How’s your assistance dog’s off-lead recall?

October 3, 2011 · Posted in Assistance Dogs, Training · 6 Comments 
Whistle off-leash

How’s your assistance dog’s off-lead recall? Whistle is an amazing assistance dog and he spends a lot of his time working with me. However, I try to give him several times throughout the day and evening when he can spend some free time in the backyard relaxing and just being a dog.

When he and I were first working together, I really had a hard time getting him to come back to me whenever he was off-lead. He was thoroughly enjoying the sunshine and outdoor smells and was in no hurry to come back inside.

I tried to entice him by making it worth his while to return. I began offering him a tasty treat whenever he would come when I called. That strategy has been pretty successful. However, lately, it seems that when he goes out for his free time in the backyard, he is less anxious to come back inside when I call him.

I was curious if anyone else has this issue with their assistance dog. If so, how have dealt you with it?

Pseudo-Assistance Dogs Jeopardize Hard-won Rights for Real Service Animals

February 28, 2011 · Posted in Service Dogs · 12 Comments 
no dogs allowed

I saw a news item the other day in the New York Post about Hollywood celebrity Candy Spelling (mother of Tori and widow of TV producer Aaron) bringing her dog, Madison, a Wheaton Terrier, into a New York restaurant wearing a “service dog jacket.”

Is this dog really trained and certified as some type of assistance dog? I really have no way of knowing, but hearing about this incident just reminded me of how more and more I’ve been hearing about people trying to pass off pets as assistance animals.

I’ve even had friends ask to borrow my assistance dog’s backpack so they might be able to bring their pet to some event or into some business. I’ve always said, “Sorry, but no.”

It’s an image and reputation thing. If your pet has not gone through the rigorous training that “real” assistance dogs must obtain, he or she probably won’t be able to behave well enough in public. It’s hard for us who really rely on our assistance animals to condone your desire to have your pet with you everywhere. No matter how much you love them, you really don’t require them the way we do.

For over 75 years, Assistance Dogs have worked successfully in public and won the public’s acceptance by achieving high behavioral and training standards, which set them apart from pets and other animals. Assistance Dogs International, Inc. publishes minimum standards for assistance dog training programs to ensure the highest level of quality in assistance dog performance.

An ill-behaved “pretend” assistance dog gives all the real ones a bad reputation. If there are any incidents, it just makes people feel justified in denying access to a dog in the future, whether it is truly a trained assistance animal or not.

But it’s hard to know which dogs are “real” and which aren’t. If a business owner or someone else suspects that a dog is not really an assistance dog, but just a pet, what are they to do?

Not all people with disabilities are easy to visually identify. It’s not always people with guide dogs out there or those of us in wheelchairs these days. Think about the military veterans with PTSD and their dogs. Or those with hearing loss or autism. Can you tell if the man, woman or child with the dog is truly disabled and if their dog is truly an assistance animal?

What if a business owner confronts someone and they’re wrong? Or what if the customer makes a scene, even if their dog is really a pampered pet. Is the customer always right, no matter what?

People can train their own dogs, too, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, so who certifies or decides which assistance dogs are genuine and which are fakes?

Here’s my fear: Passing your pet off as an assistance dog not only gives the real ones a bad image, it might jeopardize the hard-won rights of people who really need assistance dogs. If there are enough bad incidents, will someone try to enact legislation changing the access laws?

I remember back in the early 90s, three years after the ADA was enacted, when I got my first service dog, Ramona. I was stopped a lot and told things like, “You can’t bring that dog in here.” Nowadays I feel more confident traveling in my state and across the US, but I don’t want things to revert back due to the issue of pseudo assistance dogs.

This is a very real issue that I feel really needs to be discussed. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Here’s an article on the topic that just came out on Disability Scoop and another article from the Wall St. Journal. We discuss assistance dog standards in our book Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook.

Growing Up Guide Pup

February 3, 2011 · Posted in Assistance Dogs, Guide Dogs, Puppyraisers · Comment 
Ricki and the Chapmans

What a lucky dog! One-year-old guide dog in training Ricki spent her birthday at Disneyland in California, but took a break with her people, Matt and Amie Chapman, to talk to me and Whistle on the Working Like Dogs show recently.

Matt and Amie are producing a weekly video series on YouTube called Growing Up Guide Pup, which captures the lessons they’re teaching Ricki, and they told us how they got started with the video series. They’re not only experienced puppyraisers for Guide Dogs for the Blind, but Matt also is a video producer. They combined their interests in their successful video series.

I really respect Matt and Amie for all their hard work being puppyraisers, giving so much of their time to give guide dog puppies a solid foundation for their training. Their idea to start a video blog about puppyraising is unique, and they have lots of viewers on You Tube who seem to be fascinated and eagerly awaiting each week’s new episode.

The videos are produced to be accessible to those who are blind or have vision limitatations, with a simple format and voiceover narration explaining everything that’s happening.

Find out if you might be ready to be a puppy raiser as they share their experiences, the challenges and rewards. You can also hear more about how they raise puppies and how they created their video series on their Working Like Dogs show, episode #45.

To see Matt and Amie Chapman’s video series, go to the Guide Dog Maniac channel on You Tube. You can view the entire Growing Up Guide Pup series, including the episode where Ricki goes to Disneyland and the short special where she meets Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.

Courthouse Dogs Help Ensure Justice is Served

July 5, 2010 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs · 2 Comments 
courthouse

Have you heard of a courthouse dog? They’re not legal experts, but these specially trained dogs are being used in the criminal justice system to help provide support for crime victims and their families, and even for social workers or other staff members.

Increasingly, courthouse dogs are being used in states across the country. Although they’re called courthouse dogs, these dogs often work not only in the courthouse, but in facilities like child advocacy centers. Courthouse dogs are typically therapy dogs; however, some of these working dogs may have more advanced training as assistance dogs and can even work as medical alert and response dogs.

Daisy is one example of an advance trained, assistance dog pulling double duty as a courthouse dog. I had the privilege of interviewing Lori Raineri and Cameron Handley about Daisy, and her role at the Yolo County, California Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center (MDIC) on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com (please feel free to listen in to their full interview).

Lori personally trained Daisy as her assistance dog. She loved Daisy so much that she felt compelled to share Daisy’s talents with others. Lori reached out to her local District Attorney, Jeff Reisig, about creating a courthouse dog program. Reisig loved the idea and connected Lori with Cameron, the director of the MDIC. Through their joint efforts, the Yolo County pilot courthouse dog program was born!

The program’s goal is to reduce the trauma a child goes through when dealing with the stresses of the criminal justice system. Daisy helps calm the children and others participating in the process. She also helps them begin to trust again and to start the healing process. For professionals in the system, Daisy provides some relief from the emotionally draining situations they deal with day after day.

Daisy is there at the Center to greet the children when they arrive, and if they want, she can be with them during interviews, medical exams, and in court. Daisy knows a large number of commands, even in multiple languages. She can do tricks to break the ice, but then gets down to business, just quietly being there, comforting the children and their families during a tough time.

You can listen to the complete interview to discover more about how this public-private partnership was developed, all the tasks Daisy performs, and even how this unique government worker commutes to the office. You can also get ideas about how you might be able to start a similar program in your community.

I was so impressed with the work Cameron, Lori and Daisy, are doing together. I hope you are, too. I was also excited to see that the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (www.iaadp.org) are including a session on Courthouse Dogs at their upcoming Conference to be held September 25, 2010 in Seattle, Washington.

Did you happen to catch “Through A Dog’s Eyes” on PBS?

April 26, 2010 · Posted in Service Dogs, Training · Comment 
Through a Dog's Eyes

I have been waiting all week to watch Through A Dog’s Eyes on PBS. It finally aired this evening and it was a beautiful documentary of a group of individuals with disabilities who were receiving their first assistance dog through the Canine Assistants program in Georgia. The program highlighted several individuals’ experiences at the training camp and for the first few months after they returned home with their new service dog.

The program reminded me so much of my own training experience almost 17 years ago when I was placed with my first service dog, Ramona, in a similar program. Similar to these individuals, I was so inexperienced and naïve to the nuances of living 24/7 with an intelligent dog.

The documentary took me back to my own first day at Team Training and the anxiousness I was feeling as I met the other participants with disabilities and the dozens of trained dogs that were available to be placed with us as our new service dog. I will never forget how the trainer opened a door and beautifully groomed young vivacious dogs began pouring into the room. They were the most gorgeous dogs I’d ever seen and they were full of boundless energy and excitement.

They ran free through the large open room, sniffing our wheelchairs and jumping on some of our laps as they explored every inch of the room. We all sat their dumbfounded, secretly wondering which dog might be going home with us. That first day was so exhilarating and daunting.

As the trainer prepared us for the next two weeks of training, she made a comment that has always resonated in my mind. She said, “Your new service dog is not a robot. YOU have to motivate this dog to work for you. It is up to you to build the bond and the trust that will enable you to be an effective working team.” Boy, was she right. I have often thought of that comment over the years as I have transitioned from one service dog to another. Each time, I’ve had to start all over again and build the respect and trust with each canine partner.

Each dog has been different and exhibited sensitivities to different environmental and emotional triggers. They have different ways of playing and relieving stress. It takes a significant amount of time for me to learn my dog’s individual preferences and needs.

Building a relationship with a working dog is a commitment. Rarely is it automatic. Like any solid relationship, it takes time, work, perseverance and commitment. But when you think about it, these attributes really apply to all of the healthy relationships that we as humans hope to have, and I think that rings even more true for our relationship with our service dogs.

Whistle and I turned a corner in our relationship when I truly became sensitive to his needs and desires. When I learned to listen and to trust Whistle, he learned that he could trust and depend on me. I was the one who fed him, toileted him and played with him. He sleeps in my bed and he looks to me when he gets nervous. He is a part of me just like my wheelchair is a part of me. We have a reciprocal relationship. I help him and he helps me.

As I watched these new handlers on the documentary work with their dogs for the first time, I was reminded of all the work, sweat, and yes, even some tears, which go into building this unique bond between the canine and human service dog team members. It is one of the most beautiful relationships I have ever had the opportunity to experience and to observe. I am so hopeful for these new service dog teams. If they can learn to trust each other and if they will work hard together, then they both are in for a life altering experience that knows (nose) no limits.

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