Tech Talk with Intel: Will Robotic Dogs Guide the Blind?

A dog and a person.Will robots and other technology replace guide dogs?

I’ll never forget the first day of service dog team training. One of the first things the trainers told us was, “Your new dog is not a robot.” And, here we are 20 years later talking about robots as assistance dogs.

Intel’s technology, as it relates to assistance dogs, was recently discussed in an article by Scott Jung, iQ Contributor & Senior Editor at MedGadget. During International Assistance Dog Week, Intel suggested technologies that honor not only the dogs that faithfully guide the visually impaired to greater independence, but also the work they inspire.

The report explains that because guide dogs can’t go everywhere, and can’t live with everyone, doctors, engineers, and scientists are developing technology that can help people with visual impairment.

In Japan an electronics company and a university have teamed up to work on guide robots. The project, which has been underway since 2009, now has refined their earlier models, which look less like R2-D2 and operate more like a dog now, with four robotic legs that can climb stairs, and the ability to respond to verbal instructions.

Other companies around the world are working on wearable technology, like the Eyeronman, a vest which uses LIDAR, a sort of laser radar, to detect obstacles. Smart glasses that use technology to enhance vision are another strategy being explored. And there’s the BrainPort, which converts images seen by a video camera into an “image” the user feels on his tongue.

As the article concludes, “While robots and wearable devices don’t look, bark or snuggle like dogs, the guide dogs we salute this week and the assistive technology they’ve inspired have something very important in common: both help the visually impaired lead more independent lives.”

You can read the full article at http://iq.intel.com/the-future-of-fetching-robotic-dogs-guide-the-blind/

Gravel or artificial grass? Tell the FAA what you think service animal relief areas at airports should be like.

Service dog animal relief area logo

Do you travel by air with your assistance dog? Would you like to have some say in what the animal relief areas at airports will be like?

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is asking for input from service animal partners, and organizations about the issues related to service animal relief areas at airports.

Standards are being developed for relief areas for airports to follow. The standardization would include signing, and guidance for people with vision impairments.

A proposed rule was published in 2011 that would require relief areas at certain airports. The rule also requires that airports consult with service animal training organization(s) about these areas. Consensus standards are being developed in hopes that the standards would satisfy the requirement for consultation. The FAA believes that by having standards, the development of relief areas will be sped up.

The FAA is also asking about the needs of service animals and their partners. In particular, they would like input on the use of artificial turf, gravel or other materials that could be used for relief areas within secure areas at airports. We understand that it’s tough to grow grass indoors, so it’s great that the FAA is asking us our opinion about what materials would be best to use.

Submit your ideas by commenting on this blog post at the bottom of the page. We’ll send in all of your ideas by the January 2nd deadline

If you want help in finding relief areas at airports, you can use the free Working Like Dogs “Where to Go” app. Find out more and download the free app.

Is your holiday party going to the dogs?

December 5, 2013 · Posted in Assistance Dogs, Guide Dogs, People, Public Interaction, Service Dogs · Comment 
Older man and his dogWhistle likes the holidays but isn’t sure about the reindeer antlers he’s wearing right now

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!!

Assistance Dogs at Craig Hospital

October 24, 2012 · Posted in Assistance Dogs, Guide Dogs, Puppyraisers, Service Dogs · Comment 
Retired guide dog HeatherRetired guide dog Heather

Recently my husband Franz, Whistle, and I traveled to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, for my annual physical and re-evaluation of my disability-related medical needs. I’ve been coming to Craig for over 10 years. They are consistently  recognized as one of the top rehabilitation facilities in the country.

During my stays throughout the years, I have noticed one or two other assistance dogs beside Whistle. But during this visit, I have noticed a significant increase in the number of outpatients who are accompanied by an assistance dog.

In addition to service dogs, I also was excited to take a peek at the recreational calendar for the week to see what fun things were happening. Every day there was one or more different therapy dogs who were visiting both inpatients and outpatients. I met a lovely volunteer named Connie. She was accompanied by Heather, a former guide dog who had developed some health issues and had to be retired. Heather made a perfect therapy dog.
We also got to stop by and meet four-month-old, yellow lab Otis. Otis is a Canine Companions for Independence puppy in training. He was nestled under the desk of his puppyraiser and Craig employee, Jeni Exley.

There is also Emil, a yellow lab that works with his partner, Becki, in Follow-up Services.  The first thing Whistle and I noticed was Emil’s luxurious bed that was in the patient waiting area.

Everywhere we’ve turned this week I’ve heard wheelchairs bustling through the hallways and the beautiful sound of collars jingling as service dogs and their human partners are busily traveling the Craig Hospital corridors. Thank goodness for innovative medical facilities like Craig that truly understand and support the role assistance dogs play in the independence of the patients they serve.

What I Know for Sure After 39 Years of Being a Guide Dog Handler

August 5, 2012 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Guide Dogs · 1 Comment 

Guest blogger Katherine Schneider, Ph.D, Senior Psychologist Emerita, Counseling Service, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and Author of “To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities” has written this blog post for Working Like Dogs. You can find more of her musings at her blog: http://kathiecomments.wordpress.com.

Kathie and Fran

I’m heading off to train with my ninth Seeing Eye dog and that’s put me in a reflective mood. In a couple years I will have had a Seeing Eye dog for half the time the Seeing Eye has been in existence. That entitles me to be philosophical, right?

The first thing I know for certain is each working dog is a unique gift; no two alike! The first dog often changes one’s life so much that second dog suffers by comparison. After you realize that of course they’re different and have different strengths, you can still honor that first dog and go on to fully embrace number two, three, etc. Each dog does their job, but the fun and sometimes frustrating part is to figure out how to work with that individual dog so he/she shines.

Each of my working dogs has built my character in different ways. My first dog taught me to be positive instead of crabby when my expectations were not met. My soon to be retired dog showed such courage in telling me that she needed to retire by refusing to work when she thought she could not safely do so because of a vision problem, that I am in awe of her. Then there are the funny little things they do that show you they definitely do think. For example, I’ve taught each of my dogs the words “up” and “down” so when we go into a building they’ll find the stairs for me. As they reached middle age (about seven), each one started showing me the elevator instead of the stairs.

I’ve learned from retiring dogs that it’s never easy no matter how many times you do it, but you will get through it and you will love again. I grieve the decision to retire a dog, the actual retirement, and eventually the grief of the dog’s death. Like with any grief, rituals like a retirement party and writing a bio for the family who adopts the dog help. Coaching friends to treat it as seriously as they would a death or divorce may be necessary. A few empathic souls “get it” that working dogs are very different from pets and do the right things like listening and showing up to help with the transition or just bringing a dish, but I’m convinced more would if they realized this dog is my best friend, my eyes and my key to safe transportation.

I’m still learning from my dogs that you can be joyful in greeting each new day, quick to love and forgive, enjoy the little things like fresh water and a bowl of food and that a wagging tail wins a lot of friends. I wonder what I’ll learn from Young and Foolish.

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