your life.


(Be observant of the kinds of treats they give their dogs. What may be a perfectly fine treat for one dog may be asking for trouble with the next. Be mindful of allergies and chewing styles.)
  • Pig Ears
  • Bully sticks
  • Training treats selection (remember to avoid one with ingredients of wheat, corn, or soy as these comprise some of the top allergies in dogs)
  • Nylabone Edibles
  • Greenies
Training Tools and Games:

Videos and Dvds:


  • See My List of Favorite Books to the Left
Gifts for the Service Dog Handler:
  • Gift card to their preferred pet supply store
  • Prepay for their next trip to the groomer
  • Prepay for a well-dog vet visit
  • -Dog First Aid Kit
  • -Doggie Traveler Kit (I have one of these and love it. I just switched the balls out for my dog's favorite toy. It's great to have all your service dog's stuff together and marked when travelling long distance by train, bus or air.)
  • A subscription to their favorite dog magazine or one of these service dog newsletters
  • Pet Passport for keeping those all important records including a current picture, vaccination records, health history, and more. I also keep my current rabies certificate, and health certificate in mine!

Monday, December 1, 2008

News:Deck the Halls with Service Dog Safety in Mind

The holiday season is upon us and the frenzy to deck the halls has begun. Before you begin placing all those beautiful babbles read the Holiday Pet Safety List. I must add a decoration known as "Angel Hair" to the list. This fine, beautiful decoration looks like blankets of soft snow and is made from spun glass typically.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shilo and Melissa: Our First Month

Shilo and I have now been together for one month. This month has been interesting to say the least and much different than anything I had expected, in large part due, to changes in my life. The week before I left to train with Shilo I was laid off from my job of four years. I went from know exactly what our life and daily schedule would be to having no idea what we would be doing when we got home. As it turns out, other that the having no pay check part, being unemployed has given us the time to adjust.

Shilo completed her training and is a very skilled girl. However, it can take many months of working together to truly get service dog and partner working in true tandem. These months require both sides to come armed with patience, forgiveness and willingness to meet the other where they are not where one wishes they would be. Shilo was trained to retrieve dropped items, push buttons, take clothes/shoes off, turn lights on/off, open/close doors, and more. However, she has to deal with a human who has had a dog before with whom there is a different set of vocabulary. Almost once a day I ask her to do something with a leftover cue from my first service dog, Bastien. She looks at me like "I have no idea what you want" and sometimes takes a guess. She is also in a completely new environment with all sort of interesting and sometimes scary things. The skateboards that are prevalent in this a college town, had her believing the world was coming to an end for a few days. Skate boards are not something she saw a lot of in the small town she was trained in and when you combine the weird noise, speed, and aggressive posture needed to ride them by humans what dog wouldn't be a little worried? I worked to change her opinion by giving her treats every time we saw a skate board and after a few days she thought nothing of skateboards.
There is also a need to transfer her training to our home environment. For example learning where we keep the emergency phone and bringing it to me anywhere in the house, using enough force to open/close our doors, and identifying the light switches. Summit is but a phone call or email away to assist with this process.

In the last month Shilo and I have been on many outings that will be apart of our life together and each one presents its own opportunity for us to learn about and work with each other. We have been grocery shopping, to the laundromat, out to eat, on job interviews, and to the dog park. We also send regular updates to Summit about or progress. We have to send a report each month during our six month probation period. Many programs have such a probation period to ensure the match is a good one and neither portion of the team (dog or human) shows an inability/unwillingness to meet the demands of the life of a service dog team. There is never a gaurantee when living beings are involved though through experience service dog programs do their best to ensure both dog and human have the training and support they need to function as a team for many years to come.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dean Koontz and Trixie Retired CCI Service Dog

Recently Dean Koontz was a guest on Petlife Radio's show Oh behave. The Koontz's dog Trixie was a retired Canine Companions for Independence Service Dog. She went on to write three books with her master "Life is Good: Lessons in Joyful Living", "Christmas is Good" and "Bliss to You" with all proceeds from the books supporting the work of Trixie's alma mater Canine Companions for Independence. Visitors can also read the archives of Trixie's Monthly Column. Trixie's second career as a columnist goes to show that some dogs just love to work no matter the task at hand.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving: A Time for Family, Friends, Training, and Caution

As many of us prepare to reunited with family and friends this Thanksgiving, it important to prepare our service dogs (and ourselves) for all the temptations, changes in schedule, new people and situations that come with family gatherings. The ASPCA offers these basic safety tips for Thanksgiving. Service dogs and their handlers must think beyond these basics, since these dogs provide valuable service and companionship to their handlers.

Things to consider when deciding whether to include Service Dogs in the Holiday festivities:
  • Is there anyone attending the family festivities who is allergic or afraid of dogs?
  • How has your dog handled such large family gatherings in the past? If Aunt June's little darlings pester the animals relentlessly, your partner may thank you for not subjecting them to the children again this year.
  • Does your having a service dog with you cause arguments, stress and hurt feelings on your or members of the families part? Many people find it hard to accept that a loved one must live with a disability and those things that bring attention to that fact cause them more strife. Still others may be upset that their family member prefers to get assistance from a dog instead of them.
  • Are their other animals living in the house who do not like or who your service dog does not like?

If you have the privilege of holding the festivities at your house:

  • Ensure that your partner has a place to get away from all the hubbub.
  • To ensure no one is feeding your partner yummy (yet possibly sickening) treats to your service dog you might consider employing the umbilical leash method
  • If people must share treats with your service dog have some acceptable treats on hand and consider working on those behaviors that require more than one person to accomplish such as sitting nicely to be petted, maintaining a down stay while people walk over the dog, and taking and delivering and item between two people.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

News: Service Dogs handlers treated like second class citizens at Palin Rally

A group of people with disabilities partnered with service dogs were delayed access to a recent Palin Rally.
"Republican National Committee says because of the dogs it just took some time to get the OK....then they let them right in. Chris Taylor with the RNC says "At this particular venue there was handicap seating available for people in wheelchairs. Thousands of people came out to see Palin with tickets that weren't able to get in but they were able to get in and watch in the overflow seating as well as these people with their dogs."

It would seem actions speak louder than words. If the republican party wants to win the disabled vote denying access to a group of people with dog guides for the blind to a public event like this is far from the right way to go. I, for one, have been to many events like this and access seating usually includes seats for people with other types of disabilities as well. It is unfortunate that the RNC did not ensure their staff were educated about service dogs and people with disabilities' right to access the venue with their dogs immediately.

Questions to Readers:

  • If you are considering a service dog, think about how you would handle a denial of access.
  • If you are partnered with a service dog, have you been denied access? How did you handle it? Any advice for people not yet partnred with dogs?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

News: Veteran Helped by Healing Paws

People with disabilities are a minority that, unfortunately, welcomes new members everyday. Service dogs not only assist people with the physical challenges of life with a disability, from time to time, they can be key to helping people acceptto and adjust their new circumstances . Veterans Helped by Healing Paws share the stories of four veteran/ service dog teams.

Service Dog Programs Working with Veterans:

Friday, November 14, 2008

New: Trimet Will Not Require Service Dogs to Wear Muzzles

Today I received a response from Trimet that they will not require service dogs to wear muzzle " We do not think the ADA would allow it in any event, for the exact reasons you set out in your email." They are also looking into providing more training for their drivers on service animals and the questions they may ask. I sincerely thank Trimet for taking these events seriously and look forward to continuing to use their services.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

News:Trimet Board Member Suggests Punishing all Service Dogs Over the Actions of a Fraud

Trimet Board Member Lynn Lehrback suggests that Trimet require all dogs on transit to be muzzled. While I agree with Lehrback what happened to that Pomeranian was horrific, people with legitimate service dogs should not pay for the sins of people pretending their dogs are service dogs. A muzzle may seem like an easy and simple guarantee that something like this will never happen on Trimet again; however, a muzzle would effective render many service dogs partnered with people with physical disabilities useless. The tasks of retrieving dropped items, opening/closing doors, carrying items, helping people adjust their bodies and more require a service dog to have full use of their mouths. Furthermore, the process of putting on and removing a muzzle would be impossible for people whose disabilities affect hand function. Many of the modifications made to gear for such people would make a muzzle and easily removed puzzle for these smart, problem solving dogs. Trimet and its managers seem to be unaware of the power they have to expose people passing off their pets as service dogs by simply asking three questions according to the DOJ Business Brief:
1. Are you a person with a disability? (though they may not enquire as to the exact nature of the disability)
2. Is that a service animal?
3. What tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

Even if an animal is a legitimate service dog it may be denied access if (1) the animal is out of control and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

Before taking people's independence and punishing innocent dogs, I encourage Trimet and its board to educate their employees about the questions they can and should ask. I also encourage service dog partners to answer these questions as a matter of course and think of it as keeping yourself and your partner safe and able to work freely without worry if that dog is going to attack your service dog.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Online Communities Share Trials, Tribulations, and Success of Life with Service Dogs

(This review will contain only groups which I have experience with and; therefore, know something about the nature of each group.)

For many people working to train their own service dog, some for perhaps the first time, the process can be daunting to say the least. Is my dog appropriate for Service Dog work in temperament and health? What are the things my dog must know? How do I teach these skills? When should I move to the next skill? What do I do if my dog turns out not to be a good candidate for service dog work? What if my dog works great at home but falls apart in public? These and many other questions occupy the daily discussions on many an online group focused on living with working and training service dogs.

Assistance Dogs hosted by Yahoo Groups

This e-mail list was established to talk about topics concerning trained (or in training) assistance dogs that perform tasks to assist a disabled people with their disability. Therefore, guide dogs for those with visual disability, hearing dogs for those with hearing disability and service dogs for all other disabilities are included. Topics about training or using assistance dogs, access issues, legislative or other issues common to assistance dog teams are welcome. This list is moderated by an extremely experienced professional service dog trainer and you must request permission to join the group.

OC-Assist Dogs hosted by Yahoo Groups

Operant Conditioning training, with emphasis on positive reinforcement (clicker training) for Assistance Dogs (Service Dogs) trainers and partners. All discussions are to be related to the above topic, even writing style will reflect positive attitudes and an open atmosphere for sharing ideas related to the subject matter. This list will be good for children, however, in any list, parental guidance is recommended.

Service Dog Central Community Forum
In-depth forum focused on all aspects of living and working with service dogs of all types. The moderators of this forum are comprised of long time partners and trainers of service dog. The forum and its participants focus on positive training techniques.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Retired But Not without New tricks!

Many of you have read about Bastien, my first service dog who retired last year. I thought I would share with you a story about his lastest antics as a retired service dog.
Every evening when mother comes home from work the dogs get a "chewy" otherwise known as a rawhide. The other day Bastien heard mom's car pull into the driveway and promptly ran to where the chewies are stored, grabbed a bunch of chewies, and brought them to the living for the other dogs, then ran back and picked a chewy out for himself!
This story is an excellent example of dogs as anticipatory learners. He put together the event of my mother coming home and getting chewies. He then decided to cut out the middle man so to speak! After all he knows where the chewies are and can get to them, so why not get them himself. What I found most interesting is that he offered the resource to the other dogs first and then got his.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

News: Don't forget to Vote!

There are 56 million people with disabilities living in the USA according to the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). In an article entitled, Record Number of Voters with Disabilities Will Head to Polls, it is estimated 20 million people with disabilities will vote in this this election. I know this is a strong, close knit community can exceed the estimate and have our voices heard on issues important to us such as:

  • The future of Social Security
  • Health care for all
  • Vocational Opportunities
  • Job creation
  • Living minimum wages

If you are or know people with disabilities who need assistance to have their voice heard and vote counted, offer that assistance. Go eith them to the polls, drive people to the polls, maake sure their ballot gets to the drop box in time.

Monday, November 3, 2008

News: Backlash from dog killing on Portland Public Transit

Last week I wrote about the sad incident were a Pomeranian emotional support animal was killed by another none service dog while riding Trimet in Portland, Ore. Today, not one but two articles appear in reaction to the incident Service animal regulation is desperately needed and Take the menagerie off the bus Unfortunately, anyone could have easily predicted the backlash to such a horrific incident involving not one but two non-service dogs calling for national certification and spreading further misinformation.

In Service Animal Regulation Desperately needed the writer makes the following points that are not entirely true:

While it is true there are no federal standards for what training a dog must have to be a service dog, there are standards relating to the behavior of dogs in the community commonly referred to as local and federal animal control laws which if local authorities had the means and money to enforce properly would go a long way to keeping animals who pose a danger to people and other animals out of public spaces. Also, there are standards established by the Service Dog Community that establish minimum standards of behavior and training for service dogs in public. Recent the Department of Justice responded to those who would like to see national certification: "Some commenters proposed behavior or training standards for the Department to adopt in its revised regulation, not only to remain in keeping with the requirement for individual training, but also on the basis that without training standards the public has no way to differentiate between untrained pets and service animals. Because of the variety of individual training that a service animal can receive--from formal licensing at an academy to individual training on how to respond to the onset of medical conditions, such as seizures--the Department is not inclined to establish a standard that all service animals must meet. While the Department does not plan to change the current policy of no formal training or certification requirements, some of the behavioral standards that it has proposed actually relate to suitability for public access, such as being housebroken and under the control of its handler. " The DOJ then went on to "Expressly incorporate the Department’s policy interpretations as outlined in published technical assistance Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals (1996) ( and ADA Business Brief: Service Animals (2002) ( and add that a public accommodation may ask an individual with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises if: (1) The animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it; (2) the animal is not housebroken or the animal’s presence or behavior fundamentally alters the nature of the service the public accommodation provides (e.g., repeated barking during a live performance); or (3) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable modifications. . ."

I would also like to shed some light on why, as I understand it after nearly 10 years as a member of the service dog partner community, the community has not created a national required certification for service dogs.

Outside of obedience the training through to the advanced level, the need to be completely non-agressive, dog traits the make a good service dog vary somewhat on the type of service a dog is trained to provide. There are many examples of the differences in behavior that is acceptable in one type of service dogs and not in another. The most commonly recognized type of service dog, Guide dogs, need to be extremely calm, and focus on the world directly in front of their and their human partner's immediate path. Dogs who have too much energy, want to retrieve everything, or who are too interested in other people may fail to be dog guide; however, some dogs who don't become guides may be picked up by other service dog organizations for the very same traits that caused them to not be suitable guide dogs.

Retrieving is the root skill for many mobility related service dog tasks including opening doors, retrieving drop items, and assisting people with dressing. A dog who has a lot of energy may not make a good guide or mobility dog may just make a great hearing dog. Hearing dogs must have a retrieving drive that they use to discover sounds and return to take their partner to the source of the sound. In a sense they are retrieving their partner and taking them to important sounds. They must also have the energy and drive to respond to sounds anytime day or night making dogs with higher energy reserves and needs attractive candidates. It would be difficult to establish a complete list of behaviors that may be appropriate for a service dog in every possible situation related to the person they are serving. For example many people believe that a dog is not well trained unless it walks in a perfect heel on its master's left side at all time. Does this mean a dog who walks nicely on the right due to its handlers needs is not appropriately trained? To some it might. Some dogs are trained to find the nearest person when their partner is in need of emergency help and, yet some people might say that this dog is not trained because it left its handler. Other dogs may emit a bark on cue to get emergency help and attention for their partner. Is this dog less trained?

There are still more issues involved in national certification including what entity would do the certifying? Would there be a fee associated with certifying and registering service animals? How would this fee affect people with disabilities ability to have the service dogs they need? How often would registered service dog teams need to re-certify to ensure task training and disability status are still met? Who would safeguard people private medical information? Do people really want people medical information to potentially become matters of public record? The issue of National certification is far from a simple thing.
The second article Take the menagerie off the bus blames the Department of Transportation for single handedly opening the door for untrained emotional support animals in public and giving them the same access rights as people with fully trained service dogs. This statement is mistaken on both points. Emotional Support Animals are only currently recognized in two sections of the law The Air Carrier Access and the Fair Housing Act. "'emotional support' animals that are covered under the Air Carrier Access Act, 49 U.S.C. 41705 et seq., and its implementing regulations. 14 CFR 382.7 et seq.; see also 68 FR 24874, 24877 (May 9, 2003) (discussing accommodation of service animals and emotional support animals on air transportation), and that qualify as "assistance animals" under the FHA, but do not qualify as "service animals" under the ADA, " according to the DOJ website. Neither of these regulations give people with emotional support animals the full public access rights guaranteed to people with disabilities covered by the ADA whose service dogs are trained to perform tasks to mitigate their disability.

For more information on the changes to the ADA regarding service dogs visit

Friday, October 31, 2008

Trainings Offer Insight into Service Dog Teams Accessing Public Transit

Many people partnered with service dogs depend on public transportation to participate in the activities of daily life; however, taking buses, door-to-door transit, taxis, subways, and trains requires careful and deliberate training of both the human and canine portions of the team. Easter Seals Project Action training Service Animals and Transit: How to Develop a Working Relationship includes great insights for service dog teams looking to develop a good relationship with their local transportation.

Even if it is not part of a person's regular routine, a service dog should be exposed to as many forms of transportation possible, since it is impossible to know what situations people will encounter while partnered with their service dog. Cars break down, unexpected trips, and changes in schedules can create the need to take a train, plan, bus or other form of transport;therefore it is only fair to prepare your service dog for these eventualities through training of proper behavior for these situation and prior exposure. During my eight year partnership with Bastien we traveled by local bus, long distance bus, subways, commuter trains, Amtrak, ferries, taxi, shuttle buses, rental cars, friends cars, my personal van and airplanes.

Though many of the experiences and behaviors your service dog needs to function during travel are a standard part of a well trained service dog's education there are some circumstances in travel that may require specific behaviors and experiences that generally fall outside this training.

  • Metal detectors
  • Being hand searched
  • Travelling for long distances on the floor in sometimes very small spaces
  • Following a person (not the handler)
  • Obeying basic obedience commands from the person who has their leash
  • Relieving themselves in strange places and surfaces on cue
  • Calm in the presence of unusual/high pitched noises such as the hiss of hydraulics, train whistles, and airplane engines
  • Ramps and wheelchair lifts
  • Feet resting on and/or near them
  • Ability to go under a variety of seats and chairs
  • Ability to follow handlers cues to a specific location
  • Ability to work (on a least basic cues ) on either the left or right side
  • Ability to work in extremely tight spaces

Easter Seals Project Action will host Traveling with Service Animals on November 5, 2008. While the event itself has reached its maximum participants, interested visitors will find some interesting resources on the training page including:

I encourage people unfamiliar with taking public transportation or who need to introduce their service dogs to public transportation to take advantage of the travel training programs offered by many transit authorities.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

News: Small dog dies after attack on Portland, Ore. Transit

Yesterday a Pomeranian emotional support animal was killed by a Rottie Shar-pei mix "with no warning". The owner of the Rottie mix admitted his dog was not a service dog. While Tri-met is investigating the incident the owner of the Rottie Shar-pei mix has been banned from riding the system for 30 days. The problem of people claiming their pets are service animals in order to have them in locations that typically don't allow animals is a growing concern for people with partnered with service dogs and places of public accommodation. Several people in this article complained that is is impossible for businesses to determined what is and isn't a service animal. The keys to defining what is and is not a service animal depend on the person having a disability recognized and covered by the ADA along with the requirements that the animal be individually training to perform tasks that mitigate the person's disability making service animals' purpose a straight forward, what seems to cause the most confusion is the ever-expanding types of disabilities service animals are now being trained to mitigate.

On September 25, 2008 the ADA Amendments Act became law. The amendments include these clarifications on service animals:
"Expressly incorporate the Department’s policy interpretations as outlined in published technical assistance Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals (1996) ( and ADA Business Brief: Service Animals (2002) ( and add that a public accommodation may ask an individual with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises if: (1) The animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it; (2) the animal is not housebroken or the animal’s presence or behavior fundamentally alters the nature of the service the public accommodation provides (e.g., repeated barking during a live performance); or (3) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable modifications;

  • Add that if a place of public accommodation properly excludes a service animal, the public accommodation must give the individual with a disability the opportunity to obtain goods, services, or accommodations without having the service animal on the premises;
  • Add requirements that the work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler’s disability; that a service animal that accompanies an individual with a disability into a place of public accommodation must be individually trained to do work or perform a task, be housebroken, and be under the control of its owner; and that a service animal must have a harness, leash, or other tether;
    Modify the language in § 36.302(c)(2), which currently states, "[n]othing in this part requires a public accommodation to supervise or care for a service animal," to read, "[a] public accommodation is not responsible for caring for or supervising a service animal," and relocate this provision to proposed § 36.302(c)(5). (This proposed language does not require that the person with a disability care for his or her service animal if care can be provided by a family member, friend, attendant, volunteer, or anyone acting on behalf of the person with a disability.)
  • Expressly incorporate the Department’s policy interpretations as outlined in published technical assistance Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals (1996) ( and ADA Business Brief: Service Animals (2002) ( that a public accommodation must not ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability, nor require proof of service animal certification or licensing, but that a public accommodation may ask: (i) If the animal is required because of a disability; and (ii) what work or tasks the animal has been trained to perform;
    Add that individuals with disabilities who are accompanied by service animals may access all areas of a public accommodation where members of the public are allowed to go; and
    Expressly incorporate the Department’s policy interpretations as outlined in published technical assistance Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals (1996) ( and ADA Business Brief: Service Animals (2002) ( and add that a public accommodation must not require an individual with a disability to pay a fee or surcharge, post a deposit, or comply with requirements not generally applicable to other patrons as a condition of permitting a service animal to accompany its handler in a place of public accommodation, even if such deposits are required for pets, and that if a public accommodation normally charges its clients or customers for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal.
  • While the Department does not plan to change the current policy of no formal training or certification requirements, some of the behavioral standards that it has proposed actually relate to suitability for public access, such as being housebroken and under the control of its handler.
  • Hospital and healthcare settings. Public accommodations, including hospitals, must modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability. 28 CFR 36.302(c)(1). The exception to this requirement is if making the modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations. Id. at 36.302(a). The Department generally follows the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the use of service animals in a hospital setting.
    As required by the ADA, a healthcare facility must permit a person with a disability to be accompanied by his or her service animal in all areas of the facility in which that person would otherwise be allowed, with some exceptions. Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted to humans through trauma (bites, scratches, direct contact, arthropod vectors, or aerosols). Although there is no evidence that most service animals pose a significant risk of transmitting infectious agents to humans, animals can serve as a reservoir for a significant number of diseases that could potentially be transmitted to humans in the healthcare setting. A service animal may accompany its owner to such areas as admissions and discharge offices, the emergency room, inpatient and outpatient rooms, examining and diagnostic rooms, clinics, rehabilitation therapy areas, the cafeteria and vending areas, the pharmacy, rest rooms, and all other areas of the facility where visitors are permitted, except those listed below.
    Under the ADA, the only circumstances under which a person with a disability may not be entitled to be accompanied by his or her service animal are those rare circumstances in which it has been determined that the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. A direct threat is defined as a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated or mitigated by a modification of polices, practices, or procedures. Based on CDC guidance, it is generally appropriate to exclude a service animal from areas that require a protected environment, including operating rooms, holding and recovery areas, labor and delivery suites, newborn intensive care nurseries, and sterile processing departments. See Centers for Disease Control, Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities: Recommendations of CDC and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (June 2003), available at"

There are many public places (i.e pet stores, outdoor cafes, and parks) that may allow people to bring their well-behaved pets with them. People taking their pets with them are responsible for ensuring their pets are appropriately behaved, healthy, under their control at all times. Not every animal can handle the pace of public life and the stress caused by the limits it imposes on their behavior. Just because a person wants their pet with them, doesn't mean it is the right thing for their pet. If having your pet with you in public places that permit them is important to you, ensure they have the skills and experiences to fully enjoy and behave appropriately (creating no interference and posing no theat to other people or animals) during these outings before beginning to take them along by working with a skilled trainer (

Service Dog Schools where the handler is the Trainer

In the service dog community it is commonly believed that there are only two ways people get service dogs:

1) Apply to a service dog training organization
2) Train the dog yourself- referred to as owner training

There is actually a third option, tandem training, wherein the person and their dog enter in to training together under the guidance, structure, and experience of the professional program trainers. Both the people and the dogs must apply to the programs and meet the standards for acceptance. People must demonstrate disability related need for a service dog, commitment to the process, and ability to care for the dog. The dogs must pass temperament, health and structure standards set by the program. Tandem training is an excellent option for those wanting to be intimately involved in the training and selection of their service, but may not know exactly how to go about training a service dog. People who participate in a tandem training program also benefit from a well established program, program name recognition, support for any future training and addition tasks, support in selecting candidates, and support in the retirement/successor dog processes.

To Learn more about Tandem Training Programs visit the following organizations:

People who choose this approach avoid many of the pitfalls that can plague well meaning owner trainers such as:

  1. Not knowing what a finished well trained service dog should behave like. Many people who want service dogs may never seen one up close and personal. This makes it impossible to know if what your dog is doing at any given moment is appropriate for a future service dog or not.
  2. The difficulty of proving your dog is trained. By going through an established program you will have the documentation of and your dogs training.
  3. The challenge of choosing the right dog and know when the dog you have may not be suited for the work.
  4. Assistance learning how to teach your dogs the assistance tasks you need.
  5. Finding a training who can work with the limitations imposed by your disability.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween is a great opportunity for Training Potential Service Dogs

Halloween is just around the corner. The costumes, constant flow of new people, and unique objects represent great training opportunities for a potential service dog and their handler. That is if the handler is prepared!

Ideas for Training around Halloween:

Basic Behaviors:

  • Remaining quiet when someone knocks on the door or rings the door bell
  • Not rushing the door when it is opened (otherwise known as the Wait cue)
  • Greeting a friendly stranger appropriately such as maintaining a sit or down to be petted. Note: the petting must stop the instant the dog breaks the desired position.
  • Reward calm behavior around strange things i.e. costumes, decorations, noises
  • Calmly walking through crowds
  • Check it out- a wonderfully helpful cue that encourages dogs to investigate new and strange things thereby building confidence.
  • Go to bed- send the dog to a predetermined spot before you open the door
  • Stay
  • Loose Leash walking

Advanced Service Dog Training

Choose behavior that are relevant to your disability related needs. Below are a few ideas.

  • Tug the door open upon request (have you dog on leash in case they open the door while you are distracted)
  • Close the door when asked
  • Carry a basket of candy around to guests
  • Alert you to people knocking on the door
  • Leave it (for those really tempting dropped goodies)
  • Counter retrieves (if you trick or treat in malls)
  • Retrieving requested items
  • Finding the car
  • Finding a specific person for you in a crowd

Remember quality learning only takes place when all parties are engaged and patient. When either party become overwhelmed, frustrated or tired it is best to stop the session. If all you and or your potential service dog can manage is minute bursts, that's fine. In between those bursts you can place you dog in a safe place where it can rest (and so can you) like its crate, another room, the car, a tie down within your site, an ex-pen or behind another barrier. When you both are ready again go for it! Try to end each burst, however long, on a moment of success. As they say, "Always leave them wanting more."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Patricia McConnell's Blog- a wealth of information for all who live and work with dogs

Patricia McConnell, PhD and renowned animal behaviorist recently began keeping a blog The Other End of the Leash. Her blog is bursting with information on living with, loving and learning about dogs. She often poses questions to her readers to get them further thing about the topics of the post. Some of the topics she regularly posts on include:
  • Border Collies
  • Dogs and Sound
  • Food and Dogs
  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Playing with dogs

I for one will be reading this blog! I hope it makes it onto your Internet favorites too!

Friday, October 24, 2008

News: Robots inspired by Service Dogs

In a world dominated by machines it comes as no surprise that the Georgia Institute of Technology has come up with a robot capable of performing some of the skills regularly performed by a service dog for their partner. This concept of machines and gadgets to assist people with disabilities is nothing new. Choosing how a person will negotiate the world with a disability is a second by second decision of how best to accomplish the task at hand. Should the person attempt to open the door by themselves (even if doing so may mean they used vast amounts of energy, or risk falling), wait for a person to open the door for them, install an expensive door opener, or rely on their ever-ready service dog to open the door with them. Should a person with balance and strength related issues with their disability use crutches, canes, walkers, a manual wheelchair, a power wheelchair, walk with the assistance of a trusted friend or family member, or use a well-trained and ever ready balance service dog. These are only two examples of the choices people with disabilities make every second of everyday.

Service dogs are living, sentient beings that provide more than a means of accomplishing the task at hand. Recently, at the Summit Assistance Dogs annual graduation one of the recipients of a service dog summed up some of the reasons people choose to partner with service dogs, "All my life I have had to depend on other people and tools to accomplish the things I want. All of these people and things have meant that people my own age often stay away and I have felt dependant. Now with my service dog I have someone who can not only help me do thing, but who needs me as well. My dog also helps people have something that does not make them worried about saying something wrong to talk to me about."

These robots are simply another option for people with disabilities living a world built for people who don't yet know what it is like to want to go into their neighborhood hangout out only to be confronts by an impossibly steep flight of stairs, or to decide whether to spend their limited energy on taking a shower or fixing breakfast. A robot may be able to open the door, bring you things, turn on the light, and other tasks, however a robot cannot change the way it does these tasks on a moment by moment basis to respond to a change in level of disability or provide joy and comfort.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Team Training: Round Two Day Six

Today Shilo and I went out just the two of us for the first time! I can't believe how much I have missed having options for how to interact with the world! Shilo and I went out to brunch and she impressed everyone with how quietly she rested under the table with her head on my feet. After brunch we went to the used bookstore where we hit the dog section and got a chance to work a counter retrieve. Next we hit this fabulous little candy shop where I stocked up on their great dark chocolate and Shilo had the opportunity to retrieve my bank card and open a door. Shilo's ability to do all these tasks increased the distance I was able to wheel by allowing me to use my energy elusively on that rather than straining to pull open heavy glass doors, maintain my shaky balance when reaching for things and allowing me to feel more secure because while she is retrieving things I am able to keep an eye on my surroundings. I am excited to continue to work with Shilo and see our partnership.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Team Training: Round Two Day Five

Thursday we took Shilo to the store in the morning and did, indeed, get a much better performance from her on all of the same skills. We then worked on our own in the afternoon. The transition has been very draining physically and emotionally on us all. Shilo and I napped for quite some time after our return from the Safeway outing. I decided after we had both rested not to go out on our own as I had planned with Sue. Instead, I worked all of our skills in and around the hotel. We worked on light switches, pushing drawers and things closed, retrieving items, holding and carry items, counter retrieves, and opening doors.

She impressed the hotel staff by taking the spare key from me and with it in her more doing a paws up on the counter and gently delivering the key with out so much as a tooth mark. She then took a bag of cookies from the staff, got down and handed them to me. My girl is coming along!

Team Training: Round Two Day Five

Today Shilo and I went to the local mall with trainer, Wendy, to take our Public Access Test. Yesterday Sue and I spoke about this and whether or not Wendy would include the task performance portion that Summit adds to the test. I was so impressed by what Shilo and I had already accomplished during our time together, I lobbied to have the task portion included. I am pleased to report we passed and Shilo handled to mall environment for two hours giving no signs of shutting down.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Team Training: Round Two Day Four

Yesterday afternoon Shilo, Sue and I took our training on the road to the local Safeway store. While they do train with the dogs in public this store is not a part of Sue's regular stomping grounds as she lives outside of Anacortes making the environment new for everyone. Well new and unfamiliar does bring out new and unfamiliar situations. Sue wanted to get some photos of Shilo and I working in public so she had also invited a volunteer, Jan, who is a puppy raiser and photographer for Summit. Shilo knows her training and wants to do her best, but the combination of being in a new environment and being torn between listening to her trainer or her new handler pushed her to the verge of a shutdown-- not doing anything at all. She began to exhibit sign of stress and displacement behaviors (her defaults are scratching, looking anywhere but to the trainer,and freezing). I quickly asked her for some simple behaviors that I could reward her for and redirect her from the stress of being unsure about picking up the keys that had fallen near the base of the freezer case. After a few quick sits and downs with reward I was able to redirect Shilo to the keys and she got them! We were then able to get her to perform some more difficult behaviors such as a counter retrieve, carrying an item for a distance while walking with me, and opening a freezer door. We were in the store for about a half an hour but it was clear Shilo had given all she had on this outing. I talked to Sue about going to the store in morning tomorrow as Shilo is definitely a morning girl.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Team Training: Round Two Day Three

Shilo and I are giving team training all we both have. The trainers at Summit are challenging us both with the expectation that we, as a team, will rise to every task put before us. Over the last two days we have succeed, stumbled, celebrated, learned, and been somewhat overwhelmed. Sue has been systematically introducing me to each of Shilo's cues followed by numerous opportunities for me to have her perform each one. While it's obvious Shilo and I have a connection, the process of acquiring the shared language and routines that will allow us to become a service dog team is complicated and slow. This eight day team training is just jump start of a process that we will be engaged in for the life of our partnership. Service dogs are sentient beings that give back what we as partners are willing and able to put in. I have to work hard to be realistic with my expectations of Shilo in check. These expectations cannot be low or high. I must meet her where she is and together we have to move forward. A couple of good examples have occurred over the last three days:

  • Shilo is a shepherd mix (probably shepherd cattle dog, but being a stray and rescue, it's anyone's guess). She is also not a natural retriever. Retrieving (or the ability of a dog to take things in their mouth and not shred it) is at the base of many of the tasks service dogs do. She has gone from having no idea why she should pick things up for me to seeking opportunities to retrieve items for me.
  • When I came the beginning of the week I came armed with two toys to help me bond with her through play. Again being a rescue, Shilo has always demonstrated little interest in toys. I introduced her to the stuffed terry cloth piggy by Boda and she immediately began playing with it and loves it. She loves to run around the training center playing with it and me.
  • I mentioned before that Shilo is a soft dog. Today we were out training in a store and it was nearing the end of the day and the trainer and I both noticed Shilo was beginning to shut down. I quickly rewarded her for doing something simple correctly sand was able to get her to happily complete the task of pulling open the freezer door.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Team Training: Round Two Day One

Today Shilo and I started on road to becoming a team. This was a new experience for everyone involved myself, Shilo, and the Summit trainings, because they have truncated the team training since I have had a service dog before. The Summit training are giving me all the information and dog working time they normally have two full weeks to impart. Shilo rememer me from our previous two meetings and came running as soon as she heard my voice in the training center. All of the training repeated remarked that they had never seen a dog bond with someone as fast as Shilo has taken to me. That does not mean she automatically does everything I ask, however. We may be meant to be, as in love at first sight, but we still have to learn to speak each other's language. What makes each other tick. Not to mention the things each of us love. We spent the day learning to do the basics together such as sit, down, come, stay and stand. We also learned a couple of new things like how I push my chair and Shilo moving in tandem. Sue, Shilo's Trainer, was impressed at how well Shilo responded to me even though we still are just getting acquainted.

I find Shilo, who is a Shepherd mix, to be a sweet, sensitive, extremely bright girl. She wants to work and do well. She doesn't respond well to frustration on my part, which is there because it is hard to go from a partner of eight years with whom you barely remember when it wasn't fluid to a new, young partner. Shilo needs time, patience, love and care to become the wonderful partner I know she can be.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Update on Fundraising for Shilo

I continue to contact friends and familiy to raise money for my next service dog. I am happy to report some have already come through! Both for my travel to team training and Summit Assistance Dogs.
For Donating to my Fund to attend team training in October, I wish to thank:
-My cousin April for her $100 Donation
-My longtime friend Wayne Terry for his donation of a Large Dog Crate ($100 value)
-Shelley Maynard,Owner of Pewter Rabbit Antiques for her $25 Donation
-Kathleen Ison for her $10 donation
-Olivia Emilia and Rob Harden for their $50 donation
-My longtime friend Anne Hensley for her $50 donation in memeroy of her first SD Andrew
-My longtime friends Pam and Loc Reader for their $100 donation
-My former co-workers at Pierce County Deparment of Emergency Management for their $155 donation.
-My Aunt and Uncle, Steven and Marie McDonald for their $100
-My college internship supervisor Mr. Jim Stevenson and family for their $100
-My Unce Dale McDonald for his $300 donation
-My Grandmother Mary Ellen for her $200
I have saved $100 towards my Team Training costs in October! That brings my total so far to $1390!
To see the break down of the costs associated with team training, please see "Contribute to My Service Dog Fund" on the righthand side of this blog.

Even though Summit Assistance Dogs does not charge for the dog itself, each recipient must be able to attend a team training with their new dog in Anacortes, WA for 8 days days.I am working to save money myself, but I work for a non-profit and I have to take 10 days from work to train and bond with Shilo.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bonding, Playing, and Keeping Training Interesting

As I continue to prepare for Shilo's emminent arrival. I have been going though my books for ideas on how to bond with her. Dogs bond with the people who provide for their basic needs such as:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Limits
  • Safety
  • Play
  • Education
  • Health
  • Grooming

As part of my team training for my new service dog Shilo I will learn all about how to take care of her basic needs; however, it will be up to her and I to define what we enjoy in our downtime. These downtime activities in my experiences often truly cement the bond. These can be simple things like walks, bedtime routines, quiet time together, and grooming. Bonding can occur during games like tug, fetch, hide and seek, and othe activities. Shilo is a rescue and like many strays she seems to have had little experience with toys, yet she loves walks, training and playing with other dogs. I plan to capitalize on her loves by enrolling us in team activities like Rally O (Rally Obedience), taking her to explore the neighborhood in my powerchair, teaching her new games from book I have Beyond Fetch, and building her a group of doggy friends made up of other area service dog teams. No one's life can be all work and no play and that includes service dogs. Many people with disabilities partnered with service dogs struggle to find leisure activites to participate in with their dogs that they are physically able to do. By being able work and play together a service dog and their human partners truly become a team. For more ideas on activies to do with a dog visit

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Preparing for Shilo: 10 Days and Counting

The anticipation is driving me to prepare. I have now been 10 months without a service dog. In that time, I have had to the opportunity to reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of being partnered with a service dog. In my case, I definitly feel the pros outweigh the cons. I am ecstatic about having a partner again. Knowing there will always be someone to help when I fall, drop something, need help with a door, who can help me carry things, and more allows me to live my life much more freely and not depend on other people as much. Right now, I am working feverishly to prepare mentally, emotionally, physically, and materially for Shilo's impending arrival into our household and pack. I am also cramming new cues and definitions (what the dog understands each one to mean) that I need to be able to use them in a clear and consist manner. Many of the cues are the same words I used with my retired service dog, Bastien, but the cues are being used for different behaviors and tasks. Therefore, I struggle with keeping straight what the dog should do with a given cues based on her definitions and the contradictions with my old, tried, and habitual ones. I know once I start working with Shilo and her trainers at Summit new habits and definitions with slowly sink in. Karen Pryor says in her article Clicking is Really for the Birds, "Often dogs fail to respond to a cue not because they are being stubborn, or because they don't know the cue, but because we gave the cue carelessly. With the wrong hand, with another word or two mixed into it, or in a new environment where some aspect of the cue that the dog relied on is changed or missing. If you've been inconsistent, and the dog doesn't always respond even though the behavior itself is well-trained, transferring the cue you've been using to a new cue can help." This type of misunderstanding can be quite common when someone is just getting to know a dog who already has training (as I will be with Shilo). She knows her stuff. During team training I will cement my knowledge of what she has been trained to do based on how my disability, cerebral palsy, affects me and what a dog is capable of doing to assist me physically. For example, when I went for team training round one I had a hard time of it because Bastien worked with many types of cues including voice, hand, body and in some instance environment cues. I found hand, body, and environmental cues to be quite useful in our day to day working mode because some of my cues were so small most people never noticed, which allowed my to stay in better connection with my dog (an he with me) when giving presentations, working in environments that were extremely loud like fairs, airports and train platforms, and conversely extremely quiet environments like movies, shows, and libraries. An example of a example of hand cue he knew was holding my hand flat to receive something retrieved meant "give". An example of a body cue he knew was holding my coat sleeve towards him meant for him to help me tug it off (this is useful when people half limited range of motion as a part of a disability in my experience). Even though Shilo has been trained on vioce cues only, because many people with disabilities could have a difficult time correctly giving hand and/or body signals becuase of the disability; I found myself using these cues out of an eight year habit. I had to keep reminding myself that she didn't know these things. Many experience trainers talk about people using unintentional cues or small movements and/or changes in behavior when asking for a behavior that they are unaware they are doing, a famous example is Clever Hans. Sometimes trainers when working together will ask the other if they were aware they were also doing X thing at the same time or just before they cue a behavior. Dogs have proven to be keen observers of human behavior according to studies like Social learning in dogs: the effect of a human demonstrator on the performance of dogs in a detour task. For some people, like myself, who tend to talk with their hands and bodies this unintentional cuing can be both helpful and an annoyance. The helpful part comes from feeling as though your dog can read your mind and getting things done more quickly. The annoyance comes when you can't figure out why your dog is doing something even though you didn't "ask" for it and you are trying to get them to do a totally different thing. The other annoying part comes in if other cues for the behavior that are still necessary, like a voice cues, start to deteriorate. Knowing all this, I continue to study Shilo's commands and accept that I will make mistakes that may make her think "Geez this human is confusing."

Monday, September 22, 2008

People Claiming Their Dogs are Service Dogs to Take them in Public Beware

Everyday in the service dog community there are discussions of what to do about people who do not have disabilities passing their pets off as Service Dogs. Furthermore, just because a person happens to have a dog, does not automatically make the animal a service dog [See my previous post What is a Service Dog]. The combination of the presence of a disability, the fact that a dog can be trained to mitigate the effects of that disability, and the facts the animal has been individually trained to performs tasks that mitigate that disability are the key elements to defining whether or not a person and animal comprise a working service dog and are protected under the ADA. People buying service dog gear and passing off themselves and their pets as service animals are not only possibly committing federal fraud, they may also be breaking state and local laws. The definition of fraud according to Free is :

fraud n. the intentional use of deceit, a trick or some dishonest means to deprive another of his/her/its money, property or a legal right. A party who has lost something due to fraud is entitled to file a lawsuit for damages against the party acting fraudulently, and the damages may include punitive damages as a punishment or public example due to the malicious nature of the fraud. Quite often there are several persons involved in a scheme to commit fraud and each and all may be liable for the total damages. Inherent in fraud is an unjust advantage over another which injures that person or entity. It includes failing to point out a known mistake in a contract or other writing (such as a deed), or not revealing a fact which he/she has a duty to communicate, such as a survey which shows there are only 10 acres of land being purchased and not 20 as originally understood. Constructive fraud can be proved by a showing of breach of legal duty (like using the trust funds held for another in an investment in one's own business) without direct proof of fraud or fraudulent intent. Extrinsic fraud occurs when deceit is employed to keep someone from exercising a right, such as a fair trial, by hiding evidence or misleading the opposing party in a lawsuit. (See: constructive fraud, extrinsic fraud, intrinsic fraud, fraud in the inducement, fraudulent conveyance) damages). For further reading on fraud see Fraud.

A person claiming their dog is a services dog may also be guilty of Impersonation which is defined as the "The crime of pretending to be another individual in order to deceive others and gain some advantage."

According to a an article in the San Diego Metro News pretending your dog is a service dog when it is not is punishable by up to six month in jail and a $1,000 fine. Dog Bite Law further defines this California statute.

Many people think they are doing no harm by allowing others to believe their pet is a service dog, au contraire, my dear readers. By actively claiming you are a person with a disability when you are not (this is in fact what these people are doing)you:
  • Belittle the daily difficulties people with disabilities live with
  • Confuse the public and business community as to the purpose of a service dog.
  • Trample on a business owner's right to know that the dogs coming in are well trained,healthy, safe and necessary to their valued customers.
  • Endanger people with disabilities with true service dogs, because while you may love your Fido the standard of health care for a service dog are much more stringent than for pets. If a Service dog gets sick, infested with fleas, or any number of common dog maladies, the service dog is less able to work.
  • Weaken the standards for dogs in public opening the doors for people with dogs who may be extremely fearful or aggressive and are prone to behaviors which endanger us all.
  • Force people with real health problems such as severe allergies to share space with animals who are not groomed and bathed regularly to keep allergens to a minimum.

So before you go out and buy (0r make) that vest, collar, or backpack. Think about the repercussions both legally and ethically. Business owners and their employees may ask three questions according to the DOJ Business Brief:

1. Are you a person with a disability? (though they may not enquire as to the exact nature of the disability)

2. Is that a service animal?

3. What tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

Even if an animal is a legitimate service dog it may be denied access if (1) the animal is out of control and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

The most common reasons people pass their pets/dogs off as service animals are:

  • To gain access to a public place or service that does not normally allow pets (i.e. a store, restaurant, bus, train, plane)
  • To avoid paying the fees often associated with owning a pet or bring one with you (i.e. licence fees, transport fees, hotel pet fees)
  • To access services offered to those with service animals (i.e. reduced vet/groomer fees)
  • Because they can
Service dogs are not a perk of having a disability nor are they the latest fashion accessory. They are one of the many tools people with disabilities use to perform the everyday tasks of life just like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, medications, hearing aids, white canes and more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Searching for Gold in California

Katie and her service dog Einstein are on the road this week in Nevada City. They wrote the following for me to share with you:

Here are some suggestions for gold panning with your service dog.First of all please note that all public sites are, well, public. EVERYBODY pans there, so if you come away with a couple of flakes consider yourself lucky. Even the fool's gold is heavily mined, so don't be hopeful for that either. Except for one or two sites none of the areas for public panning are accessible to wheelchairs. Panning takes place in well-bouldered creeks, so if you have mobility issues, bring at least one strong friend along to help you navigate the area. Also bring along plenty of water for yourself, at least one quart for every two hours. That is the minimum I recommend.

Now for the panning process( and maybe some gold). Once you are at the creek pick a spot and park yourself, one place is as good as another. Best time for panning: early spring after the runoff and after a heavy thunderstorm, the rapid flow flushes the gold down. The public panning areas do not allow anything but a pan or your hands, leave the shovel at home. Besides, the silly thing will get in the way while you are slowly making your way to the creek.So, there you are at the creek...preparing to make your fortune... with your ever-ready service dog in tow. Be prepared in advance by making sure your partner has tick repellent on and that you go panning toward the middle of the day, the snakes will be hiding from the heat of the sun. Panning is a wet business, especially if your service happens to like water! Einstein truly appreciated the pan full of water that he could drink out of after the dry, dusty walk up to the river bed. Mind you, he did not much care for the pebbles and sand in the bottom, he cared so little for the debris that he shoved that handy pan right back in the creek to show me how it should be filled for him. He also found it very funny that I should be digging around in the water and being a faithful, trusty, well-trained service dog he helped me dig. I could have sworn German Shepherds did not care for the water...You have options while you pan. Let your partner play in the creek on a long lead. The standard six foot or less leases can be cumbersome, as some of the boulders are two or three feet long and high.

Links about Gold Panning:

Califonia Historic Gold Panning Sites

Gold Panning from a Wheelchair

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Round One:Team Training

Summit is experiencing a unique round of placements this fall two therapy dogs and two successor service dogs. Since therapy dogs teams do not require full public access, nor are the handlers of therapy dogs entitled to full public access, the placement training required is shorter. As for the two of us getting matched with successor dogs, team training for successor placements is usually shorter than for those being matched with a service dog.

This trip covered all the lecture material and some of the group training that is usually covered in the traditional two week training camp. Prior to the day of training Summit sent each person being matched with a dog a binder containing the lecture texts, relevant articles, and a list of commands. By my count Summit service dogs know around 70 commands when they are placed with their new partners. Lecture topics for the day included:

  • The basics of tenets of training
  • A discussion on the merits of classical conditioning
  • The basics of operant conditioning (the primary training approach utilized by Summit trainers)
  • Reading you dog's body language
  • Stress signals in dogs
  • Care and feeding of your new service dog

Since I had to go such a long way for the day's training I resolved to spend as much time getting to know Shilo. The trainers and staff at Summit we kind enough to oblige me. I was even allowed to take shilo for a walk off campus alone! Shilo listens to me quite well when her trainer Sue is either not around or has been off doing other things before I worked with Shilo. Our relationship is still very new and a shepherd's loyalties run deep. If Sue has been working with her or leaves and comes back Shilo still only has eyes for Sue at this point, but there is a glimmer of a relationship already. She is happy to see me, works willingly, and after a bit of time can focus completely on me. I look forward to the second part of our training in October!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Introducing housemates

Today my roommate Leslie, myself and her Guide Dog Cammy drove to Summit headquarters to prepare for tomorrow's team training. I brought Cammy and Leslie so they could have a chance to meet Shilo on neutral ground [See Introducing a New Dog to a Resident Dog Part 1] . I took the chance that Shilo might be at the training center today and stopped by as soon as we got into town. I was pleased to find the a member of Summit staff and Shilo in the office! I asked her if it would be okay for Cammy to come in and meet her soon to be housemate. They took a few minutes to investigate one and other, then the games began! Cammy and Shilo played and played using every bit of space available. I am also please to report Shilo remembered me. I was able to pet her, talk to her and just spend time in her presence today. I look forward to the start training tomorrow and spending more time with her. For more information on the process of Adult Dogs: Adjusting to a New Home.