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