Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taking Advantage of Teachable Moments and Discoveries with your Service Dog

Teachable moments is a phrase parents often hear meaning that life life presents parents with natural opportunities in which to teach their children valuable life skills and lessons. These are times when children often show their natural interests, strengths, and talents. Once again dogs like children are subject to teachable moments. As a person becomes more intune with their dog, their existing skills and potential for further skill has great potential to increase, that's if you are ready to take adantage of learning opportunities as they present themselves.

Shiloh and I have now been partnered for six months. She has become much more confident in employing the skills she was trained to do before placement with me, as well as gained some new skills such as flushing toilets, ferrying things around the house and wheelchair pulling. The wheelchair pulling and toilet flushing are examples of things I began teaching her when a natural but not life dependent moment to do so presented itself. We happened to be in the bathroom one day and I had time, so I lured her to flush the toilet. It wasn't long before she figured out what I wanted and on the natural marker of the sound of the toilet flushing I threw a mini party. With wheelchair pulling I started by just going for short walks around the block and rewarding her for the slightest pressure against the harness. Again, I did not have anywhere we had to be and we weren't far from home, so I could always call for help. Shiloh is not like a lot of dogs that take any opportunity to go faster. She is quite content to go at my snail pace. Bastien, my first service dog, took to the invitation to go his natural and much faster pace and ran with with it! She is slowly getting the pulling down and as she has more experience with it is enjoying the increase in pace. The other day my roommate and I had some errands to run at the local mall but were in no great rush.I decided that this would be an ideal moment to make some advances in Shiloh's pulling training. Again, I had my roommate so if Shiloh was not interested in working on this it was no big deal. I have trained dogs to pull before and find the low friction, smooth floors of a mall ideal for working on pulling since the chair can coast and the dog is really just maintaining this momentum. My roommate acting as a sort of lure decide to see if she could really get her going by going ahead and calling her. She has since been pulling more steadily.
I also like to take advantage of natural talents and preferences. Shiloh likes to use her feet for things more than her nose. In the case of doors and door buttons her feet often work and work well, but I have been working to show her with the small buttons her nose is more effective and she is now to the point where she is choosing between foot or nose depending on the situation. Shiloh is a very observant girl and it shows.
Bastien is also a dog of many talents. He had a particular talent for learning the names of people, places, and things. I was able to capitalize on this to teach him to find specific people and places while out in public such as my parents, boyfriend, boss, the exits, bathroom and pick up only specific things even if there was a pile of things on the floor.
To take advantage of a teachable moment one needs:
1. Patience
2. Time
3. Rewards on hand
4. To want the dog to succeed but not be in a situation where the dog must do it for safety.
Have any of you had memorable teachable moments with your service dog or been able to identify and turn a natural talent into a trained task?

Monday, April 20, 2009

News: New GPS device Helps Dog Guide Teams Navigate New Places

New Satellite Navigation Device design to work with dog Guide Teams. The GPS device allows the visually impaired user to voice input their destination, then attaches to the harness handle where it vibrates on the left or right for turns. It cost around $1,000. Read the rest of the article.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

AKC to allow Mixed Breed dog to Compete

Many service dogs compete in other dog activities such as agility and Rally-O; however, since many service dogs are without papers or crossbreeds they have been unable to compete in AKC sponsored events. Today's news brought the announcement of a new AKC Mixed Breed program that will begin in October of this year.
AKC is a little late to the game, but I am glad to see them realizing that people with mixed breed companions enjoy a variety of dog sports. The American Mixed Breed Obedience Registration began offering formal obedience trials for mixed breed dogs in 1983. The American Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the United States Dog Agility Association, Inc also accept mixed breed and non-papered competitors.
Competing in sports like agility, Rally-O and formal obedience trials can not only enhance the bond between handler and dog, but allow them to learn new behaviors that may benefit their working partnership and fine tune the foundation skills upon which many other behaviors are built. Participating in dog sports also gives handler and dog and additional social outlets. My first service dog, Bastien, and I took a Rally-O class together through a local dog obedience club. We were lucky to find an instructor their who had scene people competing using wheelchairs. She was very enthusiastic in problem solving with us ways to navigate the obstacles. Bastien and I even managed to impress the other competitors with some of our service dog behaviors and skills such as out leash retrievals, and come rounds (a back and turn) that were very helpful in that course. Bastien loved the class and would leave every class completely happy. Rally-O focuses on the partnership as well as the obedience. You can pet your dog, talk to your dog, repeat a cue, but you cannot use harsh correction or physically force your dog to do the behavior in any way. I tell you people (myself included) make absolute fools out of themselves to encourage their dogs and the dogs just love every minute!
I think Rally-O is an excellent idea for new handlers or people looking to have some fun with their service dogs because it meets you where you are at and many of the obstacles transfer to situations service dogs encounter in their working lives. The weave cones, the stay and walk around, the about face turns and many others are all transferable. These moves when practice can lead to the image I treasure of the symmetrical ballet that is a well matched, well established service dog team.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Late Night Emergencies

Warning this post discusses a dog being injured! Please use caution with children and people for whom this topic may be a trigger!

This a post I hoped I would never have to write from personal experience. Two days ago, Einstein, my roommate's service dog slipped out the front door and went exploring. Sadly, this is not one of those incidents we can shrug off. While out he was struck by a car. He is still with us and looks like he will heal. This is every dog owner's worst nightmare. In the hopes that I can make something constructive of the experience, I would like to talk about preparing for emergencies:
1. Know where your nearest all night veterinary hospital is and how to get there.
2. Have someone call the hospital while you are en route and give as many details about the situation as possible.
3. Set aside money in advance for emergency situations. You don't want to have to make your choices based on what you can afford.
4. Take a canine first aid class. Even if you cannot physically perform the first aid, being able to instruct a friend or family member may save your service dog's life.
5. Have a canine first aid kit.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

One of the Lost Service Dogs Found!

I was delighted to see that Graham one of the missing service dogs I wrote about has been found and returned to his puppy raiser: Missing service dog found.

New Movie on the Summit Blog

Watch a movie about Shiloh's life as a service dog so far on the Summit Assistance Dog Blog. Enjoy!
(All my movies are hosted on YouTube

Monday, April 6, 2009

Final Air Carrier Access Act Requires Rest Stops for Service Animals

Flying with a service dog, just like flying with a toddler, has never been for the faint of heart. Planning to fly as a person with a disability who is also partnered with a service dog takes attention to detail including such important things as will there be time to use the bathroom. When I began traveling with my first service dog Bastien I received some sage advice from an experience service dog partner, "Fly them high and dry." By this statement the person meant restricting access to food and water before a flight, along with making sure they are empty before you set foot in the airport. With more that a decade of partnership and hundreds of flights under our belt this advice has never failed to ensure that my service dog and I could make it to our final destination without the worry of a possible bathroom incident on the dog's part.
I was please to find in my email this morning a notice from the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) that in the Updated Air Carrier Access Act Final Rule due to take affect May 13, 2009 "One new requirement at U.S. airports is to provide, in cooperation
with the airport operator, animal relief areas for service animals that accompany passengers who are departing, arriving, or connecting at the facility. (see page 939 section 382.51)"

The rule does not specify the what where or how of the relief area, so it is up to the service dog community to help our local airport operators understand the unique needs of the service dog community when it comes to the practicalities of a relief area. While many airports have installed pet relief areas the location, distance, having to leave the secured area and have time to be re-screened by security, and conditions often make it impossible for service dog and their human partners to avail themselves of the facility, no matter how much they might wish to.

For a relief area for service dog to be practical IAADP makes the following recommendations:

1. Contact your closest airport and ask whether the mandated relief areas have been installed. If the answer is no, then find out when that will be done and who is responsible for the installation.

2. The probability is nothing has been done and it is important for you to inform the airlines and airport management they have a very short time to be in compliance with DOT's New Rule. Offer your expertise in developing an accessible and convenient facility. Also, stress the point that escort providers and other staff need to know where the relief areas are located.

3. Make a case for placing the relief area within the secured perimeter. Reasons for this are:

A. It will be more convenient for travelers with disabilities accompanied by assistance dogs not to have to go through security after taking their dogs to the relief area. The disabled community constitutes a significant segment of those who travel by air and airlines should be providing greater service to us. The need to take your canine assistant to a relief area outside the terminal can result in missed flights and major inconvenience and discomfort for you.

B. Having to go through security not only places a burden on the disabled passenger but on the security check operation, as well. Many partners accompanied by assistance dogs must go through an intensive search because the assistance dog equipment sets off the alarm system requiring a time consuming hands on search. This not only delays us, but also causes delays to other passengers and takes the time of TSA staff. By providing the relief area within the secured perimeter, this unnecessary use of security checking time and personnel can be avoided.

C. Since the escort service is required to accompany the disabled person/assistance dog team to and from the relief area, their time commitment would be significantly decreased If the relief area were within the secured perimeter. This would decrease the cost to airlines.

4. It is Important to emphasize the need for you to be involved in the actual design and placement of the relief area to make it fully accessible and convenient for disabled passengers.

I know that my local airport has an area that would be very suitable based on the above recommendations, since I go through there several times a year and I can't wait to work with them on this! For more information on this or a sample letter you can use contact IAADP.

Friday, April 3, 2009

News: Lost Service Dogs

Recently two service dogs/ service dogs in training have gone missing from their homes:
Neither of the dogs in these stories have been found to date. These stories are an important reminder to all of us to do several things:
1. Microchip your service dog/ service dog in training and register the number with your vet and local animal control. I keep the plastic tag with the number on my key ring and make a metal tag for my dog's collar that says "I have a microchip and the chip type, please scan me." I don't put the number on my dog's collar because I don't want someone to try to register the dog under their name claiming change of ownership. Most animal control and vet places have a policy of scanning all stray animals who come in for microchips these days.
2. Always keep a collar a collar on your dog with a tag with your name and phone number at least. I also put a secondary contact in case something may have happened to me and that is why my service dog is loose.
3. Keep a current picture of your dog along with a description of any identify marks, color, height, weight, docked tail, etc.
4. Maintain your off-leash training. Don't assume your barriers are failure proof and never underestimate what a determined, lonely, or bored dog might do.

If your service dog does go missing act immediately! Tips on finding a lost dog.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Shiloh Meets the ILEAD Delegation

Today, Shiloh and I had the pleasure of speaking with the delegates of the International Leadership Employment and Disability Exchange(I-LEAD) about service dogs for people with disabilities other than blindness, since most of them already knew about dog guides even if they did not have them available in their countries. While the discussion started off with the simple this is what Shiloh does for me the conversation quickly moved to how the dogs are trained, how people become service dog trainers, methods of training and working with dogs, and how dogs are chosen to become service dogs.
Shiloh and I spoke to three gentlemen, though I only caught two their home countries: Argentina and Brazil. Argentina does not yet have dog guides or service dogs. Brazil has two dog guide schools:
However, Brazil does not have service dogs for other people with other disabilities. One of the men had been a veterinarian losing his sight. They were all amazed that my dog does not wear a slip collar (aka a choke chain) and that I did not punish her in any way physically, since they were most familiar with traditional correction based dog guide training. They wanted to know how I "controlled her" to, so I took off her light nylon buckle collar and her light cotton lead and handed to them to inspect up close.
They were also very interested in where trainers for service dogs come from. I explained that many people who become service dog trainers come from either dog training, veterinary, or health care backgrounds. The people gain their experience by apprenticing to established programs and working their way up for the most part. I also mentioned the Assistance Dog Institute as an option.
I also did a little show and tell with the clicker treats and Shiloh picking up the noisiest item I had with me, my keys. The delegates are focused on improving employment and independence for people with disabilities in their countries and see service dogs as a possible tool to help meet those goals. I really enjoyed talking with the delegates and hope Shiloh and I are invited to speak to future groups.