Wednesday, October 29, 2014

At the beginning again...

Now that I am on my 7th puppy in training I am starting to notice a cycle.

You get your new puppy or dog, they know nothing (or next to nothing).  You diligently spend a couple weeks teaching them the basics and getting to know their personality.  You celebrate all the highs with great enthusiasm (YES! Fido sat on command and seemed to actually know what I was saying!!).  You celebrate all the bumps (Looks like I need to go sock shopping since all of mine now have holes in them).

The next thing you know 6 months have gone by and you and your puppy in training are in a groove and rocking life.  A year hits and I usually go "Oh shoot!  Need to refresh my brain on the puppy manual."  This is when I realize what I have or haven't taught my puppy and try really hard to get all the skills taught.  About a year and a half to 2 years in, there always comes a day when me and my puppy are out and about and they are so freaking good I don't even know what to do with myself.  This usually ends up with me crying my eyes out on the car ride home as this is also when I realize they are about to leave me and become a service dog.

This happened most recently with Ice.  He and I went to Walmart. He was so loose on leash I didn't even know he was there.  I could point at things on the shelves and say "look" "get it" and he would get exactly what I asked.  I would ask him to get into different positions to navigate the store and he would do them first try.  I was beaming ear to ear when we walked to the car.  I was then bawling my eyes out on the way home.  The crying wasn't necessarily a sad cry. It was a "holy crap I just spend almost 2 years putting my heart and soul into training this pebble eating, pillow destroying, yappy loud puppy and he is now a young gentleman who couldn't be better behaved" cry.  Maybe I am just overly emotional or completely crazy.  Who knows.

Shortly after this epiphany, Ice was introduced and then placed with his forever partner.  Of course more crying, laughing, smiling and jumping for joy ensued but that story is for another time.  I am now starting training on an approximately year old lab mix rescue named Hector and the cycle starts all over again.

7 dogs later and I still enjoy this as much as I did 7 dogs ago.  Scratch that.  I  enjoy this even more than I did 7 dogs ago.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Human-y Issues

Today was a big breakthrough day for me as well as Ice, but mainly me.  As some of you might remember, Ice became afraid of the meat section at a grocery store when he was a couple months old.  We are pretty sure it was during a fear period since it progressed from the meat section to the vegetable section to the entire grocery store.  He then started associating all refrigerated sections with being fearful.  It broke my heart to see this awesome dog being so unhappy with going to a place that most people frequent.  Well someone please slap me for getting so emotional about this and not thinking like a dog.

Since moving to Florida, Ice has being going out to places like Walmart where there are refrigerated sections but other things too.  We have been taking him out with other dogs so that he can get confidence from them. (and having other people there to help me, gave me more confidence too).  That worked wonderfully and he got more confident but I still wasn't sure about the actual grocery store part, especially the meat section.  Again, someone please slap me.  Dogs don't live in the past, they live in the now.  I was dwelling on what had happened in the past and I am sure giving off fear smells and vibes to Ice.  Of course he is going to be afraid of the grocery store if I am going to be a blubbering idiot.

Now mind you, I didn't realize this over night.  I had a feeling I was causing at least part of this issue and we decided that Ice should work with someone else in a grocery store and see what he did.  On a trip to Walmart, Titus and I took two of MAWP's advanced dogs, Gator and Gracie, and Ice.  Gator and Gracie are two lovable goldadors whom are super calm about grocery stores.  I worked Gator and Gracie while Titus worked Ice.  We be-bopped around Walmart and then walked into the meat section.  I instantly felt myself tense up even though I wasn't working Ice, just because he was in the meat section and might be afraid.  That is when it finally hit me to get my head out of my ass and stop being a stupid human.  Gator and Gracie were wonderful and ignored my short comings.  Ice did drop his tail a little bit and slightly change but Titus pretended like nothing was going on and kept going.  After a couple loops around the store, Ice was back to his normal self and going through the meat section like a pro.

Gracie and Gator working down-stays at Walmart

That brings us to today.  Ice and I were out running errands and I needed to stop by the grocery store for some deodorant (running out during a Florida summer is never a good thing but I regress).  I pulled into the parking lot and made sure I got all the crappy thoughts out of my head, gave Ice a big kiss and said "Let's Go."  Walking up to the store I spent more time focusing on me, than on what Ice was doing since I am the problem.  We walked into the store and Ice was still fine.  We walked into the deodorant aisle and he is hoping I will let him get something off the shelf (wanting to work is a sign that Ice is not afraid).  We walked back to the cash register past the refrigerated section and into line.  He was perfect.  No change in body behavior.  He even was super insistent on carrying my bag out to the car for me.  Amazing what happens with dogs when humans stop being so human-y and get with the program. Thank you Ice for never ceasing to teach me something.  Today was a great day.  

Ice carrying his bag out of the grocery store

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The 9 people you meet with a service dog

When you are out and about with a service dog you get your fair share of interesting people experiences.  While in Chicago last weekend I got the full spectrum of people experience.  Don't get me wrong, most people are fantastic but there are the few that always make it interesting.  I have found that they usually fall into one of the following categories:

1. The "My brother's girlfriend's uncle's roommate's cousin had a service dog" person
This person is trying to show how much they know about service dogs and will tell you all about the dog they knew distantly.  They also question how you are training your dog and compare everything you are doing to the dog they knew. 

2. The "OMG my dog looks exactly like your dog" person
Once that happens be prepared to sit and wait while they pull out there phone and scroll through all their pictures until they find a picture of their dog.  More often than not, their dog will look nothing like your dog but you smile and go "oh yes they look so similar."

3. The person who tries to "discretely" take a picture of your dog 
Taking pictures is fine but the more discrete people are trying to be the more likely I am to notice.  When you are the only one bending down with their phone out make noises to get my dog to look, it isn't discrete at all.  Funny part is, is if they asked to take a picture I am most likely to help them out and get my dog to sit and look right at the camera.

4. The person who wonders out loud what your dog is for
This person will loudly announce to the people they are with, "LOOK!  A working dog.  That person must be (fill in the blank)."  The most likely fill in he blank is blind.  The best is when I have both my service dogs with me and people wonder what is so wrong with me that I need two dogs.

5.  The person who gets really close to your dog
There is always a person who gets as close as they can to your dog to read their vest.  Sometimes they will even attempt to straddle your dog and bend down really close.  Considering I am standing right there holding the leash and my dog is as close to me as they can be, the person could just ask but they seem to think I don't notice them hovering over my dog.  If they do realize I am watching they will stand up really quickly and advert their eyes.  Or turn to their friend and say "that is a service dog" but never once acknowledging me there.

6. The person who does a drive by petting
I can be walking or standing and there will always a be a person who reaches in to pet my dog.  I have had people even reach across/ around me to get to my dog.   Or they run up behind me and touch my dog's tail or butt then run off. 

7.  The person who comes over and starts petting my dog
They are in the middle of trying to pet my dog and then asks "oh can I pet your dog?"  When I say "No, I am sorry he is working."  They get offend and say something like "well he likes me" or "but he likes this."  Usually these people won't stop petting until you either walk away or physically put yourself between them and the dog.

8. The person that claims my dog hates working
This is rarer than the above 7 people but every so often I get a person that says that service dogs hate their job and my dog doesn't want to be working.  This is usually said as my dog is happily asleep at my feet or sitting their wagging their tail.

9. The person that thinks the vest automatically makes a dog a service dog
Many people think that because my dog has a vest on, that is why they are a service dog.  They claim they are going to go buy a vest so that their dog too can go everywhere.  I try to explain to them that with or without the vest my dog behaves and it isn't the vest that makes the dog a service dog.  Usually they just think they are being really funny and that no one else has thought of this idea.

Like I said before, these people are usually the exception but boy do they make for some interesting conversations. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dog Personalities

I guess I get the blogging bug once every 6 months... that definitely needs to change!  I have had many service dog adventures over the past 6 months and can't believe I haven't shared any of them.  I shall begin my first post back with one that gives me an excuse to post a ton of puppy pictures.

In January My Angel With Paws had two litters of golden retriever puppies; the "J" and "K" litters.  I have had the pleasure of seeing them both as infants and as puppies and can't wait to see them grow up.  I know that each dog has their own personality but for whatever reason it never occurred to me that their personalities would be so distinct as infants.  For example, while playing with the "J" litter at 10 days old, we were getting them used to being handled and turned on their backs.  Every single puppy handled this differently.  Their eyes weren't even open yet and they each had their own unique way of dealing with things.  When I turned one puppy on her back she just calmly melted into that position and happily stayed there.  I turned another one on his back and he screamed and squirmed for 15 minutes before he calmed down.  We did it again the next day and the screamer squirmed for about a minute then remembered from the day before and happily cuddled into me.  It amazed me that A. that he retained what he learned over night and  B. that he was so different from his sister at only 10 days old

Sleepy puppy

Puppy stretch

Puppy yawn

When I visited MAWP again about a month later, I got to see the "J" litter again and meet the "K" litter.  I got to snuggle the "J's again and there sure was a lot more puppy to hold!

While I was there, we let "J"s out to play on the grass for the first time. Watching them run around and explore for was probably one of the cutest things ever.  There was one puppy that kept trying to go further than we would let them, one that would make a mad dash to try and get into the mud and one that was fascinated with leaves.  They all had a blast and all explored things differently.

Jesmaine, Jagger, Jinx, Juno, Jefferson and Jada

This was also the same day we let the "K"s into the outside pen for the first time.  They were very shy at first about their super new surroundings but then eventually wandered around on their cute little wobbly legs exploring the pen.  We decided to let the "J"s into the pen with the "K"s and even more cuteness ensued.  The "J"s couldn't figure out why there were smaller versions of themselves wandering around and the "K"s kept thinking the "J"s had to be "mom" because they were bigger. They eventually became best buddies and had a blast playing with each other.

Puppy pile

 Finally I went down about two weeks ago and got to see some of the "K"s at 12 weeks old.  They had gone from very awkward little round balls of fluff to slightly less awkward lankier balls of fluff.  Part of their socialization is to let them play with well behaved, nice adult dogs.  We decided to see if Ice would like them and it turned out he LOVED the puppies.  I loved watching my "puppy" go from acting like a complete goof with the adult dogs to being sweet, gentle and very careful with the puppies.  He would play tug and chase with them and would happily lay around in the grass with them.

We weren't digging

Watching the world go by

Kemper and Ice

Ice being a great puppy sitter

Teaching the puppies how to slide

While there for the week in April, I got to help with the puppies' daily training sessions.  I have trained Darby and Ice from puppy hood and know the basics of what to do but I completely forgot how different it is to train a puppy than a teenage dog.  One day while there, I trained all 6 "K" puppies at the kennel and once again their different personalities just blew my mind.  You would think that it would be all the same since we are just working on simple stuff like sit and down and playing some games but nope not the same at all.  I had one puppy who seemed completely disinterested in working but then I found he was very interested in working if I petted him when he was good.  He liked food but he wasn't motivated to work by it.  I had one who would get sassy with me if he didn't quite understand what I wanted and he didn't get his treat.  It took all my effort not to crack up laughing when he would puppy woof at me and throw his head around.  Another wouldn't take her eyes off of me and would do everything very daintily.   I had a blast and learned a ton working with them.   Since I only get a puppy once every two years or so, I don't usually get this much puppy immersion.  Watching them grow up and grow into their personalities fascinates me and I can't wait to see what great service dogs all these puppies become!




Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fake Service Dogs

You may have noticed an increase in news stories and videos about the epidemic of Fake Service Dogs; people who do not have a disability purchasing vests and other "service dog" identifying equipment and then trying to pass their pet dog off as a service dog so that they can take their pet dog everywhere.  This causes a huge problem for people with real service dogs who actually need them.

Ice carrying my Target bag
I have heard hundreds of times "I am going to make my dog a service dog so they can go everywhere" and "I am going to go purchase my dog a vest so they can go everywhere with me." I try to explain to people that calling your dog a service dog and purchasing them a vest does not make them a service dog.  I know they mean well and that everyone loves their dog but comments like that also make me feel like my hundreds of thousands of hours I spend training my service dog trainee are not taken into account.  For two years every waking moment (and sometimes many sleepy moments) I spend training my service dog trainee.  Anything they do needs to be either positively reinforced or redirected into a good service dog skill.  Getting my keys every morning turns into 30 minutes of teaching my puppy how to pick them up and bring them to me.  Taking my socks off at night turns into 15 minutes of teaching my puppy how to pull them off. Going into the store to get a gallon of milk turns into an hour of teaching my puppy how to walk through doors, walk down aisles, ignore the food that surrounds them, sit between me and counter at check out and carrying a bag out to the car.  My service dog trainees are not well behaved because I put a vest on them and said "okay today you are a service dog," they are well behaved because of the training they have received since they were born.  Training a service dog is a never ending training process that I LOVE with every fiber of my being.

Ice waiting patiently while we were out for coffee
Yes I am super freakishly lucky that I get to take my service dog trainee everywhere but it also comes with a huge responsibility as my dog is most likely the first service dog many people have ever seen out in public.  I need to make a good first impression as this will be what they think of service dogs for quite possibly the rest of their lives.  If I walk into a business and my puppy is running all over the place, eating things off the floor, going over to greet customers, barking or basically doing anything that draws attention to them, and then a business owner says "I'm sorry no dogs allowed" and if I say "no he is a service dog, you have to allow access" the business owner will forever have a hatred for allowing service dogs into their store, not to mention all the customers that witnessed this exchange and any social media post that might go viral.  This is no good (plus that is a freakishly long sentence).  If someone with an ill-behaved pet dog does this (going into a store, not the long sentence), they too are ruining people's impression for what a service dog is.  Every store I go into my dog has to be on their best behavior and if they are not, I will leave.  There is no greater compliment for a service dog handler than "oh my god I didn't know there was a dog in here!"  When I hear that, I feel a sense of pride as  that is my job as a trainer; to teach my trainee how to be as invisible as possible while working out in public.

Enough ranting and preaching from me today but if you would like to read more, this blog did a great job elaborating why it is bad to fake service dog status:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Let's go to the zoo zoo zoo

While Ice and I were visiting my brother in Los Angeles, we all road tripped down to San Diego Zoo.  I have been dying to see this zoo for awhile and luckily my brother is willing to go along with my zoo loving habits.

Bree, Serena and Jack
I have taken dogs to Brookfield Zoo in Illinois a couple times and we always have a blast.  When we go to Brookfield they have us check-in at security where they gives us all stickers that show we have checked in, they give us a map where the dogs are allowed to go, were the zoo animals might get nervous and if so we have to leave and where the dogs are not allowed to go (the petting zoo and another place that I can't remember where the animals are loose).  They then alert the zoo keepers via radio that service dogs are entering the park and we are free to go.  Here are a couple pictures from our first trip to Brookfield a couple years ago.

All the Brookfield Zoo pictures are by Dory L. Tuohey Photography.  Check out her Facebook page cause she is awesome:

Jack measuring up to the bears
Serena making friends with the dolphins

Bree attempting to make friends with the lion

Anywho back to San Diego Zoo, CA:

Road trip!

After a lovely 2 hour road trip with a quick stop for a yummy lunch, Will, Ice and I were ready to go see the zoo! I was very curious to see how the San Diego zoo handled the service dogs compared to Brookfield Zoo.  I found that it was very similar.  We purchased our tickets and then went up to the gate to enter.

Ice strutting through the zoo with his bandana

The gate people showed us where to check in Ice (literally right next to the gate).  The very nice lady in there asked me if Ice was a service dog, what task he preformed for me and then read off a list of things I had to agree to.  Some of these things were if a zoo keeper asks us to move away from the exhibit to comply, not to enter the aviaries and petting zoo with Ice
because the animals are loose and if you see a zoo keeper walking one of their zoo ambassadors around (a wolf, cheetah etc.) to stay as far away from them as possible.  Once I agreed and signed the form with all this information, they gave Ice a super awesome green bandana that says San Diego zoo and has an ocelot on it.  They use the bandanas as a way to tell the staff that we did indeed check in and that I didn't somehow sneak Ice into the zoo.  They then radioed the zoo keepers to tell them a golden retriever was entering the park and we were given the green light to go have a great day!

Checking out the alligators and turtles

 The first thing we had to do was navigate through the large crowds that were around the entrance of the zoo.  Ice powered through like a pro.  We first saw some reptiles and fish which actually was a great way to see what Ice was going to do with things that move.  He was curious and thoroughly enjoyed watching but also was still listening to me.  


We then made our way past some exhibits with slightly bigger animals, one of which was the Okapi.  Ice just thought they were Reggie (my horse) and his horse friends and happily watched them wander around.

Hippo swimming by

We then went to the hippo exhibit and the hippo happened to be swimming right by the glass, giving everyone a show.  When it swam by Ice, Ice was completely surprised and backed way up.  Not that I could blame him; the hippo was HUGE and looked really funny swimming.  We sat next to the tank for a little bit so that Ice could think through the hippo.  Once Ice decided that the hippo wasn't scary anymore we continued our journey.

Ice deciding that hippos butts are not scary

"Meeting" the hippo

We saw so many animals that day.  Ice was cool with all of them.  He was actually more afraid of all the animal statues and animal cutouts than the actual animals themselves. But by the end of the day he was cool with everything at the zoo.

A curious camel
 We had a couple animals notice Ice.  The llamas thought Ice was a wolf so they all herded up and started making noises at him.  When we saw this we just kept walking by as we didn't want to make them too agitated.  The camels watched Ice with curiosity but never got up from their resting position.  The meerkats all came running when they saw Ice and the meerkats and Ice stared at each other for while with curiosity.  A huge crowd gathered around the exhibit as all the meerkats were lining up right in front looking super adorable.  I am pretty sure we heard people being sad when we walked away as the meerkats then scampered back to doing whatever they were doing before.

Ice's favorite animal of the day was the giraffes.  He sat there intently watching and did his "happy stick the tongue out and throw his head backwards over his shoulder while wagging his tail" pose many a times.  There was a 3 month old giraffe there which was super cute and super curious about Ice.  The older giraffes came right up to the barrier and stuck their heads over to look at Ice.  Giraffes must really love dogs or something because we had the same thing happen at Brookfield Zoo.

Hi there!
Baby giraffe
Watching each other

After the giraffes we saw a couple more animals and then it was time to leave.  I couldn't have been happier with how Ice was the entire time.  I have found the zoo a GREAT place to bring service dogs in training.  I have heard that some service dog organizations do not allow their dogs to go to the zoo ever and I am not quite sure why.  The way I look at it is the zoo can be as stimulating or as boring as you want it to be for your dog depending on what you are working on.  Some of the things I love about zoos for service dogs in training are:
  • Zoos have crowds but they also have quite areas
  • They have inside exhibits and outside exhibits
  • They have food on the ground which is great for the dogs to learn how to leave it as you can walk as close or as far away from the food as you need so that your dog succeeds with a leave it
  • They have a lot of people who love animals and like hearing about service dogs
  • They have all sorts of different things to walk over and different smells to smell
  • The dogs seem to truly enjoy watching the other animals and love walking around outside all day
When I go to zoos with a service dog, I am always hyper aware of the animals in the exhibit.  If they seemed stressed I move to the next exhibit.  This is their house and we are guests.  But if the animal seems curious or entertained by the dogs I usually hang out so that both the dogs and the zoo animal can have a little interaction.  I think Ice thought the zoo was the coolest thing ever plus I think he looks super spiffy in his San Diego Zoo bandana.