Barking Like A Dog

January 27, 2010 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs, Training · Comment 
barking dog

I don’t know about you, but I am starting to get Spring Fever. We just had over six inches of snow this past week in Santa Fe; however, I am already looking forward to the days of planting and the rewards of beautiful dessert flowers and fresh vegetables from the garden.

The other day, Franz, Whistle and I went to a local yard and garden store for their annual winter sale to buy some outdoor pots. We parked in the accessible parking space and as I was opening my van door, a man and his large St. Bernard dog strolled past our vehicle. Whistle was safely seatbelted on the back seat. He lept to his feet and barked like an untrained dog. I, of course, was shocked and appalled at his behavior and quickly commanded him to be “quiet.”

He immediately responded; however, the damage was done. My dressed service dog had barked at another dog in public! I was so embarrassed and asking myself, “How could such an intelligent, trained service dog like Whistle bark at a strange dog like that?”

Whistle and I are out in public almost every day and granted, this was a rare incident. However, it is still very concerning to me and I want to know if you’ve ever been in that situation before and what have you done to handle it.

Morgan, my retired service dog, never barked at other dogs. He simply ignored them whenever he was working. But Whistle, on the other hand, does pay attention to other dogs. I correct him but in the past, he has lunged toward another dog or forged incessantly in order to get closer to a strange dog.

He doesn’t do this every time he encounters another dog, but it happens enough to embarrass me and to make me a little uncomfortable about approaching other dogs. What is the protocol for meeting and greeting other dogs? How do you handle these canine situations? I can’t wait to hear your experiences and suggestions!

Dog Treats and Service Dogs

January 20, 2010 · Posted in Dog Food/Nutrition, Doggie Healthcare, Training · Comment 
dog treats

I have to say that I was so strict with my first dog, Ramona, regarding treats. The agency that trained her really frowned upon treats and instructed me that she needed to work for me based on praise rather than treats. It made sense because they argued that if her working was dependent on treats and let’s say, for example, that I had fallen out of my wheelchair and was not able to reach any treats and I needed her to get the phone. What would I do?

Therefore, I gave Ramona very few treats. When Morgan came along, he was trained by another agency with a different philosophy about treats. They felt treats could and should be used as a reward when appropriate. Morgan loved the treats but he was not as much of a “chow hound” as I lovingly referred to Ramona. She was a complete maniac for treats; but Morgan, although he loved them, was not as possessed and obsessed by the thought of a treat.

So, here I am with service dog number three, Whistle, still debating about how to effectively use treats. I keep pondering how often and exactly when should I reward him with a treat? Whistle loves treats more than Morgan, but he is not quite as obsessed with treats as Ramona.

Another big issue for Ramona and treats was her weight. Whenever I would give her treats, she had an almost immediate and noticeable weight gain.

Whistle, on the other hand, is very lean and muscular. I monitor his weight closely and although I have been giving him regular treats, he has maintained a healthy weight. However, the dilemma continues. How often should I give my service dog treats and when? I adore all of my service dogs and I want to be good to them, but is giving them treats being good to them or am I negatively impacting their overall nutrition? And second, what kinds of treats should I be giving them? Organic, meat, veggies, fruit, etc.?

I was trained to give Ramona minimal treats for a variety of reasons and I always felt guilty after she was gone for not lavishing more treats on her. As a result, I have been much more lenient with Morgan and even more so with Whistle. My philosophy is, if it doesn’t interfere with their work performance or their health, then it should be okay.

What do you think? How do you dispense treats and what kinds of treats do you give your service dog?

Service dogs and pinch collars: help or hindrance?

January 18, 2010 · Posted in Equipment/Supplies, Service Dogs, Training · 20 Comments 
pinch collar

We really enjoy watching professional dog trainers work their dogs. I am amazed at how they can command their dog’s attention and maintain a level of control over their dog’s head through the use of a leash and collar.

As a wheelchair user, handling a dog can be challenging. From a sitting position, it can be more difficult to manage my service dog’s movements without the assistance of other techniques and devices such as a pinch collar or training collar.

Does your service dog forge or as I refer to it, have a secret desire to be a member of a sled dog team? All three of my service dogs have had a wandering head for either food particles on the floor or the need to get ahead of my wheelchair. I always feel so guilty for using a pinch collar but I have to say, it works like a charm.

When a trainer suggested a pinch collar for my first dog, Ramona, I was shocked and appalled. How could I put such an offensive looking device on my little angelic service dog? Well, my little angel was eating everything in sight and the pinch collar definitely got her attention. Ramona was more responsive to me whenever she was wearing it AND I didn’t have to pull so hard on her.

My second dog, Morgan definitely had aspirations to be a member of a champion sled dog team. He was somewhat interested in food, but he was more interested in forging ahead of me. This posed a real problem as I started developing shoulder and neck pain because of the force I had to apply to keep him from forging ahead and literally pulling me out of my wheelchair.

When I put a pinch collar on him, he too became more aware of his forging and became much better at heeling beside my wheelchair without pulling me out of my chair or causing irreparable shoulder damage.

My current service dog, Whistle, has these similar tendencies although they are not as pervasive as with Ramona and Morgan. He likes to find morsels on the floor that he can scoop up and he likes to forge every now and then. What he does like to do that Morgan and Ramona didn’t do, is he likes to sniff where other dogs have urinated. He just can’t seem to resist.

I was so thrilled because I really haven’t had to use a pinch collar on Whistle. However recently, his desire to sniff where other dogs have relieved themselves has become an increasing problem.

As a result, I finally broke down and purchased a new pinch collar for Whistle. Once again, it looked very offensive to me. I was so worried that I was hurting him, although I know it looks much worse than it actually is. And, I have to say, it has really curbed the issue of Whistle breaking from a “heel” command to sniff uncontrollably. So for now, I am back to using a pinch collar when Whistle and I are in public. I have to ask, “how do you feel about using a pinch collar on your service dog? Is it a helpful tool or a hindrance?”

Out of Retirement for the Day

January 12, 2010 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Doggie Healthcare, Service Dogs · Comment 

We took an adventurous trip to the vet today to introduce our new kitty to our vet and to get Morgan checked. Morgan has been exhibiting some issues with his anal area and we thought he might need his anal glands expelled. As we packed up the kitties, I called Morgan to put on his harness in preparation for the 30 minute drive to the vet’s office. I use his harness to seat belt him safely into my van. He was thrilled that I was calling his name as I was going through my ritual preparing to leave the house.

It was as if he was having flashbacks to his working days. Whistle, on the other hand, was noticing my departure rituals and he got into place to accompany me. He seemed confused and disappointed that I did not dress him. Morgan followed me to the door as he does many mornings. He paused as if I would be saying good-bye and leaving him behind once again. Instead, I held the door open for him and called him to come. He sprinted through the door and into the open door of my van with a huge smile on his face. I clicked his seatbelt and closed the van door. He seemed to realize that Whistle was staying behind. His chest swelled with pride and he perched himself on the backseat of my van.

Morgan has horrific allergies that cause him to lick himself insatiably. As a result, he has to wear an Elizabethan collar 24 hours a day. For those of you who have seen the movie, Up, you know this collar is referred to as “the cone of shame”. Morgan is such a good sport about wearing it, but I can only imagine how uncomfortable and frustrating it is for him. Unfortunately, he has to wear it or he would cause serious harm to himself.

However, today Franz removed the collar when he put the harness on Morgan. Morgan was perched on my seat with his harness and seatbelt, cone free. He was a service dog again if only for a little while and he was behaving like a service dog. No licking, no thoughts to illnesses or retirement. He was working and it felt really good.

Morgan went with us to the vet and he performed as a perfect service dog. He proudly waltzed into the vet’s clinic and conducted himself with the utmost professionalism as his kitty brothers received their check-ups and as he endured his check-up and gland expulsion. It was so heartwarming to see my retired guy feel so good about himself. The ultimate thrill was to see him without the Elizabethan collar.

I wish being dressed and being in public was the answer. Unfortunately, this phenomenon will be short lived. I know Morgan will once again begin uncontrollable licking and he will have to put the collar back on.

But for today, for this moment, he was young again. He was working and he was my service dog. I am thankful for today and for having the opportunity to see Morgan by my side. When we got home, Whistle was waiting at the door. His entire body was wiggling with excitement that we were home and things went back to normal. Morgan is resting on the couch again, but I can still see a twinkle in his eyes as if he is remembering that he got to go to work today. He was the working service dog and Whistle had to take the day off.

Alternative Medical Treatments for Service Dogs

January 7, 2010 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Doggie Healthcare, Service Dogs · 3 Comments 
herbal remedies

As a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, alternative treatments are a common form of health care for a large portion of our population. Santa Fe is known as “the city different” and it is proud of its world renowned schools for massage, acupuncture, and other forms of alternative medical treatments.

These treatments are designed to treat an individual’s mind, body and soul. I myself have benefited from various alternative medical treatments such as massage, oriental medicine, aroma therapy, etc. And, I have been thinking about utilizing these types of treatments for Whistle and Morgan, my service dogs.

As most of you know, Morgan has been retired the last couple of years and has been experiencing some chronic medical issues. Primarily, he developed severe allergies throughout his life that have attacked his immune system and drives him to lick himself until he bleeds. It is so severe that he has to live in an Elizabethan collar. If I take it off for two seconds, he will lick himself until he bleeds. His allergies are so severe that he can no longer produce tears. As a result of that illness, he almost lost his eye sight. It was only through the intervention of Dr. Gavin Kennard at Eye Care Associates in Albuquerque, NM that we were able to save his eyes.

Needless to say, we have tried everything to help Morgan including allergy specialists, allergy shots, special diets, special medications, etc. You name it and we’ve tried it. He has been tested for allergies and the poor guy is literally allergic to everything in his environment, including his food. He can only tolerate a prescribed food of rabbit and potato that we have to special order.

I am at a loss on how to effectively treat Morgan’s symptoms. As a result, I have been exploring alternative methods of treatment. Currently, Morgan is getting massage. At first, he did not like it and did not want the massage therapist to touch him. But now, he seems to enjoy the body work and gladly stretches out for her to massage his entire body. When he’s had enough, he lets her know and she immediately stops touching him.

A friend has a senior dog that is licking uncontrollably also. I don’t think he is as bad as Morgan but it does sound very problematic. This friend has elected to try acupuncture on her dog along with some Chinese herbal supplements. Already, she has witnessed some improvement from the herbal supplements and I am anxious to hear about the results of the acupuncture treatment.

Alternative treatments are not just a luxurious form of treatment that merely caters to celebrities and the rich and famous. Service dogs exert so much energy throughout their lives and they endure more stress than an average family pet. I believe we need a holistic approach to medical care for ourselves and our service dogs. For me, alternative treatments are a good option to maintain the overall health and wellness of my working dogs.

Have you had any positive or negative experiences with alternative medical treatments for your working dog? I would love to hear about it as I continue to strive to maintain the overall health and well-being of Whistle and Morgan.

Earlier Posts »