Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Happy National Guide Dog Month!

Dog Guides and their people relaxiung at ACB Los Vegas 2014
September is National Guide Dog Month! Guide Dogs are near and dear to me for many reasons not the least of which is I have had the joy of living with working guides for almost seven years since my roommate is blind and has partnered with a guide since she was 18 years old.

A short history of Guide Dogs
Guide Dogs were the first type of service dog to receive formal training and recognition of what dogs could do to help people following WWI for use primarily by veterans blinded in the war. The first Guide Dog school in the U.S. was The Seeing Eye in 1928. This is why you hear people referring to all guide dogs as Seeing Eye Dogs today! (once we humans get trained on something, we can be really hard to retrain!) Read more about the history of Guide dogs

What Does a Guide Dog Do?
A guide dog guides it's human in short, but it is not really that simple. Guide Dogs and their human partners work together using the principles and skills taught in Orientation and Mobility (O &M). O &M is a huge field in blindness and visual impairment that teaches blind and visually impaired people how to navigate the world both inside and out safely, know where they are in the world, and get where they want to be. (This training often incorporates the use of a white cane, but is not limited to teaching only the use of the white cane.) People wishing to partner with a guide dog must demonstrate a very high level of O&M skills including very competent use of a white cane before they are accepted for partnership, because:
  • O & M skills are the base for how guide dogs works and provide information about the world around the team to their partner
  • O &M skills are neccessary for the human partner to be able to make decisions about where they want to go, how to get there, what is safe, and understand the information their guide is providing them through the harness.
Guide Dogs guide their people along a path of travel determined by the human partner. Their job is to guide their human around obstacles in their path of travel while maintaining the most direct path of travel possible. If the path of travel is not safe because it is either too narrow for the team to pass together or the team encounters stairs, a curb, a street, a moving car (or bicycle), a hole, or a dead end the dog will indicate this by stopping. The human partner must investigate why the dog has stopped and decide what the next best course of action will be based  O&M rules and training on where the team is trying to go. Guide dogs are also trained to find common nearby objects the handler needs in the environment including things like bus stops, curbs, stairs, doors, trash cans, check out counters, seats, and elevators.

Intelligent Disobedience 
 Guide dogs must be able to demonstrate a trained skill known as intelligent disobedience. This skill is very, very advance and very hard for dogs to learn because the majority of training for dogs is all about doing as you are cued as quickly and cleanly as possible. Intelligent disobedience comes  into play when the human partner has told the dog to go forward, but has failed to perceive some danger in the path ahead such as a car that was not there a second ago but now is, or if the human misreads the traffic and would walk into the path of a car if the dog went at that moment., or the path includes an uncovered hole for which there is no safe way around. The dog must perceive these obstacles to the path and refuse to follow the command no matter what until the path is safe. This refusal saves lives and is one of the most difficult skills to teach a dog as it goes against all of their other training. Dogs that cannot hold their ground when the cue to go forward into a path that is unsafe is given do not make it to becoming a working guide dog.

Myths about Guide Dogs

Guide Dogs know where they are going.
Guide dogs do not know where they are going. The human determines where the team is going and the best way to get there. Dogs may learn common routes the team takes, but it is still not up to the dog to know where the team is going. The dog's job is to navigate the route determine by the human in the most direct path possible while guiding the human around any obstacle in the path and stopping when obstacle like a narrow path, construction, a crossroads, stairs, a street or a curb require the dog to seek further direction about where the human wants to go from the human.

Guide Dogs know when the light is green.
Guide dogs do not know when a light is green. The human partner uses the O &M Skill of reading traffic to determine when it is their turn and safe to  cross the street giving the dog the forward cue when they think is is safe to go based on the sounds of the traffic flow around them. The dog's job when crossing streets is to:
1. refuse to go if the human has incorrectly read the traffic or if the picture suddenly changes in the seconds after the cue to go forward is given.
2. Guide the human quickly and safely across the street using a straight curb to curb path of travel stopping  momentarily to indicate the curb on each side so the human will be able to make the step up if needed and be aware of when they are entering and exiting a street.

What to do You Encounter a Guide Gog Team
1. Go on about your business as usual.The dog will go around you if you are an obstacle in the path of travel.
2. Address the person not the dog. Do not attempt to call the dog,  if you think the team is unaware of an obstacle or danger address your concern with the person.
3. Leave the Dog to their work. Please do not hold out your hand or treats to the dog. Please do attempt to pet the guide dog as it passes by you or stands in a line near you. Please do not try to get the dog's attention by calling it, whistling, making kissing sounds, snapping your fingers, clapping your hands, barking, meowing or intentionally blocking the team's path. Doing any of the above adds unnecessary stress to the dog's work and potentially puts the team in danger should they walk into an obstacles, miss a street crossing, fall off a stair or curb because the dog was distracted by you even for a second! Many states have laws making it a criminal offense to distract or injure a guide dog.
4. Keep you dogs leashed, under control,  announce your presence, and give way to a team. Guide dogs are dogs, but their are working stopping for even a second because another dog wants to greet the them or the dog ahead is causing the team to be concerned for their safety puts the team in danger again because the dog cannot focus on their work. When out with your dog and you encounter a guide dog team:
Ensure your dog is on a leash and under control. Out the the end of their flexi-leash is not under control. Barking, whining, and growling are signs your dog is not under control. Pulling towards the guide dog is not a dog under control. Please when out with your dog an you encounter a team:
a. Announce yours and your dogs presence including where you are in relation to team. For example: Say, "Guide dog handle there is a dog coming towards you on you left side." Doing this will alert the handle to your dog's presence and allow them to give their dog appropriate direction to continue working.
b. Move your dog to the side of your body that will put you between the two dogs as you pass the guide dog team.The will provide much needed space for the two dogs to pass while minimizing the potential for distraction or problem between the two dogs.
c. If you dog is not capable of calmly pass another dog without pulling, whining, barking, growling stiffening their body, or show any other sign they are overexcited/uncomfortable; step well out of the way of the way of the guide dog team and allow them to pass before you and your dog continue on you way. Remember to alert the team to your presence and where you have stepped out of the way to.
5.  Do not leave you dog tied up where they will block the right of way. Tied up dogs are very unpredictable and present an obstacle for a guide dog team for which there is often no warning and no safe way around. Dogs break collars and leashes all the time and should never be left tied up and unattended.Tied up dogs are often stolen.  If you are out with your dog and think you might stop somewhere consider what you will do with you dog and what might happen to them in the time you are away.

To learn more about Guide Dogs around the world, visit The International Guide Dog Federation.
To learn more about the Guide Dog Team experience visit Guide Dog Users Inc (GDUI) and the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners(IAADP).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Upcoming series on Retirement

Shilo retired on August 17th after five years, 10 months and 2 days of partnership with me. Making the decision to retire a service dog is never easy even if there is an undeniable reason such as failing health driving the human partner to the decision. I am working on a series of post about Shilo's retirement to help people understand this all too little discussed inevitable phase of life with service dogs which will include topics:
  1. Timeline to Retirement
  2. Signs a Service Dog Needs to Retire
  3. Preparing for Your Dog's Retirement
  4. Celebrating your Partnership
  5. To Re-Partner or Not? Deciding whether a Service Dog is still right for you.
Also in the series will be stories from Shilo's retirement:
  • Shilo's Last Trip- Vegas Baby!
  • Shilo's Retirement Party
  • Shilo's Last Day Working
  • Shilo's Retired Life

Monday, September 1, 2014

Canine Companions for Independence Spearheads Campaign to Stop Service Dog Fraud

 Take the Pledge to Stop Service Dog FraudOver the years I have published many articles highlighting the damage done by people passing off dogs as service dogs when they are not. Last year Canine Companions for Independence introduced their  pledge to stop service dog fraud and got 17, 500 people to take the pledge; this year their goal is to get 50, 000 people to sign on. I have signed on as someone who has personally experienced access denials and additional scrutiny because people fraudulently passed a non-service dog off as one.It is my sincere hope that as a person reading this blog you will educate yourself and take the pledge protecting the hard fought access right for legitimate service dog teams Take the Pledge

Learn More About The Problem of Service Dog Fraud

Friday, August 1, 2014

All work and No Play- Work Life Balance in Teams

Members of the public often have the idea that service dogs never get to "just be dogs". This assumption couldn't be farther from the truth, especially if a team plans to function for many years to come.The balance between working together and playing together is one that begins to be established as soon as you and your SD (or potential SD when owner training) enter into each others' lives beginning with the definition of play  for each.

 Common Dog Definitions of Play
  1. Play is mutual. I want to play with you!
  2. Favorite dog games include Tag, Chase, Keep Away, Sharable toys, Hide and Seek.
  3. Play is enjoyable for both of us, if you are not having fun it lessens my fun.
Common Human Definitions of Play
  1. Playing with your dog means toys and other dogs.
  2. Play is fetch and tug.
The real definition of play of course is any activity that gets both you and your SD smiling, laughing, enjoying each others company, and leaves you both feeling recharged and connected. Teams that play together everyday strengthen their bond, lessen the effects of a stressful world, maintain training, gain insights into each others personalities, improve team members health both physically and mentally. I seem to get partnered with dogs whose sense of play requires me to "lighten up" and be able to take a well timed joke. --Yes, dogs can be practical jokers, especially those clever enough to be service dogs.-- Both Bastien and Shilo's sense of humor spanned the spectrum from out right goofiness to well time jokes including hiding right behind me, to the ever popular squeal inducing goose and sneak slurp.

Learn More About the Importance of Play for People and Dogs
  1. Play and kids- http://udel.edu/~roberta/play/
  2. Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning: WHY PLAY MATTERS FOR BOTH KIDS AND ADULTS-http://www.helpguide.org/life/creative_play_fun_games.htm 
  3. Autism and Play (Book) http://books.google.com/books?id=ujE6lxdMG5IC&printsec=frontcover&dq=play+autism&source=bll&ots=574regUp8o&sig=V45TmR1psFmAAHoMHOcEpiZ3bp0&hl=en&ei=QO69TLl8kPazA_LmoMQM&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=15&sqi=2&ved=0CG4Q6AEwDg#v=onepage&q&f=false 
  4. Dog Play & Exercise: Tips on what type of exercise/ play and how much is appropriate-http://hssv.convio.net/site/DocServer/dog_playandexercise.pdf?docID=1117 
  5. Play with your Dog by Pat Miller http://www.dogwise.com/itemdetails.cfm?ID=dtb1011 
  6. Play Together - Soft Cover Book-HAPPY AND HEALTHY PLAY BETWEEN PEOPLE AND DOGS: Play is fun and frolicsome, but it is powerful stuff! Learn how to use it to enhance your relationship with your dog. http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/product/play-together-stay-together
  7. Dog Games You Can Play if You are Physically Impaired-http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/16_6/features/dog-games-physically-impared_20758-1.html


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Shilo & Melissa Return to D.C. to fight for Complex Rehab Technology for the Third Year

Melissa and Shilo with Senator Jeff Merkley OR-D May 1, 2014.

Melissa discusses S.B. 948 separating CRT from standard DME equipment ensuring access to it for those who need it.

Complex Rehabilitation technology is not a well known term, but this type of equipment is describes means the difference between a life of capabilities and participation versus one of infirmity, limitation and seclusion. Myself and many of my fellow members of the disability community benefit from the precise fit and functions found within durable medical equipment including manual and power wheelchairs, cushions, and standing frames which allow us to adapt to our disabilities allowing for full lives with school, work, family and friends. However, obtaining such appropriate equipment is no simple task under the current classifications under Medicare which current define a wheelchair such as the heavy aluminum, one size fits most, with no cushioning meant for short trips indoors the same as a light weight, individually fitted/built, with pressure reducing cushioning meant for full day use on all terrains as tacitly the same thing when it plain to everyone that these two things are worlds apart.
In April, Shilo and I returned to our nation's capitol for the third year running to educate Congress that all wheelchairs are not the same and the wheelchairs meeting the definition complex rehabilitation technology need to be in a separate category for standard, assembly line durable medical with H.B. 942 and S.B. 948. Shilo and I spent a whirlwind three days in Washington D.C. working with other advocates with disabilities, their families, and professionals in the complex rehabilitation technology industry who are members of the National Registry of Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers (NRRTS) and National Coalition of Assistive and Rehab Technology ( NCART) to move these two bills through their respective houses of congress gaining enough signatures of support to get each bill scored by the Office of Congressional Budgeting (OCB), so that it might actually have a chance to reach the floors for formal discussions and voting. Shilo and I took eight meetings on the hill: five within my home state of Oregon and three in other states who did not have a consumer advocate to tell the story of what these bills mean in terms of real lives beginning at 7:00a.m. and ending at 5:00pm. A schedule I would have no chance of accomplishing without both my powered wheelchair and Shilo's ever ready assistance. Hill day followed a 10 hour day of  policy briefings, updates, trainings and planning for hill meetings with state teams.Certainly not a typical way to spend one's vacation from work, but one I intend to keep up until congress understands and enact these bills to ensure people have access to medically necessary and appropriate CRT for their lives and health.
Shilo meets the Senator!

More Information on Access to CRT
  1. http://www.access2crt.org/
  2. Co-Sponsors listed by state
 Don't miss National CRT Week August 18th-22nd!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May: Better Speech and Hearing Month; Hearing Dogs Lend an Ear

Hearing dogs alert people who are Deaf or severely hearing impaired to sounds in their environment that the human partners needs to know about for safety and to better function in the world. Hearing dogs can be trained to alert to everything from doorbells, alarm clocks, babies crying, home appliance noises, someone calling the handlers name,  and more. Hearing dogs unique in the service dog world as they are often both rescued/shelter dogs and small dog breeds. Historically Hearing dogs rearly worked outside the home, so issues that might have prevent a rescued dog from becoming a service dog weren't as big a concern. Today, you will still find that hearing dogs are still on the smaller side many hearing dogs are specifically breed for the work with known histories and temperaments that can handle a public life.

Standards for Hearing Dogs

Training Standards for Hearing Dogs

What Can Hearing Dogs do for their Owners?

Hearing Dogs Task List (Scroll half way down the page)

Programs Training Hearing Dogs

Dogs for the Deaf- Oregon Based places Nationwide

 The Hearing Dog Program- California based appears to place in western U.S.

Canine Companions for Independence- several regional facilities places Nationwide 

Golden Ears- Tandem Training Program Washington based (What is Tandem Training?)

Resources on Training Hearing Dogs

Book: Lend Me an Ear

Summary: An exciting book on a fascinating subject! Includes Hearing Dog Basics, Behind the Hearing Dog Temperament, Testing Potential Hearing Dogs, and Training Basics. More about Martha Hoffman the author.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

L.A., Washington D.C., and other Adventures!

It's been a month since I last posted, and that is because Shilo and I have resembled a blur! Grab your coffee (or tea) and settle in because by the time I have caught you, my dear readers up your head may be spinning right along with mine!

The L.A. Abilities Expo- Cool Gear, Even Cooler People, and Great Food!

Shilo and I spent the weekend of March 15-17 at the L.A. Abilities Expo, and while we are not new to large conferences this was our first time at the Expo. If I was a rich woman I could have left this event with everything from a new chair on order, to a fully adapted vehicle, and much more! The most fun part for me, as always was the people! I spent the weekend networking and catching up on what was new in the world of disability while meeting wonderful people from Pride Mobility, Ki Mobility, Ti-Lite, Colours, Invacare, Users First, New Mobility Magazine, 3eLove, and Whirlwind Wheelchairs.

 From a Service Dog Community stand point both Shilo and I were very disappointed by the event being met with everything from dogs who growled, were out of control and wolves (yes you read that right) in service dog's clothing. As a service partner I had to be on my toes all weekend watching for dogs who's partners were not stewarding their dogs to keep myself and my partner safe. Let me tell you when the guy with two wolves came in with them on ropes Shilo and I left the building. I love wolves; however wolves are not dogs and most certainly not covered under the ADA. And secondly, I did not feel like they were under good control. The worst part was the people running the event tried to eject the person on these grounds and failed.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Another State Fed Up with Imposter Service Dogs

Hawaii may join the  30 plus another states that impose specific fine for people passing off pets as service dogs -ANALYSIS: The Proposed Crackdown on ‘Service Animal’ Phonies

Sunday, March 2, 2014

When puppies have other plans - Spot Magazine

Sometimes despite the best breeding, all the testing it the world, all the resources, and a loving dedicate raiser some puppies just aren't cut out to be service dogs. Spot Magazine featured the story of Lowell, a Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy who didn't make the cut in "When Puppies Have other Plans"

Sunday, February 23, 2014

All Pages Updated!

Check out all the pages; every one has been updated. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lend Me an Ear is back!

One of the quintessential  resources in hearing dog and service dog training is back after many, many years out print. I, myself, have been hunting high and low in used bookstores hoping to find a copy. Alas, I never did because no one who had copy was giving up this treasured volume  LEND ME AN EAR: TEMPERAMENT, SELECTION AND TRAINING OF THE HEARING EAR DOG-