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.    

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My best girl, Serena

Serena's first night home

I never wanted a lab.  Everyone in my town has a lab.  Many are completely out of control.  I really wanted a cattle dog or a jack russell.  Yes, also dog breeds that can be completely out of control but in my mind exactly what I wanted (my logic back then wasn't too logical).  But after convincing my dad to allow me to train service dogs, a 5 month old petrified tiny black lab joined our household.  She was adorable and made me fall in love instantly with her the minute she came out of her crate and into my arms.  This puppy was Serena.  Almost 4 years later, I couldn't imagine my life without my black lab.  She has come so far from a starving puppy pulled out of a place that was shooting her with a BB gun every time she bark.  She has become my best friend, my constant companion and my service dog.  Cesar Millan always says "you don't get the dog you want, you get the dog you need."  This couldn't be more true of Serena.

Our journey together has been an entertaining one.  There really isn't anything I can't teach her taking into consideration these 3 things:

  1. Serena agrees to learn said thing
  2. Serena is motivated to learn said thing
  3. I figure out how to communicate what I want and she understands
Serena being adorable

I found while training Serena, that she has a sense of humor.  I am also pretty sure she is plotting to take over the world.  I taught her how to bring me her bowl for dinner.  The next morning, I woke with a bowl on my face and a puppy staring at me wagging her tail.

At around 10 months old she learned how to turn the lights on and off.  She then used that trick against me.  My dad and I were talking and not paying attention to her so she turned the lights off and left the room.  Leaving us dumbfounded and in the dark.

Probably the best story to describe Serena's genius was the night she turned the lights back on.  Every night at bedtime I would have Serena go across the room and turn the overhead light off.  She would come back to sleep with me and get a treat. This particular night I did not have a treat for her.  She hopped back on the bed, I told her she was a good girl and patted her on the head and rolled over to go to sleep.  The next thing I know the lights are back on.  Serena had gone back across the room and turned the lights back on then come back to bed.  When I looked at her and exclaimed "Serena!" she just curled up with her butt towards me.  When I said "Serena go get the switch" she curled up tighter as if to say "if you have no treat for me, go get the switch yourself." I looked on the shelf next to my bed and happened to find a small treat.  All I did was show it to her and she hopped off the bed, the lights went off and she came back ate her treat and went to bed.  She never ceases to amaze me.

Serena "playing" tennis like her namesake Serena Williams
At almost a year and half, My Angel With Paws x-rayed Serena's hips (they do this for every potential service dog).  Serena's left hip failed the hip x-ray, the socket of her left hip is completely flat and already exhibited signs of arthritis.  Serena was released to me on the spot.  She couldn't be a service dog for someone for fear that she wouldn't be able to do her job for someone who relied on her everyday.  She is still not showing any signs of hip problems but I still watch her like a hawk and check to make sure both hips have similar muscling regularly.  Because Serena was so well behaved and knows almost all the service dog commands, she became an ambassador for My Angel With Paws.  This involves public education, demonstrations and accompanying younger dogs in training out and about.  She has helped me train Jack, Darby and now Ice as well as a couple other dogs in training with other MAWP people.

Bree, Serena and Darby outside of Ikea
Recently, Serena has become my service dog.  I have been getting migraines since I was 18.  Within the past year they have gotten pretty bad with a variety of triggers. She started out just being my cuddle buddy when I was stuck in bed with a killer migraine.  She would lay full out next to me like a body pillow and let me position her skull bone right where I needed pressure to relieve the pain.  She would lay like that for hours until I would be able to fall asleep.  Within the past couple of months, I have noticed that when I would wake up with a migraine, Serena would already be laying next to me like a body pillow.  Recently she has taken it upon herself to alert me to when I am going to get one.  She puts her paws on me and whines like crazy.  I have learned that when she does this to just go take migraine drugs as she is right even if I don't have any migraine symptoms.  I learned this when she alerted 12 hours before I got a horrible migraine and I had ignored her whining and pawing at me.  

This past week Serena has added feral kitten tamer to her resume.  I caught a 4 month old kitten from the barn where I ride.  This kitten has never been touched by humans and has had minimal human contact in his short life.  The first night he hung from the top of his kitty condo and screamed.  The next day I let Serena see him.  Next thing I know, she is nudging and grooming him and he is purring and rolling around on the ground.  This kitten did a complete 360* and is currently roaming around my office like a cat that has been around humans his whole life.  I have no clue what Serena did but she sure did something awesome.

Serena is my one-in-a-million dog and I am proud to say I own a lab.

Oh and just incase you haven't seen Serena's video, here are 53 things she can do.  She was a year and a half in this video.  I probably should make a new updated version but alas this will have to do for now:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Do service dog ever get to be just dogs?

Over the years of training service dogs, I have had many people ask if service dogs are always working or do they ever get a chance to just be a dog.  I even got told once that being a service dog is a bad life for a dog because someone with a disability never would be able to play fetch with them.  The first statement is a very valid question.  The second statement left me with my mouth hanging open and probably a look of utter confusion before I came up with a response.

Anyway back to the first statement.  Yes service dogs are working dogs but the dog doesn't view the work as work.  They think it is fun.  If they didn't think it was fun, they wouldn't be a service dog.  But when they are not working and the leash and the vest are off, service dogs are like any other family pet dog.  They play fetch, they roll in the dirt and they run around like crazy.  I have had many people think I have the calmest dogs in the world while out in public then they see them when they are 'off duty' and are in absolute shock how crazy and playful they are.  Service dogs also turn into cuddle buddies and TV watching companions.  So without any further ado, picture proof of my service dog trainees (past and present) just being dogs:

Ice and Serena romping through the ravine
Jack and Darby splashing in the lake

Ice being a mud monster

Serena diving into the lake

Ice in the prairie

Jack giving Serena advice

Darby taking TV watching and cuddling very seriously

Life is good


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Darby has been placed!

It has been a long 8 months since I dropped Darby off in Florida.  I thought he was going to be placed right away and that I would hear about how wonderful he was all the time and rainbows and butterflies would appear and everyone would do a happy dance.  Well I soon found out that Darby refused to work for anyone even on the simple things like sit and down.  This crushed my heart as I knew he knew almost everything possible but if he would only do it for me, he was not going to make it as a service dog.  I tried to stay positive knowing that Chris would do everything in her power to make it work and would tell me the truth if he wasn't going to make it.  

Darby "helping" me pack for our trip to drop him off

Chris started having Darby run around loose in the yard while she worked with the other dogs in the kennel one at a time on leash.  Darby soon got super jealous and kept trying to do what she was asking the other dogs to do.  Every so often she would reward him too but would basically ignore him until it got to the point he was begging to be put on leash and work.  She said that he didn't start engaging and wanting to work for her until 2 weeks after his second birthday.  Then he was a completely different dog.  We learned a very important thing from this; it is better to wait until the dog is 2 years old to come in for advanced training.  They are more mature and better able to handle going into the kennel life and working for someone else.  Yes Darby was 20 months old which seems super close to 2 years old but the 4 months were needed for him to just grow up.

So I was back doing my happy dance waiting for butterflies and rainbows thinking he would then be placed with someone.  Chris thought about placing him with a man who had a stroke and needed a brace dog to walk with.  I got excited!  Then we found out that Darby hated the brace harness and would refuse to do anything while it was on.  He also would randomly pull which if he was going to be placed with this man, could never ever happen.  So Darby wasn't placed and the waiting continued.

I was then able to see Darby in Florida for the first time in 6 months when I flew down there for the Cesar Millan Live show.  This is when I realized even if he wasn't with someone yet he was HAPPY.  He came out to play with me in the yard but happily and willingly went back into the kennel when it was time to go.  He also had two girlfriends Crysta and Cooper (Ice's aunts) who thought he was pretty darn awesome.  Chris and I discussed some people he might be placed with and it was pretty sure he would go into partner training starting the next month.

Darby playing in the pool wondering who was letting all the water out
My happy handsome boy
We ended up randomly deciding that I should come down and help Chris with partner training since there were going to be a ton of people in it and it would be a really good learning experience for me.  In between leaving Florida and going back, I found out that Darby's allergies were coming back and if they got really bad and needed to be treated all the time, someone with a disability probably couldn't afford that so if this happened he would have to be released.  It was around this time I resigned myself to the fact that what is meant to happen will happen.  There was nothing wrong with Darby being a well loved pet dog if he didn't make it to service dog status.    

 Right before I came down I found out that Darby's allergies had cleared up and the man Darby was supposed to be in partner training with was in the hospital getting treated for a skin condition so he wasn't going to be able to participate in this partner training but would do one with him in 2 weeks.  I was happy but didn't want to get too excited as it might not happen.  Darby could even start partner training with someone and then not finish it if the placement didn't work out.  As you can see at this point my super optimistic outlook on what was going to happen was turning more cynical.

I didn't hear anything for a couple weeks and was really afraid to ask if Darby was placed.  I knew that the partner training that was supposed to happen didn't but wasn't sure when the next one was.  One day I was emailing Chris my usual update on Ice and Serena and randomly thought about Darby.  I decided to ask how he was doing and braced myself for the worse.  Chris didn't respond back right away, which of course isn't unusual as we all have super busy schedules but me being slightly neurotic, assumed it was because something was wrong with Darby and she was debating how she would tell me.  

This is why I nearly fell out of my chair when she emailed me back saying the reason it took her so long to respond was because she was debating whether to make the decision to place Darby with a young man in a wheelchair and had just decided that it would work and DARBY HAD A DADDY!!  She also said that they would begin partner training the following Monday.  Oh man I was bouncing up and down and I am pretty sure I squealed with excitement a few times.  But the the neurotic cynical part of me told myself to remember that they had never met before, that there was a chance Darby would hate this man or that he would be afraid of his wheelchair or that he would refuse to work for him.  So I twiddled my thumbs attempting not to think about how awesome it would be if it worked.  Then I got a friend request from someone who had Darby as his profile picture.  I friended him back thinking this had to be Darby's new daddy and then got this message on my Facebook wall:

Hi Sarah,
You don't know me, but I'm friends with Katelyn Martin and I'm on the MAWPS waiting list and I'm going Monday to meet Darby! He looks like a cool dude and I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for Darby, because I know he wouldn't be my baby if he hasn't been yours first. Thank you so much.

I cried. Butterflies and rainbows appeared. I didn't care anymore that they hadn't met yet or that they still had two weeks of intense training to make it through, this was going to work. It had to work. I admit that on Monday I kept checking Ryan's Facebook page for a Darby update hoping it would be something positive and wonderful and how they were instantly in love and it was like a romantic movie where they ran in slow motion into each other's arms and fell instantly in love and lived happily ever after. Well there wasn't slow motion with dramatic rain and soft focus but this picture came up and that was good enough for me:

Over the past week I have been reveling in Darby and Ryan photos and updates.  I didn't really make it public that Darby had been placed as I really wanted them to make it through at least a week of training and didn't want to jinx it.  I then got an email on Friday from Chris saying that Darby LOVES Ryan and that they were doing fantastic together.  She wouldn't tell me that if it wasn't true. That was it, I was telling everyone! I was like a proud parent who asks people if they want to see a picture of their kid then pulls out a plastic foldout picture holder thing that ends up unfolding and reaching the floor but everyone feels obligated to look at all 100,000 photos and listen to you talk about how your child is the best child in the world while secretly they are wishing that had never agreed to this.  Yeah, I am that person.  Luckily, Darby has a fan club and everyone of my friends actually really did want to hear about Darby.  

After a really long hard day of training

Darby spent one night on the floor and now gets to do this

Working in a grocery store and being awesome

I know Ryan has been working his butt off learning how to work with a dog while in public keeping them both safe and not in anyone's way.  They are doing wonderful together. Apparently Darby has been retrieving things for Ryan and when Darby is loose playing at MAWP, will only come to Ryan and ignores everyone else.  Ryan's parents are also wonderful with Darby.  Ryan's dad plays frisbee with him and Ryan's mom gives him endless bellyrubs. They both call him their "grand-dog".  I also found out that at home Ryan has a swimming pool with a waterfall.  Darby is going to pass out; his very own person who lets him sleep in the bed AND endless access to water?  All of Darby's dreams have come true!  I am sure there will be more Ryan and Darby updates on this blog but for now I will leave you with this picture that Ryan posted this morning:

I am off to go dance through fields of flowers with a double rainbow overhead, butterflies floating around me and unicorns grazing next to me.  I am on cloud nice.