Friday, March 29, 2019

Service Dog Vs ESA Vs Therapy Dog

Hello Everyone

I get calls all the time with people enquiring about getting a service dog, however sometimes it is easy to tell the people who just want to find a legal way of bringing their dog into public or keep a pet in a "no dogs allowed" apartment.

My calls always start out the same, the person is in need of a service dog and are looking for guidance on how to get one. The first question I ask is if they have a prescription from a Medical Physician or a Psychiatrist, you need this in order for the dog to be purchased and if you need to complete a certification test, if you train your own. This is really the first hurdle that people start to realize that things are going to be more challenging than they thought. The second hurdle is cost, if you can not physically or psychologically train your dog on your own, there is going to be a cost. The next best thing is to find a sponsor. Many organizations work with sponsors because the sponsors have pre-qualifications that will weed out people and identify people who really need the assistance. It is because of these hurdles that many people start looking at Emotional Support Animals.

There is a BIG difference between a Service Dog and an Emotional Support Animal. Service Dogs are just Dogs, I do not like the term Service Animal because it opens the door in peoples minds that links it more with an ESA. Service Animals are trained to do a minimum of three tasks, either on command or by reading a persons body language and anticipating needs prior to the persons awareness of it. Contrary to this, an ESA is not trained at all, the only requirement is that the animal provides a sense of comfort to the person it is with.

Being from Canada, there is really a huge difference in the laws around ESA's and Service Dogs, where the USA (depending on the state) is a bit fuzzier. To reiterate what the law is in Canada, ESA's are not given any rights. They can not fly with you, they are not exempt from tenant rules, they can not go into public and there is no registration for them. I know people like to search for the answer that they are looking for, in order to have what they want, but anything telling you otherwise is lying. The only animals that have any exemptions to the rules are Service Dogs, implying that you have medical documentation saying you need one, and Therapy Dogs, which are trained and only allowed in because they have the approval of the owners of the place they are entering, to assist their clients, NOT to assist the person handling the dog.

PSI Team

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Purpose of a Service Dog

Hello Everyone

It seems like this should be a clear cut idea, a service dog is a tool to aid a person in being more independent, providing tasks that allow a person to do more and go more places. This seems like an easy concept, and people who get fully trained service dogs experience the whole world opening up for them. This is one experience that self-trainers never get to experience, and even people who get a great dog that is still maturing, find this difficult, because they are limited by their experience with their dog.

Going someplace new or places you were scared of before, takes a lot of trust with your dog. In order to desensitize them, they need to experience these places anyway. One topic I talked about before was the idea that, "I don't go to places like that anyway" really defeats the purpose. If you only train a dog to accompany you into places you are already comfortable, then the only thing that changes is you have a dog with you.

Service Dogs need jobs, if you are blind, many new places are scary, you do not know the layout, what if you trip, finding your way may be hard. Getting a dog to guide you would be a great way to feel comfortable going new places. But what if you just stick to your regular route, the places you regularly go and know, these are the same places you were comfortable in without the dog. He/she does not have to tell you how to get places and unless something has changed or a new object is in your path, you already know the layout, they have little to no jobs to perform in these instances. Day after day, sticking to this same routine will slowly diminish their skills and make them board. Many dogs thrive on the change and the challenge of the work, wanting to provide a service to you, if they do not get this task, they will stop working.

Going into new places with your dog is very difficult, especially if you have the joy of going through training with your dog, experiencing the bad along with the good. Trust is a little harder to build when you understand what can go wrong, but this is the whole reason you are going through this, to be able to go to those places and feel comfortable, to open up the world a bit more for you, not just as a companion in your small slice of it.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Testing a Self Train Dog

Hello Everyone

A couple days ago, I received a request to test a self trained dog. Testing a dog is something I never take lightly, the standards for a service dog are very high and it takes more than being able to perform the tasks or to have good obedience. When testing the dog I am also looking for how they handle themselves in public, responding to the handlers needs (without being told), responding to the handlers commands, their temperament and watching all these things in a variety of settings.

After sending the person my test, they indicated that there was no way their dog could pass. Curious to understand where the dog was in terms of training, I asked what exactly she could not do, turns out there were some places they were not going. The idea with a service dog is that it opens doors and assists you in doing things you previously could not do, or things you struggled with so just avoided, the longer you and your dog train, the more opportunities there should be for exposure because you start breaking out of your routine and feeling comfortable. Sticking to the same routine over and over will only mean you have just desensitized your dog to those locations.

Another part of the test is how the dog handles strangers. This doesn't just mean they are ignoring them, but what happens when strangers actively engage with the dog, this includes being pet, hugged, rubbed down and picked up. Even meeting different age groups, ethnicities, and disabilities is looked at, many times these assessments are done subtly and locations are picked where a wide variety of people congregate. Human interaction is definitely something lacking in most self-train dogs, it takes a lot of effort and courage to ask a stranger to help test your dog, and most people become defensive and upset when someone randomly pets their dog, while it is inappropriate, your reaction to it may cause more harm than the actual petting.

Exposure to other dogs and animals is key. There is nothing that makes a service dog worse than reacting to another service animal that is not doing anything. A lot of times this means intentionally working around other dogs, in parks, pet stores and enrolling in puppy classes, just to teach your dog to focus and respond to you with other dogs present.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Knowing your dogs limits.

Hello Everyone

It is time for to push my dog and take him to the Orchestra, Live Theatre and the Casino. After carefully assessing where a dog is at is important and knowing when and how much to push them. This is usually where self trainers get it wrong and it can have severe consequences. This can drastically reduce the dogs chances of passing. Pushing too far when the dog isn't ready can make them stop trying or enjoying it, preferring to stay home. I have had two dogs fail out because they stopped enjoying the job. This can happen at any age, and may not even be due to a person pushing the limits to soon but the dog just naturally learning that it doesn't like it anymore. Forcing the dog does not help matters but can cause more issues between the dog and the handler. Having your service dog resent you, is not a good way to have the bond you need with your dog.

Making sure your dog can handle different types of stimulus is important, however it is just as important to introduce them slowly and gradually to these stimuli. Assessing where your dog is at and when you can increase the duration and strength of the exposure, helps slowly acclimate them. Situating yourself where you can quickly and quietly leave, also ensures you are not a disruption to the people around you. Little tests at home can also determine your dogs readiness. How do they react to sounds on the TV, music in the car, things going on outside, where are they when you are doing everyday household activities. If your dog is over-reacting to the TV or doesn't have the patience to sit with you while you watch a movie, they are probably not ready to go to the Cinema, where they have to ignore the show, remain calm for over 2 hours, deal with the smell of popcorn and all the people, that is a lot of stimulus.

Sometimes self-trainers struggle with the opposite thing, making sure the dog is exposed. This is one thing that I have to make sure people in my self train program do. They get comfortable going to their same grocery store, the same clothing stores, and build a routine. This is all good for me to assess where the dog is at based on the situations that happen in their everyday life, and can let them know when it is time to take it up a notch by giving them suggestions on where to go or what to do. When self-training your dog, you are also limited to where you feel comfortable, but limiting your dogs exposure doesn't help them and eventually those exposures will happen randomly. Without preparing your dog for the sound of a buzzer (can go to sports games), a fire alarm may cause the dog to freak out. Even watching people run up and down a court helps to teach them that people running, doesn't mean that they get to go play. Having these things spontaneously happen, not only hinder the dog, sometimes to the point where they no longer want to work, but also put the handler in a state of panic, with a misbehaving dog. Pushing yourself to do new things, along with exposing the dog to these new experiences is very important, doing it in a way that you retain control over your situation and the dog so that both of you can get through it together.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Service Dog: Working Outdoors

Hello Everyone

Where I am, the weather is beautiful and the dog that I am working with loves to fixate on items he is interested in. This includes, dogs, bikes, kids, and skateboards. To him, these items are associated with having fun, but in his new role, they are to be ignored, and this is a very hard transition to make. One thing that didn't happen for him, is a casual walk in the park. Most dogs you see walking in the park are used to these items and they are more of an every day thing that is to be ignored. For this dog, the only time he really had fun and bonding time was interacting with these items. With the nice weather, it has been the perfect time to just take off the vest and work on walking in a park.

A well travelled walking park not only helps your dog start to ignore the activities around him but also the smells. Getting used to walking past places where other dogs marked, can be a big challenge, especially for males who want to be in on the marking chain. Working on keeping their head up, not pulling to go smell something or see something and staying at heal, makes a casual walk in the park into a training session.

My motto for all of this is just keep walking. This doesn't necessarily mean walking in a straight line, you can move backwards, change direction or even your speed, but the moment the dog is distracted, you need to do something to get their attention back. This will help assure them, that whatever got their attention is not worth it because you may do something unexpected and their focus needs to be on you.

When people start out training a puppy as a service dog, it is like they start to focus on the "public access" part of it. Inside a mall or department store, there are less smells that they are interested in and learning discipline around food in the home helps when going to a restaurant and a supermarket. What these dogs then lack is social interactions and learning how to behave appropriately outside with all the activities going on around them. Why people are so eager to just start taking a puppy out in public has never made sense to me, when learning to ignore and behave around items that get them excited makes the transition into public a lot easier. Taking a puppy into pet stores to do some training also has a lot of the same effects, getting used to listening and obeying commands surrounded by treats, toys, other animals, and dog smells. Rushing into getting a vest and pushing a puppy into public means less focus on this aspect. Teaching them inside a mall and applying it in a park setting is a lot harder than teaching them in a park and applying it to a mall setting.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Service Dog: How does age affect training

Hello Everyone

Last night I got to thinking about the dog I am training and how old he is. Generally when you tell someone your dogs age, you give an estimate. Turns out, I was about 6 months off what I was telling people. When you say your dogs age, like kids, there is a certain set of behaviours that they should exhibit. We do not expect a 5 year old to know how to have a rational conversation, behave appropriately in public all the time or solve complex problems. However, we can assume that they are still trying to figure it out as their minds grow, what are the consequences and benefits of how they act, why are things the way they are (generally by asking why) and how do I communicate in a way that adults will understand me.

When gauging whether a dog has what it takes to be a service dog, we have to first take into account their age. I always laugh when people say that puppy behaviour lasts until they are 8 to 10 mo. This is in stark contrast to many pet foods that say feed puppy food until they are 2. Turns out the puppy food manufacturers are closer to the truth. People hate it when you compare raising a dog with raising a child, in my experience it is kind of the same, except in fast forward. The behaviours that parents have to handle for 2-3 years, dog moms only have to deal with for 3-6 months. Take in mind, just like children, as a puppy grows it goes through those same stages, baby, toddler, child, adolescent, teenager and finally an adult. This whole process takes 2-3 years and just like children, if you do not raise and train them right, they can turn into terrible adults.

The same reason that dogs are re-homed/surrendered is also part of the reason that dogs fail out of being a service dog. Dogs that mature faster and catch on faster are easier to work with, their is less time and money into teaching them what to do and for people trying to train their own dog, there may be a limit to what you are able to do and how much you are able to handle. Don't get me wrong, there are some innate behaviours that are not due to age, but general temperament, and usually these behaviours continue through all the phases of puppyhood or come as random tendencies that the dog displays without warning or cause, it is these that it is important to document and analyze the situation around.

The dog I am working with is going to be 2.5 in April. For many people this is an adult dog and they should "get it". Sorry to burst that bubble but for many breeds like Labs and Newfoundlanders (more social driven dogs) this is their teenage years and like a general teenager they question the rules, get upset and cranky, try and find ways around things and sometimes can not control their impulses. The things to watch at this stage is whether or not this behaviour continues past 3 in which case means it may not be worth it. The dog I am working with now can be restless/impatient and even though he is friendly with dogs, when the leash goes on and we come across another dog, he can be a jerk because he knows that with the leash on he can just do what he wants and go say hi. When I compare the frustrating behaviours I am working with now, and at times that make me want to give up, I remember a Lab that I trained, who is amazing at her job, but was just a terror to work with at this age. Pushing through these stages and staying consistent with the training makes a huge difference in the end. It is when you stop and give up that the dog realizes the behaviour is okay and you may be stuck with some of those behaviours going forward, the dog never living up to their potential of being a service dog.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Service Dog: Looking at your needs

A few days ago I received a phone call from someone trying to understand my process for choosing whether or not a dog is appropriate for a person. Like I talked about in my last Blog, my application asks for details on their life. This is because it is going to tell me the energy level of the person, what type of household I am looking at putting a dog into, as well as, how experienced the person is with a dog.

The next thing you need to ask yourself is, what are my needs? Don't just ask yourself this, ask the others around you. I have friends that are writing lists, what do I struggle with and what does/can my dog do to help me. The other thing is, don't just rely upon your own assessment of yourself, others see things that you may miss or one behaviour you thing is an issue, actually may be completely normal or tied to something else that the dog can help with. Sitting down with the family and having a candid discussion about their concerns and needs goes a long way to create harmony in the family, you never want to receive a dog to help you, only to have your home life fall apart due to the dog.

Looking into different breeds, look at what their natural tendencies are. Going against their instinct is never wise. Some breeds are natural at picking up and bringing items, this is especially helpful if you have mobility or balance issues. Some breeds, even though they can retrieve, have genetic or physical characteristics that make bracing on them an issue, drastically reducing the life of the dog, like a Shepard. Always talk to your vet about what breeds you are considering and always have your dog/puppy physically assessed to ensure it is even a task that they can do.

Last time I talked about some dogs not being the norm when it comes to natural behaviours, this can also happen when choosing a breed that has the correct tendencies but not looking at the individual dog. Each dog is also an individual, just because you get a retriever, doesn't necessarily mean it will retrieve. Never go into choosing a dog blindly, and looking at puppies, try and match some of their natural behaviours with what you can work with and grow into what is going to help you. Getting a trainer involved will also help you not only choose the correct temperament but also assess the puppies behaviour in order to determine if they have the skills necessary.

Service Dog Vs ESA Vs Therapy Dog

Hello Everyone I get calls all the time with people enquiring about getting a service dog, however sometimes it is easy to tell the people...