Whistle passed the recertification test!

April 22, 2010 · Posted in Service Dogs, Training · Comment 
Whistle recertified

I am happy to report that Whistle completed his recertification requirements with flying colors! His Paws With A Cause field trainer, Dani, showed up at our house around 10:00 a.m. She had an array of paperwork that had to be completed. She asked all the usual questions about Whistle’s performance and overall wellness. After all the paperwork was completed, she enlisted my husband, Franz, to assist her by filming Whistle and me as we performed each command.

It was show time and Whistle and I began going through his repertoire of commands. We started with some of the simpler commands. Whistle was asked to perform a sit, down, and stay under Dani’s watchful eye while Franz captured the performance on video camera. We continued through the list of commands and finished with his most difficult command “Get Help”. In this task, Whistle is trained to locate Franz in our home and alert him that I need assistance. Once he alerts Franz, he is trained to return to me.

I don’t know why I was so nervous about Whistle’s performance? I guess I was nervous for Whistle. Or perhaps I was just worried that Whistle would pick up on my nervousness. I didn’t want him to think that I doubted his ability.

People always talk about the bond between a person with a disability and their service dog. It’s true, it is a unique bond that is difficult if not impossible to describe. I love Whistle so unconditionally that I wanted him to be successful. And yet, as I can only imagine how many parents feel, I couldn’t complete the test for him. He had to perform the commands. He was on his own, under the microscope and I was so afraid he might falter.

I have to say, I don’t’ know what I was worried about. I was blown away by Whistle’s professionalism and motivation. He genuinely loved working and it showed. He attacked every command with such precision. How could I ever have doubted his abilities? Whistle and I are together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Did I take his abilities for granted? Am I so used to his performance that I didn’t recognize it?

After Whistle completed all of his tasks in our home, we loaded up into my van and went to the local shopping mall. Once again, Whistle had to demonstrate his ability to perform each of his trained tasks but this time, he had to do it in public.

We arrived at the mall during the busy lunch hour. People were strolling around the mall looking for lunch and weekend bargains. Many people were beginning to stare as Whistle and I, along with Dani and Franz, huddled to discuss each task that Whistle would perform.

Once again, Whistle remained focused and deliberate as I asked him to perform each task. He ignored the onlookers and the food that was strategically placed in his path. Once again he performed flawlessly.

I have been partnered with a canine companion now for over 17 years and I am in awe of their unwavering dedication to us, their determination to help us, and the genuine pleasure they take in being by our side. I have said this before but I really mean it, I am the luckiest girl in the world to have the opportunity to live and work with a canine partner. They are truly amazing and they change the lives of their human partners in ways that can not be expressed or defined.

Whistle is officially recertified as a service dog for two more years. In two years, he and I will go through this exercise once again to demonstrate our ability to work together in public as an official Paws With A Cause service dog team.

After we said our good-byes to Dani, we returned home. Franz and I were so proud of Whistle. He had worked so hard and he had earned his recertification. We resumed our usual routine. I went back to work in my office and Whistle snuggled into his bed under my desk. After a few short minutes, I heard him snoring. He was curled up in a deep sleep, the poor guy was exhausted and I was elated.

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.

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