Monday, February 15, 2010

Reflections on the purpose of a Leash for a Service Dog Team

Leashes are a fact of life for the majority of dogs in this day and age where wide open spaces void of the dangers of cars, dogs who don't speak canine, and people so crowded they often can't find the space the would like to avoid the things they dislike or fear.
Leashes are meant to place finite limits of what a dog can get too, the fact that they can't go alone, how fast they can get there, and provide the ability to catch a dog when needed. When I got my first service dog candidate I, like a lot of people, that my leash was something akin to power steering...I was a neophyte dog trainer, I didn't know better. In other words, I had a leash the dog had to go where I went and do what I wanted. If I told my dog to do something and it did not the leash, and my use of it could make them do what I wanted(as long as the leash stayed connected and the dog did not decide to over power me). As I went along along and gained more experience working with dogs, I learned just how incorrect this attitude towards leashes was and have worked to improve my training abilities and other methods of communicating with my dogs. A leash is a safety device and simply a connection to your dog; however, it is dangerous for it to be the only thing connecting your dog to you. Service dogs must be on leash in most places while working in public, since service dogs are not exempt from animal control laws. Leashes can and do break along with getting yanked free and dropped. Service dog handlers must be confident that if that leash drops or breaks that they will not lose the help that their service dog provides, simply because they are now free.
Basic Skills a Service Candidate Needs (readers please add any you feel I missed):
  • Stop on cue
  • Solid off leash recall (see: Really Reliable Recall)
  • Solid Heel
  • Drop/down on cue both close to you and in place
  • Sit on cue both close to you and in place
  • Wait before crossing any open door or threshold until released (My release words are either Break or Free since they do not occur as often in everyday conversation as words like Okay; therefore they are less likely to lose meaning over time)
Intermediate Skills:
  • Retrieve dropped leash to handler ( I used this behavior with great success as an incompatible behavior for my first SD Bastien to prevent the freedom run. As a very novice trainer I screwed up the recall and discovered along the way the concept of incompatible behaviors and was saved! This concept I really understood and was able to use to fix many of my training gaffs. 
Leashes are a very personal pieces of equipment and should be comfortable to use for both dog and handler. When choosing a leash think of how it will be used and who is using it.
  • Does the person prefer a lighter or heavier leash.
  • Is there a material preference? Cotton, Leather, Nylon, climbing rope, etc.
  • What Leash size and type is appropriate for the size and type of dog attached to it?
  • General Length for public access work is 6' or less. As a manual chair user I tend to prefer 4'-5' max as any longer and the slack tends to get run over unintentionally from time to time.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    We met Temple Grandin last night!

    Yesterday was a whirlwind day for Shiloh and me (though Tuesdays usually are since I work two jobs on Tuesday). After working from 9-7:30pm I drove back to the University of Oregon to hear Dr. Temple Grandin present "My Experiences with Autism and Animals"
    The University was woefully mistaken on how many people in the Eugene Community would turn out to hear such and influential speaker, they ended up needing two overflow rooms where people watch via video feed. The only reason I got in the main room with getting there late was due the fact I had my own chair! (sometimes it is an advantage)
    Dr. Grandin is known for her work in improving conditions and treatment of  live stock such as cows and pigs. Her genuine compassion for and insistence on the humane treatment of animals comes from her unique ability to "think in pictures" and see things from the animals point of view. Her latest book is Animals Make Us Human, which I am in the process of reading and will post a review soon. My take home points from last nights discussion (that I will embed video of as soon as the university posts it) were:
    • Animals do indeed have feelings- there is research to support this. example prozac works on dogs the same way it does for humans
    • You need to find out what is motivating an animal to do what it is doing before you can accurately assess and solve the problem
    • Animals can be trained for just about any situation, but just because and animals is habituation to one thing doesn't mean something humans may view as less threatening will be perceived that way by the animal
    I was also lucky enough to get to met Dr. Grandin for a second and get my book autographed!
    Please enjoy a clip from the new HBO movie about Dr. Grandin and know she is very pleased with how her life is represented within it.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    News: April Service Dog Seminar

    April 18-19 2010 Dogs in the Park Service Dog Seminar Join us for our third annual Dogs in the Park Service Dog Seminar. This year will feature our core sessions of "So you are getting a Service Dog!",
    Thinking Like a Trainer, Different Breeds, Different Needs and Everything Puppy
    alongside new and innovative sessions designed to help you to work more effectively
    with your dog. Whether you have a service dog or not, this seminar will help you
    to integrate your dog more effectively into your daily life, while deepening
    the relationship you have with him.

    For more information or to register visit
    Early Registration with lower price ends February 15, 2010!

    Friendly service dogs & service dog prospects welcome to attend the seminar.

    Is there anyone among my readers who will be attending either or both of these events who would like to be a guest poster on Service Dogs: A Way of Life about these events? Email me at  servicedogsawayoflife[at]  I will do all the work to format and the article if you will provide the photos and words about your experience and you will get credit.

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    Lake Erie Assistance Dog Club Upcoming Workshops

      Lake Erie Assistance Dogs is hosting two events in February. LEAD is an assistance dog club modeled after the Assistance Dog Club of Puget Sound.
    On Saturday, February 13th, from 2:00 - 4:00 we are conducting a free Introduction to Service Dogs Workshop covering the ADA and state SD laws, types of Service Dogs, public access and task training as well as training options.
    Then, on Saturday, February 27th from 2:00 - 4:00 we are having our first club meeting. Sue Alexander, well-known service dog trainer from Guelph, Ontario, Canada will be our guest speaker and we will also discuss our plans, goals and mission. Sue has also volunteered to do some public access testing for anyone interested (although due to time and resources constraints, we won't be doing a complete public access test). Both events will be held at Canine Affair Center, 8495 Mulberry Rd, Chesterland, OH 44026.

    Is there anyone among my readers who will be attending either or both of these events who would like to be a guest poster on Service Dogs: A Way of Life about these events? Email me at  servicedogsawayoflife[at]  I will do all the work to format and the article if you will provide the photos and words about your experience and you will get credit.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    News: Woman Speaks Out about Access Issues

    This Little Dog really walks the walk! Great retrieve of a dropped glove shown. Kudos to her for her good work.