As the holidays roll around again, many of us are preparing to host an annual holiday party. As you prepare your guest list, does it include someone partnered with an assistance dog? And if so, do you know how to make sure all your guests, both human and canine, feel welcome?
While most people are familiar with guide dogs that assist individuals who are blind or have partial vision loss, there are a variety of assistance dogs trained to help people impacted by spinal cord injury, hearing loss, post traumatic stress disorders, diabetes, or some other medical need.
More and more people with medical and physical limitations are discovering how assistance dogs can enhance their daily lives. There are multiple types of assistance dogs that provide an array of physical and mental support to their human partners.
Service dogs assist their human partners by carrying or retrieving items, pushing buttons (for example, on an elevator), opening and closing drawers, providing assistance with balance while dressing, helping with household chores and much more.
Hearing alert dogs alert individuals with hearing loss to specific sounds, including phones, doorbells, sirens, smoke alarms, crying babies and other humans.
Medical alert dogs respond to various types of medical events such as epileptic seizures, changes in blood sugar, heart attack, stroke, cancer and other potential medical emergencies. These dogs may be trained to alert their owner of an approaching medical event, pull an emergency cord, lick their owner’s face to notify him/her, or even retrieve the phone for a 911 call. Some dogs possess the ability to predict a medical event and will become restless or push against their partners to warn them.
When you invite someone who is partnered with an assistance dog into your home for a social gathering, there are some things that you need to be aware of in order to ensure that all your guests feel welcome. People are often confused about how they should behave around a working dog. After all, who can resist a gorgeous working dog, especially at a festive event?
It is important to recognize that although this is a social event and your guest is attending as a partygoer, their assistance dog is on the job and not in party mode. Your guest is dependent on their assistance dog for one or more medical needs. It is important not to distract their assistance dog. You should never speak directly to the dog or offer any type of food without first seeking the owner’s permission.
I often refer to assistance dogs as highly trained Olympic athletes who may be on special diets with strict feeding schedules. Unsolicited attention and food can be distracting to the dog and could be detrimental to their human partner’s safety and independence.
If you are aware your guest is partnered with an assistance dog, check in with him or her ahead of time and ask if there is anything you can do to accommodate him and his assistance dog while they are at the party. Share with him the best place to toilet his canine partner and ask if you can provide any water or snacks while the dog is at the party.
If you are hosting the party at your home and you have pets, consider placing your pets in a comfortable area away from the assistance dog and his human partner. Your family pets may not understand why a strange dog has entered their home and territory. Segregating the animals provides a safer environment and can reduce unnecessary stress.
When you are preparing the party area and placing chairs and other décor, consider allowing ample space for your guest and her assistance dog. You don’t want to isolate them but, you want to provide enough access area for the team to easily negotiate the area and mingle with other guests.
If you are really striving to be the “hostess with the mostess,” you may want to be aware of how other party goers are interacting with the working dog. Are they fearful of the dog or are they paying too much attention to the working dog? If so, you may need to provide some gentle reminders that this is a working dog and guests should not be touching or addressing the dog directly. You and your guests should always speak directly to the individual partnered with the dog. And, no one should pet the working dog without asking permission from their human partner.
Some of your other guests may be anxious or nervous about an assistance dog at the party. Don’t be afraid to reassure them that assistance dogs are highly trained to provide a variety of critical services to their human partner. Party goers with assistance dogs deserve the same respect as other party goers. That being said, you do have the right to ask the dog to leave if it is not behaving appropriately and jeopardizes the safety of other guests.
Keep it simple and remember these tips to ensure that everyone remains in the holiday spirit whenever they are meeting or approaching a working assistance dog and his or her human partner:
- Do not touch the Assistance Dog, or the person it assists, without permission.
- Do not make noises at the Assistance Dog; it may distract the animal from doing its job.
- Do not feed the Assistance Dog; it may disrupt his/her schedule and diet.
- Do not be offended if the person does not feel like discussing his/her disability or the assistance the dog provides. Not everyone wants to be a walking-talking “show and tell” exhibit.
Remember, it’s the holidays and everyone just wants to relax and enjoy the doggone party!!
We don’t always think about what will happen if our assistance dog outlives us. Usually our focus is on the grief we’ll feel when our beloved dog goes before us, since dogs usually have a short lifespan.
But planning ahead to make sure your assistance dog is cared for if you die before they do is important. A pet trust is a legal mechanism recognized in most states. It allows you to plan for the care of your dog, including providing the financial means to do so.
First, if you got your assistance dog from an agency, you have to determine whether or not you own your dog. Some agencies retain ownership while some agencies turn over ownership to the recipient. This is an important question to answer before you proceed.
You may think that a provision in your will covers the care of your dog, but it offers no guarantee. A pet trust, a type of “honorary trust,” must be established for your wishes to be enforceable. Cornell’s “DOGWatch” newsletter recently took on this topic in detail, and here are some of the points they raised.
Since dogs are considered property by law, and can’t directly receive an inheritance, a trustee and caregiver are needed for a pet trust. The trustee is the person who manages the funds of the trust and the caregiver, who may or may not be the same person as the trustee, is the one actually taking care of the dog. Naming more than one caregiver is wise. You are the settler or grantor of the trust, the person who creates it. The beneficiary of the trust is your dog.
Whether you find the forms for your pet trust online or hire an attorney, the main thing is getting the trust set up so you know your assistance dog will be cared for in the manner you feel is important. As long as the details you spell out are not considered by the court to be “capricious,” and the amount of money is not considered excessive (like the $12 million Leona Helmsley left for her dog), the trust should be enforceable.
To make sure your wishes are carried out, you will not only have to set up the trust, but also take additional steps including:
- Talk to your caregiver(s) and make sure they’re willing to take on the responsibility.
- Spell out specific details of care for your dog.
- Make sure enough money is set aside for your dog’s care over his expected lifetime, plus something for the caregiver’s time.
- Give copies of the trust to the trustee and caregiver(s).
To you, your assistance dog is a partner and family member. In the eyes of the law, he or she is just a piece of property. I want to make sure that Whistle has the best care possible if I die before him. Plan ahead with a pet trust to ensure your assistance dog is cared for, even if they outlive you.Image courtesy of africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Brian Hare on the Working Like Dogs radio show at www.petliferadio.com. Dr. Hare, the Director of the Canine Cognition Center at Duke University, is the author of The Genius of Dogs. Also, he is the co-founder of the innovative website www.dognition.com. This website contains instructional games on assessing your canine’s cognition.
Dr. Hare and his Duke University research team have revolutionized the way we think about canine intelligence. Through their research, they made the following three important discoveries:
- Animals use many types of cognition to survive (for example, learning skills from others, remembering the location of food, inferring the solution to a new problem or deceiving others during competition).
- Different animals rely on different cognitive strategies. Asking if a crow is more intelligent than a dolphin is like asking whether a hammer is a better tool than a saw. Each animal has strategies to solve a unique set of problems.
- Animals rely on a toolbox of strategies that depend on a variety of factors. Just because an animal tends to use a certain strategy to solve specific problems doesn’t mean he or she will always apply that strategy to all types of problems.
After reading The Genius of Dogs and chatting with Dr. Hare, I decided to log on to www.dognition.com and sign Whistle up to complete his Dognition Profile. I wanted a better understanding of Whistle’s thought process and thought Dr. Hare’s inventive series of games would help me to discover Whistle’s particular genius.
The Dognition website was easy to navigate. For a $59 fee, Whistle and I easily began the process of assessing his canine cognition. After paying the fee, I began completing the questionnaire. It took about 15-20 minutes to answer a series of questions about Whistle’s behavior in different situations and scenarios. I was reminded that there were no right or wrong answers, and most importantly, this was not a test. It is a tool to identify how Whistle’s mind works.
After completing the survey, a series of games appeared on the screen. The games were divided into cognitive dimensions such as: Empathy, Communication, Cunning, Memory and Reasoning. Whistle and I needed a human partner to complete the games. Also, we needed some simple household items such as: sticky notes, plastic cups, paper and dog treats.
I asked my husband, Franz, if he would like to participate in the games. He is a scientist so, it was easy to pique his interest and engage him in the process. We realized that the games were going to be somewhat time consuming. So, we scheduled some time during the weekend to begin the exercises.
It took time for Franz and me to become comfortable with the exercises. It helped to read the instructions and then, watch the accompanying videos. Whistle, on the other hand, jumped right in and loved every second of it. Each category had different tasks and instructions. Once trained, we performed the tasks and recorded the results.
As a wheelchair user with minimal abdominal strength and balance, I found some of the exercises physically challenging. However, Franz and I would interchange the roles and responsibilities for each game. As a result, I still felt like the lead research scientist on the project, even though Franz and Whistle performed most of the physical activities.
We began the exercises utilizing my desktop computer. However, we quickly realized that using a mobile iPad would be a lot easier and more efficient way to record our results. We used the iPad for the remainder of the exercises and it made the process much easier to accomplish.
It took us about three hours over a day and a half to perform all the games and record the results. The software was user-friendly and saved the results automatically. We paced ourselves and tried not to overexert Whistle. Whistle had 3-4 outdoor breaks during the time. Although to be honest, we were more exhausted than Whistle. Whistle loved every second of it. I think he was having flashbacks to all of his assistance dog training.
Once the exercises were completed and our information was logged into the www.dognition.com site, we received a simple report that explained Whistle’s cognition style and the strategies he relies on to solve a variety of problems.
It was no surprise that Whistle was identified as a “Charmer”. The report stated Whistle is, “a smooth operator, the Charmer relies on his secret weapon – you!” It went on to explain that Whistle has excellent social skills which means he can easily read my body language. The report described how he has a keen understanding of his physical world, but he prefers to depend on me as his ally and partner. Based on the results of Whistle’s actions during the exercises, it was determined that he will rely on me for help before he tries to figure out a problem on his own. We are extremely bonded.
It was interesting to read all the information the report provided regarding Whistle’s cognitive dimensions of Empathy, Communication, Cunning, Memory and Reasoning. The results validated many of my perceptions of Whistle’s behavior. It also enhanced my confidence in Whistle and the bond we have developed. I knew he and I were bonded, but it was nice to see it documented in the results of these interactive exercises.
We had so much fun participating in the profile exercises, and wanted to continue working with Whistle.
As I came to the end of the written report, I was excited to see a section called Next Steps. It wasn’t the end after all. I was delighted to learn that Dognition offers an ongoing membership where we could continue receiving tips and activities prepared especially for Whistle from Dr. Hare’s canine training experts. We could also receive new findings about how all dogs think and how Whistle’s strategies compared. Based on the valuable information we’ve already gained, we are definitely considering purchasing the annual Dognition membership.
Although I have been partnered with an assistance dog for over 20 years now, I am still amazed every day by the intelligence and devotion these animals exhibit. Dognition.com is another way that we can continue exploring and expanding this incredible relationship.
Whistle and I are up for the challenge. Are you? Please let us know if you and your dog have completed the Dognition Profile. Whistle and I would love to hear about your experiences!
Everyone seems to have a theory about why dogs sometimes eat grass, but nobody really knows for certain. Some people think dogs eat grass to get more fiber in their diet. But since modern commercial diets contain enough fiber, that theory has been dismissed by many.
Another theory is that dogs eat grass to induce vomiting when they’ve eaten something bad. This is because people observe their dogs vomiting after eating grass. However not all dogs vomit after eating grass.
Andrea N. Johnston, DVM, DACVIM, a clinical instructor in internal medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine says that even specialists like her don’t really know. Maybe dogs just like it.
In general, it’s considered that eating a little grass isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it really doesn’t provide much roughage or nutrients.
One caution on grass consumption: fertilizers and chemicals that may be on the lawn. Another concern is parasites that could be in the dirt and grass.
If you want your dog to have more greens, Dr. Johnston recommends simply feeding them some fresh or cooked vegetables.
Just remember that every dog is different and if your dog is frequently eating grass and vomiting, it wouldn’t hurt to ask your vet about it to make sure he or she doesn’t have some underlying medical condition.Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As an experienced assistance dog handler, you may consider yourself to be a total “dog person,” but that doesn’t mean you should assume it’s OK to approach every unknown dog. For me and Whistle, getting up close and personal isn’t always the best approach.
When I am out alone with Whistle and an unknown dog approaches us, it always makes me somewhat leery until I can discern whether the unknown dog is friendly or unfriendly.
Experts at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine give guidelines on various situations and say that in many cases, it’s best to not approach unknown dogs at all.
- Is the dog tethered with no person with them?
An unattended dog on a leash or tether might be more aggressive than usual. Even a wagging tail is not a surefire sign of a happy dog. It can also mean the dog is excited or aggressive. If the dog is in “his territory,” such as their yard, it could be an even worse situation, with the dog feeling trapped and that he needs to defend his territory.
- Is the dog leashed with their owner?
Always ask permission before approaching any dog, no matter how friendly they might appear. Once you have permission, invite the dog to approach you rather than vice versa. Don’t pet the dog on top of his head but offer a closed hand for him to sniff. Use a soft voice.
- Is the dog unleashed with their owner?
Whether you’re in a dog park or out on the street where the owner just isn’t following the leash law, it is not safe to initiate an interaction with the dog. In this scenario a dog might feel like it needs to protect the owner.
- Is the dog unleashed with no owner nearby?
Avoid contact with dogs in this situation. You really can’t always read the dog’s body language. If the dog approaches you and appears aggressive, you should stand still and avoid eye contact.
When I got my first assistance dog, I was trained to use my wheelchair as a buffer between an unknown dog and my service dog. And, in an extreme case, I was taught how to use my wheelchair to protect myself and my dog. Fortunately, I have only had to use this tactic once or twice during my life with a service dog partner. But, I can tell you that the aggressive dog did not like having a 200 pound wheelchair roll over his paw and it was a great diversion to give me and my dog some time to get out of that situation.
In one extreme case, my husband, Franz, had to intervene when a unknown dog came running out of a florist shop to attack Ramona when she and I were entering an outside elevator in Washington, D.C. Franz had to get aggressive with the dog in order to get him to stop the attack. It was a scary experience and it definitely had a negative impact on Ramona’s psyche. After that incident, she became more sensitive to unknown dogs.
Have you had any issues with unknown dogs? And, if so, what tactic worked for you and your assistance dog?