Saturday, August 20, 2011

Service dog Prospect - Help from the Community

Poodle and a Pitbull (congrats to being Karen Pryor training partner!) mentioned the fact that she would love to get involved in Service Dog work.  I was going to answer her in a reply. . .but well, it just got too long.

Now I admit that I am limited in my hands on knowlage of SD work and training.  George was my first (all Owner Trained) and Spirit my second (I would say about 80% done by his trainer and then tweaking him to what I needed), so please take what I am saying with a grain of salt.

George was a "rescue" (mom was rescued but he was born in a home) and did great for about 9 months being my active SD.  He had an incident with a little girl that ruined him for indoor work - he still comes with me to the barn and horse shows 'cuse Spirit is a big woosie.

Through being on boards and listening to others chat getting a rescue dog for the SD life has its good and its bad points.  For a mobility dog I would probably pass since I would like to know the history of hips, elbows and breed health concerns.  I would save up my pennies, research breeds of dogs and breeders, talk to see if they would be willing to wave the cost of a puppy or donate a dog 8 - 15 months old, etc.  If the dog was not doing strenuous body work, but had to use its brain more I would keep my options open to a rescue.  

There are so many reasons why dogs are rescued.  It is a cold hard fact, but many of them are there due to some type of abuse or neglect.  And while the wonderful creature that is DOG is very forgiving for what man has done to it, we have to respect and acknowledge that some mental damage might have been done.   This is why you need to really use an objective eye when looking at the dog for Service work.  What might be acceptable or workable with a pet dog just cannot be risked with a Service Dog prospect.  Some dogs have triggers, like men in baseball caps, or anyone with a beard.  I've met one woman who wanted to make her dog into an allergy/asthma dog but it lunges and snaps at white women (it is about a 5 lb Chihuahua, but still not acceptable behavior), but a rescue pitty who is a terrific wheel dog for a woman in a wheelchair.  This is where those of you out there with hearts of gold could step in and use your skills.

There are some stats out there on SD schools that have breeding programs, the wash out rate is still 99 out of a 100 (or 49 out of 50 depending on who's stats you use), so you know they are still doing something wrong (or we have to accept that breeding programs just don't work).  On the other hand I know a private trainer who has the eye and skill to not only pick out and train a variety of SDs but match them to the most appropriate handler for success.  I think she has about a 80% success rate from dogs she picks - both from breeders and rescues.  She has the added luxury to know the specific person before she matches or looks for a dog for them.  

About 1 in a 1,000 dogs have that special "IT" that makes them an excellent Service Dog.  I think that some dogs do the work for the love of their partner and if not exposed to specific stimuli can have a good working life.  We have to acknowledge that being a Service Dog is stressful, just ask George, so even with good intentions they just stop working.

If anyone is interested in helping owner trainers I would get involved with local groups, either in real life or on the boards.  If you have actual training knowledge that is demonstrable, you can offer them your skills and help network with rescue groups to see if there are any available prospects.  One of the hard aspects of selecting or training a dog for a person with disabilities is our health and energy levels.  Some days we just can't make it out of the house let alone out of bed.  This puts a huge monkey wrench in scheduling visits or appointments  If they had someone they could count on (to even just drive them to an appointment) and that could use their critical eye for looking at the dog they are out to see - that would be a big help.

It is a long road out there to find and train a SD.  I know of a woman on one of my boards who is being careful doing her search.  I believe it has been almost a year now that she has been looking.  Part of her issues is that she does not drive.  If there had been someone knowledgeable in selecting a dog and had been willing to drive her to look at prospects, there might have been a match if she could have extended her search parameters.

On the other edge of the spectrum I have heard of/read the stories of others who were not as careful in their search.  Some have gone through more than 5 dogs while looking for the "one".  Others didn't take time (or money) to have proper testing done and after 12+ months of time, training and love they have had to "wash out" their dogs due to temperament issues, structural issues or general health concerns that would have been caught earlier with the proper tests (be it from a vet or a temperament test). 

As much as our dogs are "durable medical equipment" according to federal law (and the tax man), we can't just run into a medical supply store, state our needs and pluck what we want down from the shelf.  These amazing creatures take time, energy, money and tears to show up on our doorstep ready - and willing - to put their best paw forward.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Harness usage reviews

The harness I have used have been Bridgeport, Dean & Taylor and Bold Lead Design. 

There is a whole discussion going on about a "Y" front verse a straight front in the service dog world.  The question is which one is better for the dog, how the harness works, freedom of shoulder movement, etc.  So please remember every dog is different, this is what I found working with Spirit (Standard Poodle, narrow build, deep girth, boney chest).

He is narrow, though his girth is right at 29" around.  The Bridgeport harness is adjustable at the top of the "Y", the piece that runs between the legs and then the double strapping on the barrel of the dog.  What I found was that the spread of the handle was too wide for Spirit.  If you have a rounder dog (lab, pitty mix, etc) the spread works for those.  The downside of this harness is that the handle does not fold down.  Since there is no way to make it narrower, when I cinched everything down, there was still a twist when I used it, causing sore points in the sides of the dog.  Cost around $90.

After talking to both the manufactures of Circle-E design ("Y" front) and Bold Lead Design (straight front) I decided to go with the BLD.  The main reason was the rotator cuff injury that I have. When my arm is relaxed and at my side I have a twist to it.  Circle-E no longer offers an offset (or "Z") handle and BLD does.  I like the  fit of the harness since it is tailor made.  The handle is adjustable up or down of about 3", the handle also can be folded down.  The grip is just the right size for my small hands and is well padded.  I like how the rear cinch strap works and I do not get any torque or rotation when I use this harness.  In the up position I use it for balance on my bad days (always pulling up since a dog should not have downward pressure on it).  When it is laying down or if I use a rear strap, it becomes momentum pull for my good days.  Having got the "Z" handle option, that eased the pain for me, when using a rigid handle.  Cost around $500.

While waiting for the BLD I went to a Pet Expo and wandered into the Dean & Taylor shop.  I ended up picking up this lightweight harness.  I really like it. The rolled handle is comfortable in the hand.  The three D-rings are of a good size and are a place to attach a small pack.  It is quick on.  It is comfortable for him to lay down in. The front band was a little large, but I just took off some on the strapping and then resewed it back together. This is the harness we mainly use because I am short and I don't need the extra height of a handle.  This harness is used as momentum pull and upward pulling for balance.  This harness is worn when I know I am going somewhere that I will be pushing a cart, doing short distances or as an "around the house" harness on bad days (so he can help me upstairs, help me balance as I do things around the house, etc).  Cost around $45 at the expo with "Mobility Dog" patches on the Velcro sides.

One thing I learned, as a mobility dog, he will typically be in a position ahead of the classical "heel" position.  Most rigid handle harness sit just slightly behind the shoulders, so you would want your dog walking slightly past heel position.  That way the handle is remaining in the perpendicular position to the dog.  If the dog is doing momentum work, they are going to be even farther ahead of you.  The D & T harness handle sits about 3" behind the shoulders.  I hold the handle and Spirit goes to the end of my arm reach, allowing me to rock back slightly and use that pulling sensation to walk at a faster clip.  His body is always touching my left leg so he knows where I am in relation to him.  So if I start to sway or twist, he readjusts to either bring me back to center by leaning away, or leans into me to straighten me up another way. 

I have heard people talk about the difficulties of teaching their dog to move up past that classical heel position to work on momentum pulling.  Spirit's heel position is when his shoulder is ahead of my leg, which is where the trainer set it at in the beginning.

Again, whether you are an Owner Trainer or you have a program dog, you have to take your health into consideration so compromises have to happen.  One thing I had to train Spirit out of is when we stopped, he would sit.  On bad days when we stop, I need him standing and leaning into me, so that had to be retaught.

Another way that they can tell "where you are" is through the leash. I have a Bridgeport leash that I sling around my body.  Spirit also works in 2 different collars - a wide martingale collar and a pinch collar with the prongs softened by rubber tips.  On good days, the information he gets with the martingale is enough, but if I have a bad spell during the day, I switch to the prong collar.  In that he corrects to the minute changes he feels from me from both the collar input, how I'm holding the harness, to how my leg is touching him.  With this type of rigging, he does slight corrections, keeping me upright and walking in a straight line.  The leash is slack, but the movement in it appears to help him figure out what I need.

Again, every team is different.  Some prefer a no-pull harness, others prefer a head halter.  Some think that a prong collar is wrong (which if fitted or used the wrong way I can agree on), while others work their dog in a flat collar. 

We need our dogs to assist us and as long as we go about it in a manner that is healthy for our dogs, we have to respect the choices of others.  A true team knows that the Service Dog is vital to their way of life.  That the dogs give us more freedom.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Am I disabled "enough"

"Am I disabled enough" seems to be a running theme in many of our lives when we contemplate having a Service Dog.  Do I really need the extra help?  When we first think of Service Dogs, we typically think of dogs for the blind.  That seems to be the bar for disabled.  I can see, I can speak, I can walk; do I really need a Service Dog?

It is all about degrees. I can see - better at the beginning of the day, but when tired my eyes play tricks on me.  I can speak, though with the fibro fog there are times I don't know what I just said or can't keep a train of thought going.  I can walk, though it is limited and wobbly.  But am I disabled enough?

It is hard to come to this part of your life.  To accept new limitations.  To know that you probably will not be able to do the things that you used to enjoy.  That life has to become more structured for you to be "safe".

It's the loss of independence that is a scary thought.  What if I can't do for myself? What if I can't care for myself?  With that, there is grief, a sense of profound loss.  I am struggling with how to be independent.  I need to find out what I can be, on my own, before I can readjust on how I can be with others.

It is a powerful feeling, thinking that you might be dependent on others to live.  Heck I can't even go to the bathroom alone anymore (Spirit is quite insistent about that!).  It marginalizes who you are and what input you can have on your own life. 

I am lucky enough to have some wonderful people in my life, though I hurt them in my struggle to accept that I am disabled.  I hurt them because I have a desperately need to prove that I can take care of myself.  That, in my own way, I am still ME, not my condition.  If I don't find that out, if I can't sort that out, who am I? A burden to be taken care of for another 40 years? Or a person that can contribute?  Am I an overgrown child being told when to eat, when to sleep?

Being independent and disabled is a terrifying thought.  But if I don't push the boundaries, how do I know if I can be more - different what and who I was before this - but a new person accepting who and what I am.

My mother lived her life and went to her death with no regrets.  I hope to do the same, but in doing so I cause pain.  But if I don't, how can I know who I am?

This blog post started out to be why I got a SD, and seems to have blurred into something else.  I am tempted to erase it, but blogging is all about who you  are in the NOW and if I keep turning away from this inner voice, than I am ignoring myself (which I think I have done for too long).

Having my SD as a companion I find that I can stretch my boundaries.  It is a scary thing.  Begin able to do more forces me to think more and to try to become more than I am alone.  With a dog as a helper I don't feel as powerless as i do/would with a human companion.  

Spirit is dependent upon me as I am upon him.  It is almost a symbiotic relationship.  We are both alien enough from each other to take away the hidden resentment from the care we give each other.

So when thinking "Am I disabled enough" this is what I came up with:

Are there other "adaptive medical devices" that I could have used? Here were the options offered to me:

Cane - great if I am listing only to the side.  Crap if the world decides to spin and I go over in the direction the cane isn't in or backwards.  I also have coordination issues so me walking with a cane and then something else in one hand . . . I will drop on of the two and picking things up with my issues can be a challenging event.

Walker - kinda like a shopping cart for me, but I have tipped a half full cart once when I over compensated going around a corner.  I figure if a long cart with 20+ lbs of stuff could not keep me up, a walker wouldn't stand a chance :)

Wheel chair/power chair - no way! I want to still use my muscles and I would still have the issues with positional changes.

Why a dog works for me:

First off a mobility dog is NOT a walker, cane or any other device that you put downward pressure on!  There is an upward pull to re-balance with and a touch on the handle to let me know WHERE in 3D space I am at. 

Some days I can bend down and get up safely, other days I can't.  A cane and walker cannot do pick up work.  Those things cannot undress me when I'm having range of motion issues, nor can they tell me I am being stupid and need to rest (intelligent disobedience). 

It is work, I won't kid you on that.  I was a 5 min out the door kind of gal, now it takes me at least 10-20 minutes.  If he is having a down day and my back-up dog isn't up for what I need or a friend isn't available, I don't go out.  I've tried and I've learned my lesson, so I try to be smart about my health and safety.

People don't get it, they think "How nice you can take your dog everywhere with you.  I wish I could." I wish I was healthy enough to leave him at home and enjoy the things I used to.  But that is not where I am at in my life now.  He just makes it easier. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I come in peace - do not fear

I just don't get it, I really don't.  I understand that some people have a fear of dogs, come from a culture that does not see them as the fluffy bunnies we here in the US view them...but really!!!

So we are walking into a department store and there is a bank of four double doors with a double entry.  This small child, toddler stage, is running around crazy laughing with the mother trying to get him with the father looking on.  She sees Spirit (dressed, leashed in our Bold Lead harness - total business -) and starts panicing, running in circles, trying to find a door that will get her away from us while being able to scoop up her out of control child.

So we calmly enter the far right door as they finally go through the left.  The child is straining and saying "doggie, doggie!" and the mother is saying "Bad doggie, doggie bite, doggie bite".  I stop, turn and take a look at the family.  The father is looking on smiling at his wife's (?) distress, she is repeating her "bad dog" statement in a loud voice.  I could not keep my mouth shut.

I addressed the husband, since the woman's english was broken, and basically told them to cut it out.  That all they were doing was giving the child a fear of dogs, encouraging both of them to fear working dogs.  That NO dog that is out and working would ever bite a child, or an adult.  That the hysterics are distracting and disturbing to a working team.  If they are that afraid, be quiet, do not draw the dog's attention, and do not follow the team.

The husband had enough sense to look ashamed and blushed, took his wife aside and picked up the child.

To quote Charlie Brown. . . "ARGGG!!!!!!"

I get that some cultures have problems with dogs.  We have done our own conversion therapy of a few people in my school, but really!

I noticed when I was on the east coast more dog fear than here on the west.   This was my first experience in my home town.  Have any of you out there had this same experience?  How do you handle it?

On a good note, we walked up to a check out line and a little girl in front of us was ramping up for a good cry.  Her face was all screwed up, her fists were balled up, she was taking a deep breath then . . . Poodle Power.  She saw Spirit.  She tilted her head, looked confused and then burst out laughing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Poodle & a Pit Bull

Sorry it has been so long! We've been busy getting my mom's house shut down, flying cross country, hosting family as we did the round of cancer doc's for my mom.  So, until I can get some time, here is a pic of my "Poodle & a Pit Bull"

Now Spirit isn't a small boy (30"+ at the shoulder and 80 lbs pretty big for a poodle) and George isn't a slouch either (23.5" at the shoulder and 85 lbs)...but I hadn't realized that George's head was twice the size of Spirit's!

Monday, April 25, 2011


Flying with a dog can be a hassle, flying with a Service Dog can be rewarding but is still a pain in the butt.  Here are a few hints for those of you flying the first time.

Food, if you are going on a long trip, or multiple planes it is suggested that the dog should have their last meal 12 prior to your flight.  Limit water during this time too.  Ice chips when you get close to landing, depending on how much of an iron bladder your dog has.

Be prepared for stupid "requests" from the TSA.  They don't see many of us and really have no idea what to do.  So off came my shoes, Spirit picked them up and put them in the basket and we walked forward.  As I came up to the scanner a TSA agent walked forward with his hand out and gave this lovely "request".  He asked me to remove my dog's harness, boots and ANYTHING else that had his collar...and leash.

Um....I'm disabled...he has gear on for a REASON!!  And loose dog?!?! Is that anyone's idea of "safe".  I looked at the agent, with sarcasm and disbelief dripping off the tone of my voice and asked him if he was willing to be responsible for my $30,000 dog in case something happened? Was he willing to walk me the rest of the way to the scanner?  Did he know what he was asking me was illegal and akin to asking me to disassemble a wheelchair?  Really?

So the dance began. He got puffed up and snippy.  I ask loudly who was his supervisor.  He was waved over and a hushed conversation was initiated.  His supervisor said, in a carrying voice, that I was correct and that the dog would be patted down on the other side.

So we came to the archway, Spirit went into a "sit-stay".  I walked through and then called Spirit over.  Another agent on the other side waved me to the "pat down" area.  She tried to catch the eye of the supervisor, who just waved at her and then turned his back.  The poor woman's hands were shaking.  

Because I could sit I asked her if she wanted me to remove his harness (remember Spirit wears cloths, so she wasn't able to see his fur) to make his pat down easier.  She asked to have his boots removed (I drew the line there) but lifted each leg so she could feel the bottoms of his feet.  She called to the supervisor to say she was done, he asked if she had looked under his chest (which she hadn't) so I had him stand up with his feet on my shoulders.  

When she saw how tall he was she paled even more, but gamely patted him down the rest of the way, very quickly.  As I snapped his harness back on she let me know that she was terrified of dogs.  I smiled and told her these were the least scary dogs out there.

As I left, I wondered what she would have done if George hadn't  washed out and she would have had to pat down a 85 lb "pit bull"?

So onto the lovely underground train where we went and got squished, though on the way off had a lovely chat with a couple that are puppy raisers for CCI and admired seeing a good team out and working (they had witnessed our little TSA pat-down) and had never seen a Standard Poodle as a working dog.

When I walked into the terminal toward my gate, I started looking for the pet relief area.  This is something you want to prepare for.  Some airports have them after TSA and some have them before.

Google the airports that you are flying to/from or click this: "Pet Relief Area" to find out where the pet relief zones are.  Please make sure you are looking at the right section of the airport.  When I printed it out for Dullas I was so happy that there were three spots, one looked to be right across to where our gate was. . .I had the international map. . . totally different layout.

And, no one knows where they are at.  Not the helpful "information" people, gate guards at 9 out of 10 gates you ask at.  The non-disabled have a completely different idea what "close" it compared to those of us with mobility challenges. 
So yes, we had to hike to the far end of the airport before our cross country flight. Which I guess is a truism everywhere.  When you need the bathroom it is always at the far end of wherever you are. 

But it was the coolest dog potty zone anywhere!  It was in it's own room.  You walk in, then open a "gate" and step up onto a astro turf area with a fire hydrant in the middle of the room.  Bags are provided along with a high power hose to rise off the area.  Then you get to push a big red button (once off that area), the grass floods and the entire area "flushes". Spirit was fascinated.

The flight back was easier (thank you mom for the front row first class seats!) and Spirit went into sleep mode.  My brother wanted to interact with him halfway through the six hour trip.  I was like "Dude! Let him sleep!" the last thing we need is an 80 lb poodle deciding it is "play time" at 32,000 feet.

When we got home it was total play time with the brothers furry and I finally got to kiss my George between the eyes and had my wiggly, pitty cuddle.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Naked Puppy!!!!

Yeah! Today was bath day.  We are all getting ready for another cross country flight so Spirit had to get all gussied up.  

First there was the bath: "I don't want you to wash my face!"
Then the dry: "Hey!!! Get that thing away from my ear!"
The the clip: "Are you done yet?

After that we hopped out of the tub and he thought he was finished. . .boy was he wrong!

We went to the other end and handed him off to the groomer where she did his - face: "not the lips!" 
his sanitary: "Do I have no privacy?" 
to the feet: "It tickles!!!"

Here he is all nice and clean:

"Really? please lets just leave o.k. mom?"

"Oh there is a yummy trachea involved? Why didn't you say so!"

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Training with Friends - It's all about shoes again

Today my friend Sara (an assistant trainer here in Baltimore) came over and we kidnapped my brother's dog Koda.  My brother bought him shoes (see back onto shoes again) and tried to get Koda to wear them.  He wasn't successful.

Most Service Dogs are introduced to shoes early in their life.  Because they are out and about more so than the average dog, the shoes protect their feet and provide traction on slicker surfaces.  But as anyone who has tried to put shoes on an older dog. . .well it's kind of funny.

So armed with treats we tackled Koda.  Here are some steps if you are introducing a dog to shoes.  You will need:
  • A friend - As you put the boot on one foot, they will hold the corresponding food up also.  This keeps the dog off balance and keeps him from pulling his foot back and out of your hand (as you are stuffing their foot into the shoe and Velcroing them in).
  • Cookies - Lots and lots of cookies.  Make them small and high value.  This can be anything from dried chicken to diced hot dogs.  
  • A room with room - A clean & clear distance for you to throw the cookies and for your dog to run on.
Now if the friend also wants to run a video camera...

So, how do you do it?  Put one shoe on. Once it is secure throw a cookie about a foot away from the dog.  Repeat and throw at different distances.  Wait until it looks like they are using the paw normally.

Put on the next shoe.

I tend to start with the front feet.  It seems that they have an easier time putting down the front feet in comparison to the hind feet.  Once you dog is accepting the front feet fully booted, move on to the back.  This is where most dogs get the weird, high stepping walk.  Ignore it and keep tossing those cookies!!!  

Once they are moving normally in all four boots, leave them on for awhile.  Once the dog settles down, remove the boots and treat and tell them they are a good dog.

To get this behavior to stick, you should repeat the whole booting experience daily until they walk normally once you have put the boots on.

Spirit was watching all of this and started to mope, so we worked on some targeting.  Koda was right next to us watching (Hey, Auntie Art had cookies and some might come his way again, you never know), so I went ahead and tried to see if he understood what we were doing, and he did it like a champ.  Who knows, laundry might be next!

Sara's little dog Parker was there too, bossing the big guys around.  We went out and played in the back yard.  Koda and Parker ganged up on Spirit, who then started rolling on the ground.  Both Koda and Parker looked at Spirit and backed up and said "Nevermind", while Spirit said "Hey!! Come back!!! I made myself shorter for you!! Attack my tummy!!!!!"

Koda's brain and body were totally exhausted.  He will sleep well tonight!

can't a guy just sleep?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It Arrived! My Bold Lead Design Harness

I love the smell of new leather.

So this is Spirit's new rig.  We had been using the harness from Bridgeport, but there was too much twist and shifting with it.  Now that Spirit was done growing I decided to get him a big boy harness.

There aren't that many people out there that make mobility harness.  There is Bold Lead Design and Circle E.  It was a tough decision, but I decided to go with the Bold  Lead Design harness and here are a few reasons why:
  • Construction.  Since I needed a harness that could do double duty as a mobility harness (with a stiff handle) and a pulling harness (for walking uphill, stairs, etc) I felt that the BLD fit the description better.
  • I have issues with my left shoulder (probably from too many falls off of horses) and having the straight bar handle was aggravating my shoulder.  With the ergonomic handle that I selected, the handle feels natural in hand and I know that it is distributing weight evenly.
  • Ability to change the handle height.  I know that I am mobility challenged, but there are days that I don't want to wear sneakers and I want to slip on a pair of Fluevogs.  To do that I need to change the elevation of my harness handle.  This allows my arm to stay in the same position and not to have to reach for the handle, or bend my elbow too much.  I also like the ease of laying the handle down.
  • There are a quite a few places to adjust this harness, but once adjusted to the proper areas there are 2 quick release snaps that make it easy on and off. 
Here he is in his new harness (forgive the picture, all I have is my cell phone to take them):

I have him in his spring duds, otherwise all that you would see is a black blob :)

Here is a picture of the ergonomic handle:

We went outside in the backyard for about 15 minutes throwing the ball, running around like an idiot (Spirit not me), crashing through the trees, pit stop to mark a tree, bowing, laying down and jumping.  All the straps stayed where they belonged, he moved well and seemed to enjoy the fit.

We will be taking some walks this week to test it out some more.  Overall it is well made, the hardware is easy to handle and it is easy to put on the dog.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes

What is the one comment I always hear as we walk by? "Oh, look!! He's wearing shoes!"

Yep, the most amazing thing about my Service Dog, is that he wears shoes.  Not that he keeps me from falling over, alerts, picks things up when I drop them (repeatably sometimes to his annoyance).  When I respond, as I often do, "Well you wear shoes, why shouldn't he?"  I always get this puzzled look.

Dogs have paws, not hooves, and they are delicate.  There is all kinds of ooky stuff on the ground.  De-icer, sticky dirt, glass, etc.  If his feet become injured I have to reassess what I can do without him.  If I were to go to the grocery store I would have to part next to a cart return (with carts in it) so I could have a walker.  I would have to stay close at home because he wouldn't be there to alert and allow me to get into a safe location.  I could not walk through the local mall.  School would be difficult to navigate, and I would have to figure some way to carry my books and not be in pain from carrying them, or off balance because one hand would have to pull them and the other would have to work a cane and not entangle myself (it has happened, and it isn't pretty).

So here is a salute to all of our amazing, shoe wearing dogs!

Some shoes that are used: Muttluks, Ruffwear

Monday, March 21, 2011

Boys back home

So I've been away for about 4 months now and have gone into complete and total George withdrawal.  Today this picture came to me in my e-mail:

Just look at the perfect space between the eyes to kiss.  Look at it!!!  I've been molesting pitties here in Baltimore for the last week or so hoping to have a lovely between the eye kiss.  The spaces have been too tiny or without the right curve.  George's is perfect.

I was also reminded about how cute Jake was when he was a baby:

He was, but the little traitor left when Ryan did his "dog magic" on him.  At least George still likes to cuddle with me (if not sleep with me anymore).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Busy day

So today a friend and I went to the Pet Expo in Chantilly, VA.  Wow! A lot of dogs all in one place.  

I think it is really tough on SDs to work in that kind of environment. Other dogs are peeing everywhere, surprise dog noses in their butts, random people touching them, etc.

So what did I see? Was there anything I had to have? And how did Spirit do?

Today was the second day of busy, but fun, days.  I really should know not to do that.  About 5 minutes from the show Spirit did his car alert (doggie drool on the shoulder), but a just, "Hey mom, prepare for a little one" so I did my first loop through there in a daze.

First off all the bully people.  OMG how cute were all your little block heads!!!!  It could be that I am in sever withdrawal (been without George for 4 months now *sniff* ) or they are just that darned cute!

So we saw the Mutt's Matter Rescue crew and they had Baby J with them. Rescue Ink was there along with Bully PawsThen there was the french bulldogs, english bulldogs, a shepherd groupPuppies everywhere.

I think the hardest working man was the poor guy going around with the mop bucket.  So many dogs scent marking everything.

I ended up getting a soft harness for around the house on bad days.  Looked at some lovely leather goods.

Spirit was in his Spring Suit today:
and got lots of compliments.  Though, as usual, everyone was impressed that he wore shoes.
Things I expected to find and didn't:
  • Reasonably priced martingale collars.  Clara's Collars has them on her website, but didn't bring any because she prefers to make them custom.  I do like her material selections so will probably pick a few up as Christmas gifts.
  • Dog treat holder.  I am looking for one that is either a spring or has magnetic closure.  I cannot work the ones in the drawstring pouches.  My dexterity is just not up to it.
  • 6 - in - 1 leashes.  I was looking to pick one up for my brother.  The only place that had them was the lovely leather store, but I didn't want to spend $50 on a leash.  Sorry Steve, I don't love you that much today!
He did well, though was very happy to get into Sara's car and crash on the way home.  He put up with random dogs being rude, tight aisles, me trying things on (and off) him.  He did tons of bracing work, great counterbalance and alerted me to both fatigue spells (wouldn't do pick up work, but that could be when he tried to pick something up, so other dog would put his nose up Spirit's butt and goose him).  He came home and had a double bowl of food and drank lots of water then cuddled on the couch while I read for a bit.

That's it for today folks.  I am tired and Spirit is pre-heating my bed for sleepy time, so until later. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

A little quick note

I have been thinking (and looking) for years for a photographer who captures the true essence of an animal and captures that in film.  I have finally found her, but she is so far away.  I wonder if she would like a weekend trip to Seattle?

Sara Riddle, you are amazing!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The cost of a Service Dog - once in your home

I know that I just talked about Spirit being a cheap date, which he is.  But someone I know today talked about how expensive it was to have a pet.  While I agree the price can run high, a Service Dog is a completely different animal.  But I thought I would make a run down of expenses for those of you who might be thinking about a dog to assist with your disability.
  • Food:  This is the fuel that your dog runs on.  Don't  cheap out on this.  Not only will better dog food mean that there will be less poo, it typically means no stinky farts, better teeth, and a healthier more stable dog.  My main choice to feed is Evo, with Taste of the Wild as my second choice.  Cost per month to feed $85
  • Shampoo:  You will be bathing your dog more often than the typical owner will.  Our dogs MUST be clean and presentable as much as the weather allows.  This means either a shower head in your bathroom and a Hair Dryer ($99.99) or use the facilities at your local self service dog wash, typically $15 a session.  
  • Grooming - the shedding breeds:  If you have a dog that sheds you have to keep the shedding to a minimum.  This can be done with bathing and using a force air blower along with daily grooming.  My favorite shedding rakes are by Pawz Brothers.  Different blade widths allow for pulling out the undercoat.  My favorite number is the 13 ($19.99).
  • Grooming - non-shedding breeds:  The poodle is the most typical non-shedding dog that is used for Service Dog work.  These dogs do not have to be kept in a "Poodle Cut" but can be done in a "Sport Clip" which is one equal trim.  This is easy to do with blade guards ($15.99 on sale) and is much easier than brushing out a full coated poodle every day (or multiple times).  A set of Oster A5 Clippers new are about $120, though you can find them on sale or used from $50.00 on up.
  • Gear - There is SOOO much gear out there, but I will go by what I need for my mobility dog:
    • Leads: The lead that so many of us use and love is the Police Lead .  This lead is double headed and has many adjustable points on it.  You can use it going across your chest as a 4' lead or shorten it to a 30" lead.  It can be wrapped around your waist, or doubled up to a 3' lead.  It is versicle and comes in many price points.  Starting price can be as low at $18.
    • Collars: there are so many to have, depending on what theory you prescribe to.  Here is what I was taught and believe.
      • A flat collar, when used on a dog that pulls can do damage to their trachea.  I do not believe in head halters because they put specific pressure on very delicate nerves on the surface of a dogs face.  Slip collars can also create damage because they are typically narrow and can be pulled against
      • For training purposes I like a Prong Collar ($40-$90).  Yes I know they look horrible, like rows of teeth.  If used wrong, they are a bad tool.  If used correctly they are wonderful.  They give the dog instant feed back, the pressure is reminiscent of a mother correcting a child, they are not near any major nerves and if placed & fitted properly they in no way endanger a dog's trachea.  These are for training purposes only and are taken off when not in use.  
      • For a daily use collar I like a 2" wide Martingale collar.  This is wide enough to distribute force with the squeeze action versus a constricting action of a slip collar or the flat, no information flat collar.  Price about $20
      • And just because they are pretty and I WANT one, here is a beautiful leather collar by Ella's Leads.
    • Harness:  There is a huge debate going on about what is an appropriate mobility harness for a dog.  There aren't many out there on the market, but I will show you the leading three out there with a rigid handle.
      • Bridgeport:  This is your economy harness.  It's Y front is adjustable on both sides, the rear cinch provides some stability.  The downside is that the handle does not fold down, causing problems when trying to fit your dog into tight spaces.  This harness runs from about $75 - $81.
      • Circle E: This is a light mobility harness made for light stability purposes and not for a handler that needs mid to heavy pulling work from their dog.  It is padded with real sheepskin and has a Y based front.  It is created using leather and orthopedic M2 straps; it is created using custom measurements from your own dog.  The handle can fold down but is not adjustable.  Price $350
      • Bold Lead Design:  This design has a straight front breast collar and can be used as a mobility assist with an adjustable handle or can be used to assist with wheel chair pulling.  This one is also custom made according to your dog's measurements.  With handle it is $395, without it is $285
    • Shoes:  Yes our dogs need shoes.  They travel on surfaces that might get too hot, or too cold.  They are in danger of broken glass, sharp stones or chemicals.  Without your dog's feet, many of us could not go out as easily as we do.  I like two types. there are the MuttLuks for winter and the RuffWear for summer.  Like us, the snow and ice can hurt their feet, just as too hot pavement can burn them.  Shoes start at around $60 a set
    • Packs and vests: This depends on the specific user.  Since I have a handled harness I make my own capes to go over the top.  They are vinyl and are clearly labeled with large letters "Service Dog" "Do Not Pet".  There are many places on line that sell smaller vests and patches.  This can range anywhere from $5 a patch to saddle bags over $80.

So the costs do add up.  Some of them you can deduct as a medical deduction (since Service Dogs are considered "durable medical equipment") So keep all of your receipts, you might need them for next tax time!

On a fun note, today we had an employee of Luna Flooring come to bid out a job here at my mother's house.  He left us with a little present that Spirit now loves.  His Luna Bear! (those living here hope that he breaks the little box inside with the company jingle; otherwise little Miss Luna will be going under the knife soon).

Total Price on Gear - runs about $775.  Having your dog do your laundry? Priceless.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Dog & Human Show

As part of a Service Dog team you are no longer invisible.  You are walking into a store with a DOG!! People will stop and stare, they will point, they will muse loudly to themselves, they will want pictures and they will ask lots, and lots and lots of questions when you only wanted to run in for some milk.

As we all start, many of us smile and are so happy that our dogs have gotten us out of the house and in the world of humans that we are happy to talk and inform the public.  As the months have gone on, I've realized that I just don't have that much time in my day.  The ones I will stop and talk to are the children.

So, during the first week of my stay in Baltimore, I had to go fill a prescription at Walmart.  While standing outside waiting to be picked up a group of young men passed in front of us, then they all yelled and jumped back.  (because a 30" black standard poodle is invisible until you are 6" away from him) The age range was about 6 to 14.  I got "does he bite?" question, the "what are you doing here question" and we talked for a little bit.  The older two asking questions and being very polite about it.  As my brother's car was pulling up they asked did I buy him.  I told them yes and then the little one looked up at me with wide open eyes "Walmart sells them!?!"

That was super cute.  Then my brother brought me to Wagmans (which is an awesome store!) and we ran into a woman with her daughter who was in a scooter.  They were so excited, they had recently found out that a dog had been selected for them and he had about 4 months left of training until he would be placed.  Her daughter was about 11 yrs old and I believe CP (cerebral palsy) along with other issues.  She had wanted a Standard Poodle (which Spirit is) and we talked about how the people with her program would pick out the best dog for her and that she will end up loving it so much that it won't matter the breed.

I've also been hanging out with my new friend Sara (hi!!!) and she isn't as forthcoming as I am but it is interesting to watch how she calmly says that "he is working" or "not today" and keeps on going.  I think I'm going to have to take a page from her book, because sometimes,  I'm just out to get milk (and Oreos).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My dog is such a cheap date

Well, it's been awhile and I was going to write about some of the fun people we bump into, but (like in most of my life) Spirit has decided the topic of tonight.

As a SD user, we have tons of expenses for our dogs, from gear to food we try to get the best for them.  This allows them to be health, work well and keep us sane and going.  That being said, Spirit is a cheap date.

He doesn't ask for much and is quite self entertaining (a lot like my son).  If he doesn't have a toy, he will invent something.  Now there are lots of toys out on the market to "encourage dogs to learn".  These "toys" test your dog's memory, cause and effect skills and problem solving abilities.

Then there are the stuffed toys: You can see what this dog is saying with his eyes, "Free treats for LIFE is not worth having this thing around my neck".  This poor puppy probably has nightmares about orangutans chasing him.  The new craze is the "stuffing free" "semi-stuffed" dog toys. Isn't that half the fun for most dogs?  The disemboweling, stuffing strewn around the house, the elusive squeaker finally removed?

So, wanting to get Spirit a present for being such a good boy, we ventured out to the pet store.  He walked past them, nudged a few of them and looked at me to say "What? None of these work for me".  So off we went to Ross (I needed a new pair of jeans).

There we passed the pet department as we left the changing room.  They had some non-stuffed toys for $6.  There was a Squirrel and a Skunk.  Spirit rolled his eyes up to me and say "Really? Seriously mom I don't need a new toy.  I'm too busy rounding up dirty laundry to take to the basement".  He then looked at the bottom shelf and fell in love (yes there were little hearts in his eyes, I saw them) and he gently plucked this toy off of it's peg.

What did he get? A $2.50 ducky.  Very yellow, just a firm tube really.  He carried it all the way to the front counter, then through the parking lot into the car, from the car, up the steps into the house (he had to put it down for a moment while he got naked) and up on the couch.  Then I realized something horrible.  It not only squeaked it "quacked".

Have you ever heard the Penguin from Batman? It was very disturbing until Spirit provided a lobotomy via crushing it's head repeatedly, thus killing the evil quack.  It is currently very wet and in between his paws right now, with his nose sitting on top of it, making sure it doesn't run away.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spirit - the Wonder Dog

So, more on Spirit and how he came into my life.

As I stated before, George had a little mental breakdown at the same time Spirit came back to the trainer.  Ryan, my hubby, really didn't want another dog in the house let alone a POODLE!  But he relented and said we would do a one month trial.
So here was poor Spirit, thrown into a ready made pack.  George, who loves everyone, became his best pal and Jake. . .well Jake was a little jealous.  He tried to show Spirit that George was his friend and Spirit was not allowed to play with him.  Have you ever heard a mad poodle?

You probably think it's a little nothing, certainly not scary like a German Shepard, Rottie or a Pittie. . .well you are wrong! One of the worst snarly, growly sounds I had ever heard came out of this dog's mouth that lasted about a second.  Jake, terrified, gave way and Spirit went happily back to playing with George.  There is an article called He Just Wants to Say "Hi" that talks about polite behavior between dogs.  Click the link to read it.  A wonderful article that opened my eyes about polite behavior among dogs. So poor Jake found himself on the bottom of the pack, yet again.

A few days later I was at the sewing machine trying to get a project done.  Spirit kept nudging me trying to get my attention.  He then started tugging at me.  Hubby unplugged my machine and sent me to my room to rest.  ME a 40 yr old woman sent to bed for a nap like a kid.  I didn't wanna take a nap. . .stupid people.  So off to bed I went with Spirit following.
I got up in bed, under the covers and Spirit settled at the foot of my bed.  I grabbed a book off the headboard and started to read.  At the first turn of a page Spirit picked his head up, looked at me and came up.  He took the book out of my hands, plucked my glasses off and put them up on the headboard shelf and then laid right across me with a "what do you think you are doing Lady" glare to his eye.

I was told that about 2 minutes later I was passed out.  

You see I'd been having these "spells" where I would get disorientated, and heavily fatigued.  Sometimes I would pass out right after one, or I would meander appearing to be doing things, but have no recollection of them and lose about 1 - 3 hrs of my life.  The doctor's aren't sure what it is, one suggested Temporal Lobe seizures.  The symptoms that I have, and were about to identify in a particular order due to Spirit's alerts, are classic of that disorder.  It's a hard condition to test for and most diagnosis are made on the symptoms.

With proper management they can be controlled somewhat. By listening to Spirit as to when to take breaks, when to nap and when to get to a safe spot it has allowed some control back into my life.

My keys had been taken away from me, since it would do no one any good for me to be on the road driving on "automatic".  Add the fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome to all of it, and well, you can see how much fun I have on a given day.

By listening to this wonderful dog I have learned how to pace myself.  From the medic alerts he gives me for my "fatigue spells", to the help with balance and locomotion, to picking up things for me so I don't have to bend over all the time, it has increased the things I am able to do on most days.
I still have times that I am in bed more than I am awake.  But that typically happens after I have "pushed" it for school or, now, helping my mother.  I always get the "I told you so" look as Spirit cuddles up to me so I can get warm and firm pressure where I need it so I can get comfortable.

But it's kinda sad.  Here I am 41 years old and my dog bosses me around.  This is what my life has become. . .

Monday, February 7, 2011


I was going to post about getting Spirit and all that, but today made me realize that HE wanted to talk.

I woke up this morning with a shoe in my face.  He had run downstairs and brought it up to me.  At breakfast he kept picking things up and bringing them over (much to the cat's dismay) so I guess he was bored and wanted something new to learn.

Unlike a book or a computer, once a Service Dog is considered "fully trained" you don't stop.  See, to them, all this "work" is one big party.  But if it is the same thing day in, day out; they want to do something else fun!  As I had been dreading cleaning my mom's basement the two of us went downstairs to "play".  Our area of attack was the laundry zone.

So Spirit likes to pick things up, as today's zoomies showed, and I figured we would build off the "get it" and "hand it" commands.  He also knows "paws up" which means to put the front paws up on a surface and then stand up, balancing off of whatever his paws were on.

I'm not sure if I stated this but Spirit is a Poodle.  A 80+ lbs standard poodle.  They are spazes, and I mean that in the best possible way.  Spirit goes around with the theme song to Indian Jones in his head . . . all the time.  So we worked on "in the basket" with the washer being where, I hoped, things would go.  There was first some confusion.  Pick up item.  Drop item as he pawed up. Couldn't figure out why there was no cookie given.  After about 3 tries the light bulb went on.

Suddenly he was zooming back and forth picking things up and dropping them in the washer.  This list was something like this:
  • clothes
  • old dryer sheets
  • empty detergent bottles
  • hangers
  • a slipper
  • paper
  • and the shirt I was currently wearing that he tried to tear off to "put in the basket"
At the end of the third load he had it down pat and, finally, was tired out.  We did some removing from the dryer, but that ended up as victory laps around the basement.  Defeating the who purpose of making them clean.
He's such a good poodle.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How it all started

I have Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue syndrome and something else that makes me either pass out, or lose about 2 hrs at a time.  When I started school, the pain and fatigue of carrying books was too much.  When I talked to my provider she suggested a Service Dog.  So I went home and did research, told the school and looked over the dogs we had at home.

  • Max - shep/chow mix about 50 lbs, the old man of the family a TOTAL daddy's dog.
  • Jake - Shepard/Dane mix.  Great height, but complete basket case.
  • Then there was George.  I love my George.  I love his color, how he is built and his big old block head.  He had basic obedience and very tuned into me.  So I got him a pack and started taking him just to school with me while I searched for a trainer.

I found a wonderful woman who looked at me and shook her head.  She felt that George just wasn't going to work, but she sent me home with homework and we practiced our down-stays, leash work, etc.  And each week we got more homework.  I think we surprised her because we did it and I didn't question her.  Right before we did our final work with George she told me that while he loves me and works for me because he loves me, that at one point something might happen and he would "wash-out" so I had to be extra careful to help him, as much as he was helping me.  For some reason children loved him.

So George and I worked for 5 months together, at the barn (I teach and coach at shows) at school, around town, etc.  Due to his breeding (daddy was a Weimaraner and mom was some type of staffie mix) he had a very minimal coat.  The trainer talked me into dressing him.  I was all for solid colors (taupe gray/his coat color, neon-green/because he looked good in it and safety orange/because bright colors kept people from bumping into him), though she finally persuaded me into bold prints to make him look more “clownish” so people would go, “Awwwe look at that poor pittie! He must be a good guy/well trained if he puts up with that!”  But no matter how we dressed him, he was a Kid Magnet.

Now George didn’t mind kids, as long as they stayed away, or pet him under the chin.  Nope, at our PAT test at a mall & Rainforest cafĂ© there was a kid who could not just stay away. He was at least 7-8, no idea where his mother was and in the end he grabbed his tail.  George turned and looked…looked at me and got a cookie.  There were a few other times when I didn’t catch the little buggers quick enough, normally they were making direct eye contact and coming straight for his head arms open.  One time they grabbed the harness, and then there was the time that his little mind “broke” for indoor work.

We were at WalMart and I was looking at a shelf, he was sitting looking up at me and he got blindsided by a little blond girl, who took him to the floor kissing his big old head.  I looked at the mom, who had this smug little smile on her face, “She just loves dogs!” with a ‘what can you expect’ shrug of her shoulders.  I was just about to lay into her when the little girl lifted her head and said “Mommy, we need a puppy just like THIS!” and that’s when the big old block head appeared next to her precious little darling, panting with stress (still in a down position).  The woman’s face went from indulgent to scared to hell.  “How dare you bring such a dangerous dog into a store! You must be a faker! Pit Bulls can’t be Service Dogs”  Then I laid into her, telling her that her daughter had a very dangerous habit and not cute at all.  She was very lucky that she pulled that stunt with George who had been temperament tested and trained for it.  I had seen labs attack children from their own household after doing something like that.  That she had better teach her daughter dog safety, before some dog did.

George finished out his day like a trooper.  Got extra yummy food that night, next day grabbed his gear to bring to me, got suited up, happy walk into the school doors and then he started trembling.  We had someone come up behind us and he whipped around nearly dumping me.  For the next week we did small quick trips, lots of treats, lots of praise and he tried so hard!! But I had to make the decision to give him a break from indoor work (he still loved barn & show work) and I called the trainer up.

I was lucky that the placement of Spirit hadn’t worked, the trainer couldn’t have him in her house because she had already taken another dog in to train…couldn’t I please take Spirit for a month and that might be enough of a break for George.

Three months later she offered me Spirit and I took it.  George had been alerting me to my "spells" of fatigue/passing out/memory loss but it was an "Oh crap! Mom get somewhere safe!!!!" and he would pin me down. Spirit's alert was better and more consistent.  He had stages that he went through depending how close one was....but that's another story.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The People that you run into when you are a Service Dog handler

When partnered with a Service Dog you are never really alone or just a face in the crowd.  Be it running to the grocery store for a quick few items, in a museum or just walking down a city street somehow, someway you be come the "Dog and Human" show for everyone's entertainment.  Some are cute, some not so much, but within the hour you will run into at least 90% of these people:
  • The Announcer - This is typically a very young person who is simply AMAZED that there is a DOG in the store.  Very loudly and to everyone they will proudly point out that there is a DOG and did you SEE it?  If The Announcer is traveling with older siblings, this too can happen -
  • The Policeman: "Dogs aren't allow in stores! Why does she get to?" (normally from a 6-12 yr old boy)
  • The Helpful Clerk who means well, but somehow thinks you are disabled in a different way and always blushes when he/she realizes it
  • The Unhelpful Clerk who gives you dirty looks and refuses or ignores you when you ARE looking for help.
  • The Little Old Lady who wants to reminisce about all the dogs she has had
  • The Older Guy: Talks about a dog he had that looks just like yours.
  • The Younger generation who are so busy texting that they accidentally run into your dog.
  • The Dogs are evil & vicious group which always tend to jump, scream, point or talk loudly that you can't trust any dog. These might be the first to come up to you and ask to pet your dog.  When you say "No" they follow up with "Oh, does he bite?"
  • The Puppy Raiser: Has raised/failed to raise a dog that went on to be a SD, so they totally know about training, inevitably look shocked when "what school are you training him for?" is answered with "he's been trained for me".
  • The Cop-Out: Trained police dogs (or whatever) and so knows dogs, can he pet yours?
  • The Nursing Staff, who on some days (if it's o.k. with the handler) really just need a cuddle.