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.