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.