Thursday, January 28, 2010

Phase 8

Well Millie is still cruising along in phase 8. She skipped phase 7 three weeks ago. Here is what she has been working on. I will do a nice big update this weekend. Rafferty continues to grow and be an amazing puppy, Marley and Hugo are going in for their Therapy Dog testing next month, and Dante is wishing the snow would just go away. I am loving it, and trying to ski as much as possible. Maybe one of the days I will actually be able to keep up with Tom. Watching him ski telemark is almost like watching art.

Phase #7

  • Guidework in extremely challenging downtown urban areas (San Francisco and Portland)
  • Training on buses, light rail/subway systems and platform edges
  • Introduction to low overhead clearances
  • Advanced off-leash obedience
  • Formal traffic training

Phase #8

  • Advanced guidework and obedience training continues
  • Intensive indoor mall training with crowds and slick floors
  • Advanced sidewalkless training with obstacles.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Making a Difference

I came across the post on the GDB blog page about the Search Dog Foundation deployment. Right now there is a career change dog down in Haiti helping to find buried victims....what an amazing thing this pup has gone on to do! Check out the Search Dog Foundation and see the amazing training they give to these dogs and their handlers.

I love reading about all the things our pups can go on to do: guide dogs, service dogs, diabetic alert dogs, SAR dogs, detection dogs, therapy dogs, Canine Buddies....the list is endless! Recently a comment was made to me that the work I do as a puppy raiser is not really worth much. The individual seemed to think that Guide Dogs being "dragged through crowded restaurants and movie theaters" were not "real" working dogs and really had no positive impact. I have also encountered people who think that their working dog (not service dog) have more rights and privileges for public access because they have 'fun' together. I am at a loss for words: Guide Dogs not having fun? Watch any of the training videos and you will see their tails going a mile a minute: they LOVE their jobs! Although I know that this person is very ill-informed, I mean LOOK at all the stuff our dogs go on to do, I have been trying to find a way to educate people on the impact Guide Dogs and other service dogs have on their new partners' lives.

Often when people see our pups and working guides in public, they are not actually realizing what these dogs DO, the impact they make. They are not just a dog being taken into public for the fun of it, they are dogs changing lives and keeping their partners safe every single day. How do you share the impact your dog makes in your own, or someone else's, life?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Phase 6

Millie moved to phase 6 this week! She is doing about a phase a week since she skipped phase 4. I am getting more excited with each passing week, and cannot wait to see what she chooses to do for her career.

Phase #6

  • Guidework routes in difficult and challenging work environments (heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic areas, wide crossings, hectic atmospheres, etc.)
  • Introduction to sidewalkless areas and rounded curbs
  • Continued work in malls, stores and buildings, with increasing exposure to varying sights, sounds and smells
  • Lessons in advanced guidework skills, such as moving turns
  • Introduction to "intelligent disobedience" (dogs learn to refuse to obey a command if it is unsafe to execute)
  • Advanced obedience training

Monday, January 4, 2010

Thoughts on OT Service Dogs

The other day Mitch had a very thought provoking post. As someone who has dealt with both the good and bad aspects for owner training service dogs, here are my thoughts. I think that owner training should be allowed and that there should continue to be no national certification for service dogs. Why? Because the logistical nightmare of regulating service dogs, their training, vet work, follow up, re-certs, and corresponding cross-checking of medical information for the disabled partners is a huge undertaking that I do not think the government is prepared to do. I think it would lead to discrimination and the loss of needed support that service dogs provide if such a program were in place (long waiting, most likely fees involved, ect).

Owner training also allows for individual preferences. Most programs use larger retriever type dog breeds, and while I am a huge fan, not everyone is. What if someone needs a dog that does not shed? How about a small breed dog? What if they have a dog already with the proper temperament for service work? Many people who train their own service dogs also say they have a better understanding of their disability. Some programs (though not all) charge a fee for their dogs. Sometimes people are not able to leave their work or home to train with their new dog. There is also a wait period, sometimes years, to obtain a dog from a program.

I have meet three owner trained dogs in my town. The first was a wonderful cocker spaniel who started out as just a pet. After her owner was in an accident and started having seizures, they dog started alerting to them. The owner got support from her medical team, went through professional training, and now has a dog that helps to keep her safe. Now, there are NO organizations that can train seizure ALERT dogs. They can train dogs to respond to a seizure, but unlike diabetic alert dogs the mechanism for what the dog is actually alerting to is not known and cannot be trained for. This means for someone with seizures to have a seizure alert dog they would have to find a dog with the alert ability.

The next dog I met was a little papillion who assisted a woman in a wheel chair. This woman could have certainly gone through a program, but decided she wanted a small breed dog as they are less expensive to care for and generally have a longer working life. Since she was in a power chair and did not need help pulling her wheelchair, this woman mainly had the dog trained to retrieve dropped items. While only one task, it encompassed many aspects of her life and allowed her to be very independent. Both of these dogs were encountered in public settings and had FANTASTIC manners.

Now the last dog I encountered was mentioned in this post and actually attacked Millie since then. Of the three dogs I have mentioned, this was also the only 'typical' breed: a golden retriever. Luckily Millie was not bitten and was fine, but it just went to show how the dog was unfit for service work and the handler was completely unable to control her dog. The dog was also worked through the advanced stages of cancer, which I think is morally reprehensible on the handler's part. That dog has since passed away and I am very thankful to not have to worry about unleashed, aggressive, and out-of-control service dogs.

What I think would have been high effective in this case would to have been actual enforcement of laws already in place for those who fake service dogs. Would it still really be worth it for people if they knew they could face up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1000 fine? Some states have even higher punishments. The problem is that these are rarely enforced! Even when I contacted animal control and the police they did not know these punishments existed and even the laws regarding access in the first place. In the ADA business brief store owners and gatekeepers are told they can exclude ANY dog, even a service dog, if it is out of control or poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

The best thing we can do to help cut down on fake service dogs is to help local businesses understand their rights regarding service dogs and to always be excellent representatives with our pups in training or working dogs.