Thursday, July 31, 2008

Commentary: Controversy over "Fake" Service Dogs

So I open up my email tonight I find yet another article railing against "fake service dogs". Check your Faux Service Dog at the Door heralds trends we in the service dog community needs to pay attention to. First, the general public and business owner's are getting tired of having to guess is it a service dog or isn't it. The article quotes the owner of a Trader Joe's who hesitates to ask the questions the DOJ says businesses can ask because "people get huffy". To those huffy people I say what did you think was going to happen when you chose to take an animal in public spaces where animals are not allowed normally? Of course you are going to attract attention. I imagine these same huffy people are also the ones who complain the loudest when they spot what they believe to be a faker service animal spying on their dog their dog from the safety of a shopping cart. Or could it be that some of these people can't actually answer the questions because they are not a person with a disability, their dog is not task trained, and is not a service dog. I, for one, have no problem glowing about all the the great things my dog does for me. I am deeply proud of the work we put into training, grooming, and finding the right gear to ensure that we would be welcome no matter where in the world we went.

I also have never understood some people's aversion to outfitting their service dogs in a some sort of identifying gear. The argument that a person doesn't want people to know they have a disability has so many holes in it is not funny. These same people who don't want people to know they have disability should realize that dogs as a regular occurrence of dogs in public is still very uncommon, and this will continue to be the case as long as there are irresponsible dog owners who insist on bringing animals who can't handle the stress of being out in public out. No to mention the problem of stinky dog sydrome. Having a dog in public will always draw attention dressing one's service dog in clean, identifiable gear goes a long way in reducing the number of confrontation encounters with business owner's, store personnel, and the general public. Yes, the argument people can't afford to buy vest or other gear. I have known many crafty people who made their own gear, so it can be done!

The article also proposes that certain breeds of dog be banned from serving as service animals. As a dog lover find it extremely sad that entire breeds (that we humans asre responsible for making what they are) are suffering for the actions of a few. These individual dogs are the result of irresponsible human owners yet no one is talking about passing legistlation to ban these humans from making anymore dogs suffer. The Monthly National Legislation Report keeps tabs on all dog related legislation around the country.

Finally, the article pushes for certicification and registration of all service dogs. I think if owner trainers would train their dogs to adhear to the standards set by the professional service dog training community this seemingly inevitable event will be no problem. The U.S. is the only country that doesnot require certification. It is coming, it is only a matter of when. The proposed rule changes to the ADA foreshadow this, we as an owner training community must in sist on high standards within our own community if we wish to stave ofd this restriction.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Making Ends Meet in a Tough Economy: Financial assistance caring for Service Dogs

Many people with disabilities live on very tight budgets. The current state of the of the economy is making things even tougher. There are resources to assist people partnered with service dogs who are having trouble meeting the care needs of their partner:
Things it doesn't hurt to ask about:
  • Groomer's and vet's provide a discount to service dogs
  • Free food samples (if you need to get by for a short time)
  • A dog friendly friend who may assist you with grooming

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Dog News!

I called Summit last Monday to follow up on the results and decisions from my second assessment visit in June. I spoke with Sue, the head of Summit. Our conversation was very straight forward as it doesn't pay to beat around the bush when you are talking about a life partnership. She and I spoke at great length about the two potential candidates they had paired me with the during my last visit. While she understood my draw towards the bigger of the two for versatility, she and the other trainers really felt that the smaller of the two would be a better match. The smaller dog had had the opportunity in her training to travel extensively (including traveling on a cruise ship) and attended many conventions. She exhibits many more of the personality traits and characteristics , excluding size, that I had said time and time again I needed since beginning this process last November. I assured Sue that if this is the dog they felt was the best match for me and I the best match for her, I would not turn he down simply because of her size. They felt that because I was an experienced handler I would be able to adjust my working style to this extremely intelligent but soft dog.

Definition moment – when people in the animal world say that an animal is “soft” they do not mean the animal is weak or unintelligent. They mean the animal does not do well with repeated or heavy “corrections” and the animal to be at their best need a person who is calm, confident and uses minimal corrections. If you are to harsh, loud, or rely overly on correcting your dog as a means of communication a soft dog will quite simply “shut down” refusing to work further. If the handler continues this loud, heavy handling style a soft dog may begin to show signs of stress and fear. In the worst cases where the dog is repeated forced to work under such conditions the dog may begin to show behaviors such as scratching, shaking, cowering, growling and more to protect themselves from what they see as an unjustified attack on themselves.
Soft dogs matched with a communicative handler who uses minimal correcting, instead preferring to redirect the dog into a more desirable action can often be those dogs we all see who would go to the ends of the Earth for their person and back again.

I met this sweet girl for the first time while I was attending the Puget Sound Assistance Dog Club's Second Annual Conference. Sue was presenting a seminar of temperament testing and service dog candidate select and had chosen to bring along this little shepherd mix as an example of all the things they look for in a service dog candidate. From the minute I saw her I was impressed with this dog's calm, quiet, sweet, yet attentive nature. I even volunteered to be a part of the demonstration, just so I could have a chance to interact with her one on one. She never once showed me anything but what a lovely, soft girl she was. I took detailed not on their selection process and spent the rest of the day interacting with this as yet unmatched dog in little ways where ever I could.
Dogs will chose who they want to work for and I was determined to show this little girl I might the person for her. I am getting a program dog this time because I need a partner who is ready and willing to work from day one. I am in the prime of my life and much as I would love to owner train again, now is not the right time. Apparently, I made quite an impression on Summit's trainers and this little dog, because by last Friday, I had an email with the subject line “Team Training Dates”. The Summit staff have decided that the would like to offer me Shiloh, the small shepherd mix “barring and unforeseen behavior or health problems” as my next partner!!! The email went on to ask if I could attend team training from October 6th - October 19th, 2008. With these dates in hand and dog in mind I must send my fund raising into high gear and make some adjustments to the size and type of gear I will need.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Assessment Round Two: June 2008

On June 5, 2008 I was invited up to Summit for a second assessment for my new service dog. This time they had specific dogs in mind who might be a good match for me. When I got there I was introduced to Brenda, a smooth collie Labrador cross, from Summit's second litter of puppies. She is a big black dog with white markings weighing around 70lbs. I liked her immediately for her size which creates in my mind the potentially for a very versatile partner performing a wide range of tasks. Despite, Bastien being a medium-size boy at 55lbs and 19 inches tall I have always loved big dogs. The bigger the better in my book. I am the only client there with the dogs and three trainers. Brenda's trainer said that I should get acquainted with her by asking her to perform some basic obedience exercises including a recall, sit, down and some loose leash walking. I was allowed to give her treats and they we impressed by my Handi-treat treat dispenser that I had hooked to a lanyard around my neck. I told them I preferred it to other treat pouches because it was easy for me to quickly get treats and -- the best part-- it's thieving tongue proof! I had forgotten my i-click clicker, so I had to use a voice marker to mark correct responses. The common voice markers I have heard include simply clicking with the tongue and the word "yes". I was grateful to hear they used the word "yes" since that is what I am used to using in the absence of a clicker.

I did the same get acquainted routine with the second candidate, a decidedly medium sized shepherd mix who couldn't be more than 50lbs.
Even though both dogs had minimal experience working next to a wheelchair both dogs were quick to pick up my cues and lures to get in them in the proper proximity to my wheelchair. Having trained dogs to walk with me before this was a process I am familiar with where a dog needs to walk when working next to my wheelchair. I also got a chance to ask each dog not to touch food on the floor. Since neither of these dogs knew me, they both attempted to get the food on the first pass by. by the second pass by they both knew I was no sissy and left the food alone. The trainers were impressed with the speed I threw my arm up under the leash I had looped across my chest to prevent Shiloh from getting the food making it impossible for her to reach the food were where inches from. It was the quickest thing I could do that didn't require me to yell. (When working in public with service dogs you want and correction to be swift, quiet, and unmistakable for the dog. The quiet part is important because you never want to draw attention to yourself when you dog is doing something inappropriate.)

After I had worked with both dogs the trainers asked me what I liked about each dog, what I disliked about each one, and if I had any questions about either dog. Then we loaded up and went to work with the dogs some in public access situations, so I could get a feel for how each dog behaved and work in public. We went to a local sporting goods store and strolled the aisles. I also put each of them on a down, walked about 20 feet away then called them to me. Brenda had more specific task training at this point, because they had tried to place her before. Unfortunately, Brenda and that person did not click, so they kept her and continued looking for a person who would be a good match. Therefore, I also asked Brenda to retrieve a set of dropped keys. Brenda showed us two things when we did this:
1. she knew what I wanted her to do. She picked up everything she could find on floor. Except the keys!
2. She didn't like the taste of metal. The keys that had been dropped were the trainer's. Keys and a ring. I threw my personal keys that have a caribbiner and a small bit of fabric and she got them immediately!
Just goes to show dogs no matter how far they are in training can always show something that needs work or may make them unsuitable for service dog work. I was asked again what I liked about each dog, what I didn't, and if I had any questions. As we left they told me to give them a few weeks and follow up with them.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Settling into retirement

As I wait for news of my next dog, I went up to visit my parents this weekend. This of course meant I would see Bastien. Retiring him was, without a doubt, one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. Bastien, being a dog is incapable of lying to spare my feelings. Something I often wonder is if we humans do more to spare our own feelings than anyone else's. As soon as I walked in the door, Bastien showed me I had made the right decision sending him to proverbial Florida – aka my parents house. No sooner than I was in the door he laid claimed to me and would not let the other dogs even greet me. I knew I had made the right choice in sending him there. It would have been a total mystery and complete betrayal to our relationship for me to have begun to work a new dog. He also would have most likely interfered – just as he does with the other dogs greeting me -- in the new dog's ability to work.

Since I retired him, every time I come to visit he is given the option of sleeping with me. In this too he showed me he was happy in his situation. Each time I visited previously he had chosen to stay with me. This time he walked me to bed and as I got in he looked at me, wagged his tail, and turned to follow the others out. Earlier that evening he was happy to sit with me and even showed me that he still remembered those odd games we used to play. I dropped my cell phone and he immediately dove under my chair and retrieved it! I was so proud of him; I made quite the fuss over it. A little while later I needed a water bottle and his response was “I played the game once, I am done for now.”

While I do not know what my new partner with bring into my life or what I will bring to theirs; I know I will continue to partner with these dogs for as long as can provide them with the care hey need. Much of how my partnership with Bastien has changed my life has only revealed its true depth in the clarity that comes with hindsight.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tails of Trains

Sitting on a train today with no canine for assistance or company, I can't help but remember the first time I took Bastien on a train. We were taking the Sounder Train from Tacoma to Seattle. While he was well versed at all other forms of ground transport be it buses, cars, or taxis. Heck, we even went on our first airplane trip when he was eight months old. At the time commuter trains were relatively new to the area. I went with plenty of time to pre-board and load (as I call it) with training tidbits and a medium GreenieTM, just in case he was a little unsure and needed some distraction. After, nearly a year of working, training and living with him, I knew this first experience with trains could set the tone for all future rail type travel. I have always been a person with itchy feet, so my service dogs have to trust me and be willing to come along no matter what the form of transport.

There we were sitting where we had been placed to wait outside near the tracks. His face as the train pulled in was unforgettable! It said, “Holy cow, mom! Is it gonna eat us!” While Bastien had never been a dog who cared much about loud noises, this was like a mini earthquake with the ground rattling all around. I began to have him do some training exercises like “Watch me” and “Puppy push ups” with rapid fire rewarding to keep him focused and relaxed as the train barreled down on us. He was more than happy to oblige me. Once the staff had the ramp in place he happily trotted across with me.

I used the same placement cues that we had been working on since we started taking the bus when he was eight weeks old. While the staff put the tie downs on my chair, I have him wait off to one side or the other depending on the chair spot using the cues “Right Side” for right and “Place” for the left side. He is also in a firm sit, with the occasional “Leave it” in case he is getting a little to solicitous with the staff tying down the chair. (Remember some transport staff have had bad experiences with or may not like dogs, so it is of the utmost importance that the service dog mind his manners and keep his tongue to himself.)

Once the chair is firmly in place I would move him to the space in front of me with a point of my index finger and a “Spot” cue. Nicely settled, we had a 40 minute train ride. I gave him the GreenieTM and he happily set to work. He did not even look up as the train roared to life to leave the station. Neither rain, sleet, snow, or the rumble of a train could distract him from his GreenieTM..By the time he polished it off and came looking for more, I knew trains were not going to be a problem for this dog.

I think even if a person is not an avid traveler, you owe it to yourself and service dog to introduce them to all possible forms of transport along with the necessary training to successfully work and enjoy these life options with your partner. Some rules of travel and cues Bastien and I found extremely useful are:

Traditional Cues:
-Back = Back Up
Leave it

My Cues (meaning I made them up because they made sense to me):
-Spot = used to identify the place where I want him to settle
-Straighten = used to get him to lay as closely to the side of my chair as possibly. I use this to fix the in inevitable sprawl that tends to happen with long placement commands like sit, down, and stand.
-Come round = meant to turn himself in a circle
-Tuck = told him to pull his tail in
-Get in = meant to go through a door ahead of me
-Go with ______. Meant to go with the person I handed his leash to. This one came in handy all the time.
-Outside = told him to find the nearest door going out.
-Bathroom = told him to find the nearest ladies room.
-Rattle = told him to shake. Handy in our wet climate for a service dog to wait to shake off until you find a nice out of the way spot.
-Find ______. = Told him to find a specific person in the crowd. This was a natural skill of his I noticed when he was young for learning people names and remembering. I took this talent and and capitalized on it. I would introduce him to someone by name and allow that person to really love up on him. Then when I would ask him to find that person later I would always right away give them person to pet him and make a big deal about it with him. This worked so well I found my boss in the middle of the Denver United airline terminal!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Life: Moving with Service Animals

My roommates and I spent the entire weekend packing, moving and unpacking three people, two Service Dogs, one emotional support cat and her brother and we are exhausted!!! Moving always involves a lot of details and moving with service animals in tow adds some interesting things to consider such as:

  • What are the landlords procedures on services dogs?
  • What documentation must you provide?
  • How will your partners and your daily routines need to change in this new environment?
  • Are there any additional tasks or rules for living that you will need to teach your partner so that life will be smooth and safe for everyone?
  • How will you introduce your partner to the new neighborhood both people and animals?

During the process of finding a new apartment we encountered many properties and management companies that were in serious need of education on the laws in Oregon and the Fair Housing Act as they pertained to service animals in rental properties. We spent a lot of time educating and weighing the pros and cons of each property including their policies, amenities and the lifestyles each would offer. In the end we chose a small building in the heart of Eugene. We spent a lot of time and energy jumping through hoops with regard to the service animals and ensuring that we complied with the accommodation process, while safe guarding our privacy.
The actual move went fairly smooth. Both Cammy and Einstein displayed some stress over the change. Cammy chooses to display her stress through potty issues, while Einstein refused to eat for three days and displayed remarkably high anxiety. Much of Einstein's stress came from his handler going to a single apartment. After a week in the new place both dogs are settling nicely into the new routines and neighborhood. They are both enjoying the morning six block walk to the university. We are working to create a small run in the alley between the two apartments and are exploring the neighborhood for good walking routes and parks where the dogs can exercises and unwind.
As far as new or revisited training the move requires both Cammy and Einstein are brushing up on their "waits" at open doors since our building is surrounded by allies and parking lots. Einstein will be taught to hit a wireless intercom to call us over if his handler needs help. This is much safer than leaving the doors unlocked for him to physically come get us.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Update on Summit Assistance Dog Fundraiser

Although Summit Assistance Dogs dogs does not charge the people with disabilities with whom they place highly trained services dogs,service dogs cost around $20,000 to train and place. Summit therefore encourages recipients to fund raise as much as they are able to summit the continued work of Summit.

I wish to thank the following people for their Donations to Summit Assistance Dogs in my name:
  • My Parents Sandy and Gary Greve for their $625 donation
  • Shelley Maynard, Owner Pewter Rabbit Antiques for her $25 donation
Every dollar people donate to Summit goes to support the raising, training and placement of highly skills service dogs with people with disabilities.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Update on Fundraising for my Next Service Dog

I continue to contact friends and family 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 September, 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
I have saved $61 towards my Team Training costs in September! That brings my total so far to $286!
Several people have also pledged to contribute to my Fund to attend Team Training:
  • My Aunt and Uncle, Steven and Marie McDonald
  • My Uncle Dale McDonald
  • My Uncle Scott McDonald
  • My Uncle Danny McDonald
  • My Grandmother Mary Ellen Spring

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 anywhere between 10-21 days.
I am working to save money myself, but I work for a non-profit and I have to take at least two weeks from work to get my dog.
Expenses to get Service dog:
-1 large dog crate $100 Done
-Service dog gear (harness, leashes, collars,dog beds, dog toys, treats) $350 (need $225)
-Placement vet visit $65 (need $4)
-Gas to get to and from Anacortes $250
-Hotel Fees $1,400
-Groceries for two weeks $150

Monday, July 7, 2008

Meet Cammy and Leslie

I met Leslie and her Guide Dog Cammy, when they began volunteering at Mobility International USA, the non-profit I work for. Leslie is a junior at the University of Oregon majoring in Comparative Literature.

Cammy, is her four year old Guide Dog matched with Leslie during the spring of her senior year of high school. Cammy was trained by Guide Dogs for the Blind. They completed their team training at the Boring, Oregon campus. Cammy is a mellow, sociable girl who takes her work very seriously. Cammy and Leslie can be a difficult pair to keep up with! In her off time Cammy enjoys making new friends (both human and dog), chewing on her bones, a rousing game of wrestle and chase with another dog, sniffing, tug O' war, and cuddling.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Did someone say Beach???

Today, my roommates and I decided we needed a day trip to the Oregon Coast.We took both of their service dogs and set off. I am sorry to say that our cameras decided to go on the fritz so we don't have pictures, rest assured this will be remedied on our next beach trip in two weeks. We, Katie and I, happened to have discovered a very sheltered small beach area a year ago where we could allow our dogs to run on the beach, play in the surf and dig to China!!! Einstein, Katie's GSD Medical Response service dog has an impeccable recall and loves to swim and play on the beach. He also has an insatiable need to herd his pack!! He decided that his girlfriend Cammy, a black lab Guide Dog needed to discover the joys on the beach. He introduced her to bounding through the shallow surf, running full tilt on the beach and rock climbing. This was all only possible because Cammy's mom (aka handler) has been working on Cammy's recall and the presence of two sighted guides, Katie and I, to make sure the dogs stayed in sight.
It is often difficult for service dog handlers to find activities that allow the dogs some real down time and the space to just be. Whether the down time is throwing the ball until they drop, taking a meandering walk with plenty of time for sniffing, going to the dog park, going to the beach, or whatever makes your service and you as a team feel rested and rejuvenated; down time is essential to maintaining a dog who is happy to work.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

First Assessment January 2008

In January I was invited to Summit to come for a two day assessment at the Summit Headquarters. I met Elizabeth in the morning to discuss my lifestyle, personality traits in a dogs that I like and dislike, and the types of tasks I need my next dog to be able to perform.

Some of the tasks I ask of my service dog:

  • retrieving dropped items
  • opening/closing doors
  • help removing shoes/coats
  • backpacking
  • elevator buttons
  • getting help
  • wheelchair pulling
  • retrieving runaway wheelchair
  • assistance getting up from a fall

View more comprehensive list of Traditional Service Dog Tasks

Then in the afternoon I observed a training class with the trainers, volunteers and around ten dogs. Some of the breed of dogs represented were:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labradors
  • Standard Poodles
  • Lab/Smooth Collie crosses

I learned about the methods of training they use, got to watch some of the dogs and learn the stories of others. Summit uses positive reinforcement training methods, more commonly referred to as clicker training. This style of training produces dogs who are creative, love to learn, willing to engage in repetitive tasks, require little strength to control, and love to work. If a dog makes a mistake they simply forfeit the reward and are given another opportunity to try and earn the reward.

After that I got to work with a half dozen dogs. I was asked what I liked about each one and what I did not like. This also gave the trainers a chance chance to see for themselves how I moved and interacted with each dog.