Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Change of Scenery can do Wonders

My roommate Leslie is a comparative literature major and these last few quarters have been grueling. I began working part-time for her as a reader and research assistant during fall quarter after watching her struggle to access text books and research materials in a timely manner. This quarter she has been working on an in-depth research project with my help. It was decided that spring break would be an excellent opportunity to get down to the real work of writing along with a change of scenery for everyone. We have all been itching to get to the ocean and dying to stay at the Sylvia Beach Hotel (AKA The Book Lovers' Bed and Breakfast) for a few years now.The rooms as you will see are lovely, the food is great, and the people are wonderful.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Myth: Dogs Have No Choice in Becoming Service Dogs

Recently there has been much conversation around the Internet along the line that dogs in training to become service dogs and those working as service dogs have no say in the matter. If this assertion where true, the only dogs to fail to become service dogs would be those who fail for health related or severe behavior problems such as aggression. This is far from the truth of the matter. Everyday of training and working life for a service dog is a choice. Sure there are incentives such as treats; however, for the dog who doesn't enjoy the work and would rather be somewhere else doing something else no amount of incentive will make a difference.

The early puppy training service dog candidates receive really applies to any well-behaved well adjusted pet prepared for life in a human dominated landscape. Puppies learn to walk nicely, socialize with other animals, sit, down, stop before entering dangerous things like streets, not to potty in the house, not to put their teeth on people, which toys are theirs, come when called, not eat just any old thing on the ground, sit nicely so people may lavish attention on you, and meet a wide variety of people, and experience a wide in a variety of environments. Some puppies don't make it out of puppy training.For them the world may be too scary, too interesting, too loud, too slow, too crowded, the food on the floor too enticing, or the lure of a toy, cat, or squirrel too much to resist when working. For whatever reason these puppies tell trainers, "Thanks...but no."

Even if a dog excels in basic training, it doesn't guarantee that dog will become a service dog for a person with a disability. Every step along the way the dog must choose to do what is being asked. Even in programs using correction based training a dog who is constantly being corrected will most like be "career changed." No one looking to be partnered with a service dog wants a dog who would rather be somewhere else, doing something else. Dogs destined to become full-fledged service dogs partnered with a person with a disability also need to be willing to do the same task many, many times in a row, as well as good problem solvers willing to keep trying until they accomplish their goal. They must also be comfortable in a wide range of situations and environments; willing to follow their partner's lead even if they are unsure. Potential successful service dogs also tend toward the low to medium activity level. Living with people with disabilities often means the person, no matter how much they might want to, cannot meet the energy outlet needs of a high energy dog. These traits come in a wide variety of individual dogs with a wide range of personalities.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

News: Marshall University Cracking Down on Animals on Campus

Today I read an article Professor fights proposed ban on indoor animals and was once again struck by several things:
1. People's taking a change in policy as a personal affront to their pet. While this professor's dog may have never been a problem, it is easier for the administration to say no animals other than service animals.
2. If the campus does allow animals who will be in charge of ensuring all pet animals on campus are well behaved, properly controlled at all times, healthy, and clean?
3. Who does a person with a legitimate service animal go to if/when someone's pet is keeping the person from being able to work with their service dog? People say all the time "Oh Fluffy just wants to play." Well that's all well and good except your dog running up to my dog just made it impossible for us to work.
4. Who gets in trouble if one person's pet takes offense to an other's and fights, growls, bites? What if someone's pet injures or causes a service animal to be afraid to work near them?
I understand this professor just wants to be in the take your pet to work phenomenon, but is is clear he has not stopped to think what would happen if someone with a pet not as well behaved or monitored as his seems to be was indoors on Campus. The Service Dog community has work for nearly 100 years in this country to build the public trust that service dogs are well trained, non-aggressive, and safe to accompany their people in public. Even so, because people continue to take under-trained and ill-behaved animals places where they should not be, legitimate people with disabilities partnered with service dogs must endured constant challenges and confrontations when simply trying to grocery shop, go out to eat, get to work, or enjoy a show.

Monday, March 16, 2009

News: How much can a landlord ask for?

The story Doggie Dispute about a family with one service dog for their daughter and another dog in training to succeed the first that has been diagnosed with cancer is all to familiar to this service dog partner. Even the Fair Housing Council of Oregon website gives this blogger pause "but the need for the accommodation is not readily apparent or known, the provider may request only information that is necessary to evaluate the disability-related need for the accommodation." I for one will be watching this case closely. One must also wonder why the previous management did not inform new management of the presence of service dogs.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dealing with Low Energy,Illness, or High Pain Days

Yesterday and the preceding evening I experienced an unusually high pain day. After living 25 years using a manual wheelchair as my primary mode of locomotion my shoulders and spine give out on a regular basis (this is why I am working on getting an appropriate power wheelchair, which--of course-- falls into the category of things easier said than done.). High pain days for me often mean no sleep either, due to the rate my body burns though pain meds versus the safe intervals in which one can take more.
How I deal with high pain, low energy days:

  1. If it is in any way possible I take my service dog out. Even if I need help from my family, roommate, or other person to do it.There have been time in my life where I was completely on my own. During these periods, so far I have been lucky enough not to get ill to the point I could not take my service dog out. Knowing that is is possible I always keep look out for good area pet sitter/ dog walkers that I could enlist to help care for my dog. See Pet Sitters International Locate a Sitter Service. I remember an incident when my roommate's service dog Einstein was only four months old and I was out of town on business. My roommate went to the ER and was told she needed emergency surgery. She was able to call our pet sitter and he fit her into the schedule. He took Einstein home with him and came over each day to care for the cat and domestic rats we had at the time until I came home.
  2. Sick or not service dogs need interaction with their handlers. In general the service dogs I have had and have been known for being uncannily good at realizing when their people are really, really sick and adjust themselves to sometimes strangely quiet modes. By the same token, they are sometimes so pleased to see their person start to get well again, they want to just jump right back into regular activity levels. Every handler should identify quiet, minimal energy (for the handler) activities that they and their dog enjoy. If your dog is used to positive training and enjoys shaping a few minutes several time a day can be both physically and mentally stimulating for a dog.
  3. Make sure you have several people who have been properly educated and will happily follow the conventions of your service dog's training. The last thing a disabled handler who is recovering from illness needs is a dog who has developed bad habits or experienced a down grade in their skills during their illness.
  4. Make sure you have interactive toys like Kongs, Nylabones, Buster Cubes, and other dog puzzles to entertain your dog on low energy days.
People with disabilities who partner with service dogs must find ways of meeting their dogs needs on their low functioning days. How one will care for a service dog on these days is a question any person considering entering into a partnerships should have ideas and resources in place before the service dog ever comes home.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

News: Smartest Dog Breeds

The 1o smartest dog breeds, includes the most common breeds working as service dogs, the Labrador and the Golden Retriever. Many of the other breeds listed may have the smarts to be a service dog, but being a service dog requires more than just brains.
Some example of traits that generally keep dogs from being happy working as a service dog:/
10th Smartest- The Australian Cattle Dog-"its qualities are exceptional intelligence, alertness, resourcefulness, and a fiercely protective loyalty over its property and people." Service dogs must be able to accept strange people moving in an out of their space all the time. Cattle dogs and the number one smartest dog, the Border Collie are an example of dogs who are just plain too smart and high energy to be happy living with a person whose disabilities cause them to be low energy and in a job where a lot of time is spent waiting.
People working service dogs need dogs who are not only smart enough to do the work but flexible across the board. Some of the dogs on the list are also subject to breed specific legislation such as the Rottweiler, the German Shepherd, and the Doberman Pincher that make it even more difficult for these dogs to be affective as service dogs. Their history as protection, police, and guard dogs also tends to make the public very afraid of these dogs, which can make it very difficult to work these dogs in public. I am not saying individual dogs of these breeds don't make good service dogs,in fact, here is a page show casing Rottweiler Service Dogs. These three breeds;however, are generally classified in the dog world as "not for first time owners." Many people looking to partner with service dogs fall into this category making the amiable and forgiving natures of Labs and Goldens the top choice for most service dog training organizations. People looking for a dog to owner train should remember to look at each dog not only for smarts but the temperament to thrive in the world demanding human a partner whose energy and activity vary greatly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vancouver Island Assistance Dogs Blog offers advice on Bonding Issues

While reading through my Blog List today I came across an excellent post from Vancouver Island Assistance Dogs on addressing bonding issues in a service dog team from the dogs point of view. Last October I also wrote Bonding, Playing, and Keeping Training Interesting while I was waiting for my new partner Shiloh, I hope both posts will offer insight for those struggling with bonding from the dog's point over view. Watch for an upcoming post this month on bonding issues from the human side.

Monday, March 9, 2009

When a Service Dog Can't Work

This last week Cammy, my roommate's guide dog pulled a muscle in her leg. My roommate realized her girl needed a couple days off and pulled out her white cane. Her white cane is far from her favorite way to get around, but she had to go to school and work. Many people considering partnering with a service dog think that having a dog means they will no longer need other tools or people to function with their disability. Even though our dogs are amazing, one should never make a dog, no matter how well trained, solely responsible for one's health and safety. It is important to have back up ways to meet your needs in case your service dog is sick or injured.
1. When you get a service dog do not get rid of any mobility equipment you already have and make sure you always have it where you can get to it quickly. Guide Dogs for the Blind encourages their graduates to carry at least an ID Cane in case something should happen.
2. Carry a cell phone in case you need to call someone to help you.
3. If you have caregivers do not eliminate them because you think the dog will handle it all.
4. Identify people who could come babysit your service dog if they cannot work and you must go out.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

News: 5 Myths about Dog and Cat Training

I ran across a really interesting article, 5 Myths about Dog and Cat Training in Pets Magazine out of Canada. I see one of these myths reinforced everyday somewhere and the ones who suffer as a result are the animals and the people living with them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tips for Keeping your Service Dog Happy, Healthy, Beautiful, and Welcome

This week I came across a news story from Australia Clean dogs only please, that brought up an important point; with the right of public access accompagnied by our service dogs comes standards of care including grooming that are higher than that for an average pet.

Many people partnered with their first service dog are also first time dog owners and dog grooming can be a daunting process. I found a great article on grooming basics for those wondering about the right brush, how to bathe their dog, and trim their nails (there are are even videos for the visual learners among us). I know I may be a bit odd, because I love grooming my dogs. I find it very calming after a long day for both myself and my service dog. When I was raising Bastien I took a community education course for several weeks at the local technical college and learned tricks and preferred tools from some area professional groomers. I would pack Bastien up at least once a month to go to the local do it yourself dog wash and go through the whole process from the tip of his nose to his tail. I also brush my dogs every day. Sadly, there came I time when doing the bath and everything myself just became too much physically. I then began to take them to a local professional groomer, while continuing maintenance grooming between visits. Choosing a groomer can be a long process, especially since groomers are not generally required to have any education or certification. The HSUS has a good article on choosing a groomer.
Tips for Keeping a Working Service Dog Clean:
1. Spend 5-10 minutes bushing your dog everyday. Brushing serves many purposes: keeps shedding and fly away hair down, takes the top dirt off before it penetrates to the skin,keeps painful and expensive mats from developing, distributes the coat oils that make your dog shine with beauty and helps ward off parasites. More on Choosing the right brush for the job.I love long, thick, double coats and never shaved Bastien. I pity anyone who would have given him back to me shaved! It is written on all his grooming cards in large letters- DO NOT Shave! Why Shaving double coated dogs is not recommended.
Shiloh while the length of her hair is short is also double coated. to keep the shedding at bay Shiloh and Bastien both have their coats stripped twice a year (at least) usually coinciding with when they begin to blow their coats. Stripping is not difficult it is just a long process requiring the right tools and patience.
2. Keep the sharp tips off your dog's nails. Dogs with long nails often have trouble getting their footing on indoor surfaces. Not to mention dogs that operate door
buttons and switches, possibly damaging walls. No all dogs nails grow at the same speed and some dogs do a pretty good at keeping their nails pretty short, so taking the tips off every 7-10 days is enough. Other dogs nails grow very quickly so trimming every week is required. If a dog's nails are trimmed regularly, the blood vein called the quick will stay back from the ends making it less likely you will injure your dog. Nails that hare not attended to can cause serious and expensive injuries.
3. No one likes the smell of wet dog! If you live in a wet climate like I do you might consider adding a rain coat or super absorbent shammy to your gear. It also a good idea to teach your dog to shake off on cue, so whatever they are shaking off doesn't land on nearby people, merchandise, or food tables. You can easily prevent your dog from shaking off by holding you hand (with a little pressure) on its head. Shaking off is a reflex that must start with the head, so if you stop the head, you stop the whole process. No more shower after dog baths!
4. Use unsented, hypoallegenic baby wipes between trips to the groomer for quick clean ups. Baby wipes are the same product as those pet wipes only cheaper. I use wipes will all my dogs and they love it. It's an all over massage.
5. Keep your gear clean! There's no point in cleaning your dog and putting dirty collars, leashes, vests, harnesses, etc. back on. Most gear on our service dogs can go through the washer; however, people with leather gear will want to protect it using proper leather care.
6. Dog Breath. Dog Breath is something I haven't experience with my service dogs. A dogs should have it's teeth clean regulary by a vet. They should also be fed high quality food. I also give my dogs some form of chew every day. The chewing serves to scrape teeth clean and keep them strong. Finally I brush their teeth regularly. This is also a service some groomers may offer.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thoughts on Keeping Stress Low in Service Dogs While Working

Everyone knows the "All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy." This also applies to service dogs. Even if a dog truly delights in working, many handlers will tell you the dog has a favorite aspect, or pace that may not happen as much as the dog would like. Some examples from my pack include:
  • Cammy- loves to guide her mom at a very speedy pace through campus and around town. She finds slow tasks like shopping extremely boring. To alleviate some of her boredom her mom will often use the time in the aisles/ racks to ask for and reward precise obedience behaviors.
  • Bastien- Bastien loves to play tug, fetch small stuffed toys, chew on nylabones, perform fast paced obedience drills, and making new friends dog or human. In our life together we often had very long days from the time we left the house until we made it home. Between bus time and actual work hours a ten hour day was average when working out of the office. When we traveled and worked conference a sixteen hour day was not unheard of. I always kept water bowls, treats and small toys in our pack, so that Bastien could let off some steam while working. It never ceased to amazed me what a difference a couple of face paced/rewarded drills, a minute out two of good tugging, a quiet five to ten minute nyla chew under the table, or a chance to meet someone new made in Bastien's ability to hang with me during even the longest days.
  • Shiloh-loves chew toys, treats, sniffing, and meeting new people.
  • Einstein lives for tennis balls. Between classes his mom has identified out of the way spots on campus where they can toss the ball a few times on a long line.
  • Finally all of our dogs love the dog park!
Learning to keep tabs on their dogs stress levels has helped many people I know become more aware and in control of their own stress levels. Being prepared to meet your partners needs, will help the team to always function at top levels!