Recertification Tests Both Dog and Human Partner

April 13, 2010 · Posted in Training · Comment 
pass or fail

Whistle and I are counting down the days until it’s time for our first recertification as a working service dog team. Our recertification will take place this Friday. I know every service dog organization is unique with its own requirements and specifications for its working dog teams. Our agency, Paws With A Cause (PWAC), requires Whistle and I to be recertified as a working dog team every two years.

Our working dog team identification card states that Whistle and I are a certified service dog team for a certain amount of time, usually 1-1/2 to two years. Once that time lapses, we have to get recertified in order to obtain a new identification card. That identification card has proven priceless in alleviating access issues, especially access issues that have arisen in airports. I can’t believe it’s already been two years since our last certification.

What is PWAC’s recertification? Recertification is a process where Whistle and I have to perform our repertoire of commands both at our home and out in public in front of Dani, our PWAC Field Trainer. We usually go to a local shopping mall. He and I will have to go through every command and demonstrate our proficiency performing that command.

Although, Whistle and I work as a unified team every day, it is a little intimidating to be required to perform these tasks under the watchful eyes of his Field Trainer, Dani and her faithful video recorder. Not only does Dani oversee our performance, she also videotapes it and submits the tape to the head trainer back at PWAC Headquarters in Michigan.

If they like what they see, Whistle and I will be recertified for another two years and issued a new identification card. If they don’t like what they see, then they will recommend further training or other activities that we might have to complete. It also gives the trainers an opportunity to see Whistle to make sure he is physically fit and that he is being cared for properly.

I’m feeling pretty confident that Whistle and I will get recertified. However, you never know what might happen, and what if Whistle or I get nervous and make some mistakes? As I said, it is a little daunting and stressful for both of us.

I have been trying to practice some of Whistle’s most difficult tasks just to make sure we are ready for our recertification test. Whistle is a very sensitive dog and he will definitely sense any nervousness that I might be experiencing. As his handler, I have to be confident and trust his ability to perform each required task. We have to trust each other. Wish us luck!

Happy Birthday Whistle!

April 1, 2010 · Posted in Service Dogs, Training · 1 Comment 
Marcie and Whistle

It seems like yesterday when Whistle made the journey from Paws With A Cause in Michigan to Albuquerque, New Mexico to become my third service dog. I can just see him making his way beside PAWS Field Trainer Karole Schaufele through the Albuquerque airport. He looked so tall and lean to me. It was the first time I had been placed with a yellow Labrador/golden retriever mix. I will never forget how I eyes met from a distance. As he and Karole approached me, Whistle quietly stepped up onto my footplate and licked my left ear.

What a relief, I thought to myself as I threw my arms around him and gave him the first of many hugs and kisses to come throughout our last three years together. It’s hard to believe that day was three years ago and tomorrow is Whistle’s fifth birthday.

On the eve of Whistle’s fifth birthday, I am reflecting back on our time together. He has been such an athlete. He is lean and strong. He is very physically fit and after three years of working together, he is seasoned as my dedicated service dog.

When Whistle first arrived, he seemed nervous and unsure of his place in our home. This uncertainty was magnified by the fact that Morgan, my retired service dog, remained in our home. Whistle and Morgan each had to define their roles within our home. Morgan was definitely the alpha dog and Whistle respectfully honored Morgan from day one. He continues to acquiesce to Morgan whenever the occasion arises.

Whistle is seasoned. He knows the ropes, he has built up his confidence and from my perspective, he’s at the peak of his professional career.

From my experience as a service dog handler, five years of age seemed to be the magical age for each of my previous dogs, Morgan and Ramona. As I reflect on the past three years and look forward to the next three years with Whistle, I feel so fortunate to have him as my service dog and so sad that our time together is limited. These past three years have flown by and I can only imagine how quickly the next three years will pass.

Together, Whistle and I are planning a trip to London later this year and other travel adventures that would not be possible for me without him. Happy Birthday Whistle and thank you for the joy and freedom you have given me during our past three years together and best wishes for the bright future that we still have to look forward to spending together! Good boy Whistle!

Are Dog Parks a Good Idea for Service Dogs?

March 12, 2010 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs, Training · 17 Comments 
socializing with other dogs

It seems like every time I turn around these days, some one is suggesting that I take my service dog, Whistle, to a dog park. As a person who uses a wheelchair, this is a little intimidating to me. I am nervous about letting Whistle off lead around strange dogs that neither he nor I know.

I am curious; do you take your dog on a regular basis to a dog park? How has that worked for you? We have a new dog park in my community and I have been interested in visiting it but again, I am nervous about letting Whistle off leash on terrain that can be difficult for me to navigate in my wheelchair. I am concerned about Whistle’s safety.

How safe are dog parks? I know there are great socialization benefits of going to a dog park but there are definitely risks also. A dog park is not your yard or a controlled training environment.

The jury is still out for me. I’m not sure if I feel comfortable taking Whistle to a dog park although I do think he would really enjoy it. Are dog parks a good idea for service dogs? Would you recommend them or avoid them? And if you don’t go to a dog park, how do you make sure your service dog gets enough exercise?

I guess I’m just really an over protective human partner but when I think about all the training and care that has gone into Whistle to support him as a service dog, I just don’t know if I can take the risk against the benefits.

Understanding Working Canine Behaviors

March 10, 2010 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Doggie Healthcare, Training · Comment 
digging dog

I had the opportunity to visit with veterinarian and pet behavior specialist Dr. Jeff Nichol (www.drjeffnichol.com) this week on our radio show, Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com. Dr. Nichol brought up some interesting points about behavioral issues that working dogs can exhibit. Some of these hit really close to home for my current service dog, Whistle and past service dogs, Morgan and Ramona.

One of the issues that Whistle shows is excessive digging. Whistle loves to dig a huge hole in our yard. However, quite frankly, my husband and I are not too thrilled with this behavior.

I asked Dr. Nichol what his thoughts were on excessive digging in working dogs. He said that Whistle could be communicating a couple of things with his digging.

Perhaps one issue might be that he isn’t getting enough social interaction with other dogs. I found that really interesting because Whistle is on the go with me all the time and from my perspective, he gets plenty of social interaction. But, this is something I need to pay attention to. Dr. Nichol suggested taking Whistle to a dog park for some extra exercise and interaction with other dogs.

Secondly, he said that Whistle might not be getting enough exercise. Once again, from my perspective, he is on the go all the time and seems to get lots of physical activity throughout the day. Plus, he’s lean and is always full of energy.

I think energy might be the key here. Whistle is definitely a high energy dog. He is always ready to go to work and ready to play. I need to be more aware of his social needs to interact with other dogs and to get enough free, play time.

Dr. Nichol also talked about unruly barking and fearful behaviors such as aggression. Keeping Whistle healthy and happy is my priority. I learned a lot from my visit with Dr. Nichol and I look forward to future discussions with him about the behavioral issues that working dogs develop as they age.

Others Can Be Integral Parts of a Service Dog Team

March 2, 2010 · Posted in People, Service Dogs, Training · Comment 
Franz and Whistle at Yellowstone

I am always amazed at how respectful my husband, Franz, is regarding my relationship with my service dogs. He always has been. From the moment I received my first service dog and for the last seventeen years as I am now working with my third dog.

When I got my first dog, Ramona, he was instructed not to interact with her. For the first month, he was not even supposed to have any eye contact with her. I will never forget when I brought Ramona home. What a proud moment. And Franz was so supportive. He followed all the rules until one morning when I got out of the shower and found Franz and Ramona rolling around the living room floor playing together. They both looked at me as if to say, “We just couldn’t take it any longer.”

From the moment I received my first dog, Franz has never overridden or even tried to override a command that I have given. Quite the opposite, he remains silent whenever I need to communicate with my canine partner. And somehow he manages to do this in spite of the fact that each dog I’ve had completely adores him. They love nothing better than to play rough house with Franz when he comes home at the end of the day.

I have often wondered what my service dogs think about Franz? Is he another dog? Is he a member of their pack? Is he one of the pack leaders?

He is definitely the second most important person in their life. Whenever I am sick or unable to meet their immediate needs, Franz steps in for me. He knows all of their commands and fluently speaks their language and yet, he acquiesces to me each and every time when needed.

I view Franz as a secondary member of our service dog team. He is the unsung hero who gets up in the middle of the night to take my dog out. He cleans up our yard. He goes to the emergency vet with us in the middle of the night when my service dog is sick.

There are so many people out their like Franz who provide unwavering support to working dog teams. Through their dedication and support, we are enabled to function and to flourish as a successful working team. We often talk about puppyraisers and their contributions to creating these amazing service animals. Rarely, however, do we talk about these unsung heroes who help to maintain healthy and highly functional teams.

These individuals are our family members, spouses, attendants, friends, etc. who quietly stay in the shadows offering their support in times of need and with the mundane daily tasks that might not be too fun or glamorous. I want to take a moment to say thank you to these integral secondary team members for all that they do to support the success of working dogs and their human partners. Whistle and I salute you!

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