Working Dog Conference: Day One

The hotel only had a continental breakfast, so once we were dressed and Rogue had eaten, we caught the bus to Rim Rock. The conference organizers put a breakfast on for the delegates.

At 9:00am the conference began. The first hour or so was taken up by introductory stuff from the organizers and the conference board. This conference was different from others I have attended because the talks were not broken into different sessions for people to pick from, everyone just attended all of the presentations. I think they said there were about 177 delegates from about 20 different countries.

Huib and I sat with Dr. Colleen Dell, a researcher from the University of Saskatchewan. I first met her a few years ago when I was deciding whether or not to attend Mac for my masters degree.

A lot of the talks were on different aspects of breeding, but there were a couple on body conditioning and a couple were about the early training of puppies to become a working dog. I liked the training ones and body conditioning the most. I found some of the presenters more interesting than others, but since the talks were only 15-20 minutes long, it wasn’t too difficult to sit through the ones that were outside of my understanding or interest.

At lunch we sat with a couple of people from Royal Canin, Canada. They are located just outside of Guelph, so they were familiar with where we live. One of the Royal Canin reps has a son with an autism service dog from Dog Guides Canada. She was interested in finding out about Rogue. I liked hearing about her son’s dog.

At night was the conference dinner. Huib and I sat with a couple people I knew from the Service Dog Standards Committee. It was nice to socialize with them outside of the stress of the committee meetings. At the meetings everyone tends to be on edge, wanting to push for their organization’s needs, but in this environment there is no stress. Dinner was okay. The chicken and pork was a bit dry, but the garlic mashed potatoes were tasty.

We couldn’t stay too late because I needed to continue memorizing my presentation notes, and I still had to prepare my powerpoint. When we got off the bus, we went for a bit of a walk to let Rogue stretch her legs and go to the washroom. It had been a really long day for her, so once we were back in the room and she had eaten, she quickly fell asleep. Even though she wasn’t actively working the entire day, often lying under the table, she still stays on alert, so a long day takes a lot out of her.

Working Dog Conference: Hello Banff!!

After checking out the different options for travel between Calgary and Banff, we decided on the Greyhound because it was less than half the price.

We weren’t sure how they would do with Rogue, since officially, Canada’s travel regulations say the dog should be program-trained, but no one said anything.

At the station, we waited for probably an hour before they began boarding the bus. While waiting, Huib went to the washroom and found a bud of medical marijuana sitting on a ledge. He said that he smelled something off when he entered the stall, so liked around and saw it. He gave it to one of the security guards, who put it into their pocket, lol!!

You would never have known it, but this was Rogue’s first time on a Greyhound bus. Unlike a city bus, the space is a bit restricted, but she just curled up and fell asleep. It took about an hour an a quarter to get to Banff.

While we were in Calgary, my migraines were pretty mild, but the weather had begun to change, so my migraine was not as great on our drive. As a result, I ended up falling asleep for part of the ride.

In Banff, the bus dropped us off at the station, which was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. It was a good walk. It gave Rogue and us a chance to stretch our legs. Huib took care of the suitcases, while I carried my backpack and Rogue guided me. She got really good at following him at a distance where I wouldn’t end up walking into the back of the bags if he stopped quickly.

Once we had checked in and dropped off our bags, we went for a walk. We checked out some of the stores along the main street and went into a neat stone place that has really expensive stuff. I got to feel some fossils and other art made of rock. Before we went back to the hotel to change, we got some french fries. The fries were good, but the seasoning had MSG in it, so I had to take some meds.

At the hotel, I quickly changed into nicer clothes and then we called a cab. The International Working Dog Conference took place at Rim Rock, a hotel that was about four kilometres away. Unfortunately, there were no sidewalks up to the hotel, so we couldn’t really walk.

There were a lot of events taking place at the hotel, so it took us a few minutes to figure out what floor we needed to be on. While we were looking, a woman from the Standards Committee I’m on, came over to say hello. Her staff were attending the conference, so she had dropped them off before heading on vacation.

At the conference registration table, I had a bit of a brain fart and forgot to tell the person my name, I just told her I was there to check in, lol!! They gave me a name tag with tickets for drinks, the conference dinner, the excursion and then the gala. They also gave me a bag that contained red Canada mittens, a battery pack, a memory stick, and an Alberta pin. I was excited about the mittens because mine are pretty beat up and really need to be replaced.

At the social, we had some appetizers and drinks. While Huib was grabbing our drinks, a woman came over to introduce herself. I guess she had made note of the different Canadian presenters, so she could scope them out. I enjoyed meeting her because she is doing some interesting service dog research and she knows my masters supervisor, James. I gave her my business card, so maybe we will be able to keep in touch.

Shortly after she left, we decided to go as well. The social was only scheduled for two hours, so we thought we might as well go catch the bus and then walk around a bit.

Busy Busy

What a week!!

Around 3:00am Wednesday morning, Huib, Rogue, the goldens and I took off for Gatineau. I had to attend a three day meeting that would be starting at 9:0am. We had originally planned to leave Tuesday evening, but Ottawa got a lot of snow, so instead of worrying about the road conditions, we decided to delay our departure and do an early morning drive. Our drive was smooth and uneventful – it only took us five hours, compared to the usual six.

After dropping Rogue and I off at the meeting, Huib and the goldens drove to our friend Jess’ place. They spent the day relaxing and helping Jess run a few errands.

Rogue and I had a pretty boring day. She slept under my chair most of the time, while I tried to pay attention and control my facial expressions. When you are in a room with a group of people who have very different life experiences and opinions, it can be difficult at times not to scowl or roll your eyes, but it’s important to try not to do so, just in case you might insult someone.

I’m not sure how many other service dogs were in the room, but Rogue was fabulous!! We had another dog sitting right beside us, but she never paid any attention to him. Other than getting up a bit more often starting around 3:00pm, an hour before the meeting’s end, Rogue remained relaxed throughout.

With the early start, we were all pretty exhausted Wednesday evening, so other than ordering some pizza and salad for dinner, we did nothing and went to bed by 9:00pm.

On Thursday, Huib fed and relieved the dogs while I got ready. Rogue and I had to go to another full day of meetings, so Huib tried to ensure she had a good amount of time to relieve herself. Rogue can be a bit of a finicky reliever when not at home, but I think it helped that she had been to Jess’ place before because she had no problems.

We were a little late getting to the meeting, so we had to rush into the building. We got stuck in traffic between Ottawa and Gatineau. With the rush, I let Huib get Rogue ready while I got my backpack on. He passed me her leash and we were off. As we were walking/running to the room, Rogue tried to sniff some things, so I told her to “leave it!” It isn’t normal for her to try sniffing in harness, so I was a bit firmer the second time it happened. When I settled at my chair, the woman beside me asked me if I meant to have Rogue work without her harness. The woman knows I am visually impaired, so told me about the missing harness because she was surprised I would choose not to have her wearing it. I laughed and immediately messaged Huib, who came running back inside with it. The mistake totally explained why Rogue was so interested in smelling things as we were walking through the building.

The rest of our day was completely uneventful.

At 4:30pm, Huib came to get us. Jess was also with him because her and I were going to her running group.

Before Christmas, I started walking a few times a week on my treadmill. Jess has been helping me increase my speed and endurance over the past month. Our treadmill measures things in miles, so I have gone from doing my workouts at 3.0 to 3.5 miles.

Jess has asked me to do a 10 kilometre race with her the last weekend in May. As long as I do not have a presentation that weekend, I said I would do it.

Walking/running outside is a lot different than doing it on a treadmill, so Jess asked one of her guides to guide me Thursday evening. I didn’t realize we weren’t going back to her place before the running group, so I forgot to pack my running clothes in the car. I had okay shoes for the run, but my clothes were a bit of a poor choice. I was wearing jeans and a knitted sweater, lol!! Jess asked one of the guys if they had a shirt I could borrow, which they did, so I changed out of my sweater and was ready enough to go.

The walk/run went well. The roads and sidewalks were a bit icy, so we only ran when the path was clear. I think we ended up doing a total of four or five short running sessions. While we walked, I learned about getting into a stretching routine, the importance of breathing and not heel-striking when running.

Jess, and our friend Jason, are going to see if they can find guides for me in Guelph, so i can continue working outdoors.

Every time I think about the fact I am actually considering a 10 kilometre run, I laugh. I have never been interested in running, but Jess has really motivated me to try.

Stay tuned for more updates!!

Friday was another full day of meetings. It is tough not being able to talk about the meetings, but I can say Friday was pretty serious and intense. It is sometimes rough going when you’ve got a large group of people coming from different walks of life. everyone has their own opinion on how the work needs to be done and has their own agenda. As a non-voting member of the committee, it can be frustrating at times not feeling as though you’ve really got a voice in the discussion.

On Friday evening we went to dinner with Jess, our friend Jason and some others. We met at a pub that had a nice atmosphere and good food. I had a nut burger with fries, while Huib had some sort of potato and veggie thing with fries. Jess and two others had fish in a coconut sauce with fries and I can’t remember what the other two people had. It was nice to catch up with Jason and to hear about the trip him and his wife had taken to Barbados. Jason is pretty excited about me running, so we took some time to chat about that as well. He has a lot of connections here in Guelph with the running community, so I hope he’ll be able to find some guides for me.

On Saturday, Jess had a triathlon camp to attend, so we got together with a friend to track. We have met Michelle at a couple of tracking tests, so when I knew we were going to be in Ottawa for a few days, I sent her a message on Facebook to see if she might want to do some tracking.

We got together at one of the National Research Council sites – a great place to track!! Huib laid a track for her dog, Cameron, while she laid tracks for Rogue and Arizona. Huib also laid a track for Canyon, so the poor guy wouldn’t be left out. After all of the tracks were laid, I had to pee, so we went to a little coffee shop nearby. They have tasty cinnamon buns and some good coffee.

Since Canyon is still learning, Huib had him run his track first. Michelle said he did a fabulous job!! This is Canyon’s second time formally tracking, so she was impressed. Huib says he thinks I can start handling Canyon now. Huib usually starts with them, so he can point out where the track is if the dogs need help, but Canyon seems to be a natural.

Next it was Arizona’s turn. I’m not sure where our crazy girl went, but Ari seems to have found her work ethic. She did a great job on her track. I walked along behind with Michelle, so got a play-by-play.

Cameron’s track was closest, so we did his next. Michelle did a really good job of handling him and he followed his track well. It was interesting to see the differences between his work and the way our retrievers work. Cameron checked out each of the cross tracks we passed, but never really went far off his actual track. I also liked how he picked up the article – I hope Rogue will do this some day!!

Rogue’s track was next. She was a bit excited at the beginning, so she had a bit of a messy start. She never got off track, but she was portering a lot. Michelle suggested I rein her in, not giving her so much line, so I brought her closer. She wasn’t as exact on her corners, but she followed her track well and found every single article!! Afterwards, I asked for Michelle’s opinion and she recommends I talk to her a bit less and also stop giving her so much line. I am going to work on this.

I liked having someone different lay her track because then she had an opportunity to follow another person’s scent and also work someone else’s track idea. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think we sometimes lay tracks in our own ways, so it can become a routine that the dog can predict.

For fun Michelle laid a quick track for me to run with Cameron. I have never worked with any other breeds than my own, so it was fun. Cameron is an English Springer Spaniel, so a lot lighter and different from my retrievers. Maybe it’s just that Cameron is more experienced, but I found him a lot less frantic or crazed than my guys can be. He checked out the scent pad, then followed the short track to the glove, picking it up and bringing it over to me. Michelle told me not to talk too much and I could see how the quiet really helped him concentrate.

Nothing too exciting happened while I ran Cameron, but funny stuff did occur before and after. As we were walking over to the scent pad, Huib had to take me over and through a difficult path of snow and ice. My guys are used to my balance being off, so they sometimes get pulled in different directions, so I felt bad for Cameron, but he was a good sport about it all. After the track, Michelle gave me a container and asked me to open it and give it to him. I had heard her mention bringing cheese curds with us, so I thought that was what was in the container. After I took the lid off, I reached in to get the curds and found wet food!! I quickly removed my hand and both Huib and Michelle laughed…lol! SO gross!!

I am glad we had a chance to meet up with Michelle and Cameron. I hope we can do it again.

In the evening, we were all pretty tired, so Huib made some yummy salad and pasta for dinner. We then chatted about our days and went to bed around 10:00pm.

On Sunday Jess had a 10 kilometre run in the morning, so we slept in and then started packing up. I had two hard boiled eggs and a bowl of Smarties ice cream for breakfast with some coffee – I love being an adult!!

When Jess came back, she brought Jason. It was nice chatting with them before we left.

On our way home we planned to stop in at Arizona’s breeder, so we left around 10:00am. The drive to Anne’s place was quiet and pretty. Anne and Jeff live outside Perth in Tay County. They have a beautiful house beside a lake.

When we arrived, we let Arizona out to pee and then went up to knock at the door. Anne came and let Sitka and Teal out to greet Ari before we all went inside.

Sitka has the same dam, but different sire than Arizona. I have always loved Sitka, she is very loving and adorable. In August she had a litter of seven puppies sired by Teak, Ari’s sire. I wish we had known about the breeding because we would love to have another Teak puppy.

Teal is six months old and one of Denali’s puppies. Denali has the same sire as Ari, but a different dam. Teal is a very cute girl!! She kept climbing into our laps and giving us kisses while we were there.

Anne brought Denali and Abba out after putting Sitka and Teal away. She wanted the girls to get a chance to greet Ari separately.

Abba came over and checked out Arizona, letting her do the same. Abba is now ten or eleven years old, so has some old lady lumps, but looks pretty good. After she was satisfied with Ari, she came over to cuddle with me – I loved it!!

Denali was a bit more enthusiastic about greeting Arizona. She is just a year older than Ari, so definitely has more energy than Abba.

Arizona was a good sport about being checked out by everyone, but she did get a bit grumbly after a while. teal had her head inside Ari’s mouth a few times, so I can’t really fault Ari for grumbling. She never went any further than that, so I didn’t say anything. Huib just had her come over and sit with him and lie down by his feet so he could control things a bit.

The only girl Arizona didn’t grumble with was Abba. I think Abba is a lot calmer and more respectful when greeting, so she didn’t annoy Ari.

I think this was probably the longest we’ve ever spent just chatting with Anne and Jeff. It was great!! I didn’t come right out and ask Anne about breeding rights for Ari, but from some of the things she said, we think she knows we want them. We are going to start getting Ari’s health clearances done, starting with her eyes and thyroid.

After a bit, Anne let Sitka and Teal back out and for the rest of the visit, we had all five girls together in the living room.

It was really interesting to learn about the personalities of each. Sitka and Ari seem to have the same independent-mindedness, which we think comes from Abba. Denali and Ari have the same crazy nature, but willingness to learn, so we think that must come from Teak. Anne says she never really knows what to expect at a test or trial with Sitka, and that Denali always makes life interesting – we all know who that reminds us of…lol!

Anne showed us her training room and had Sitka and Teal demonstrate some of the things they can do. It was fun to watch little Teal work, she’s such a smart girl!! One thing Anne uses, that we don’t feel comfortable doing ourselves, is use a prong collar when teaching the heel. She said her trainer suggested it and that she finds it works well.

Anne told us that she is hoping to start training for utility with Denali, but that she is done with obedience with Sitka because she really doesn’t seem to enjoy it. I asked her if she had any suggestions on how to get Ari in the game with obedience and she suggested using a puppy sized bumper as a reward, since it works really well with Sitka. Huib and I are going to find one and try it out.

Sitka will be trying for her senior hunt title this summer, but I’m not sure what Denali is working towards.

Before we left, Anne gave us a couple of goose wings and a few ducks for training. I am looking forward to seeing what Ari thinks of the goose wings.

Our drive home was nice. Huib decided to take the long way, since we weren’t in a hurry and we needed to make a stop in Aurora anyway. When we got home, Cessna was SO excited to see us!! She loves staying with Dad, but I think she also likes when we all return.

It was a great trip, but an exhausting one. Now I must get back to work, preparing my PhD application and a mini presentation for Friday.

Service Dog Committee

I’ve wanted to post this entry for almost two months, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t share anything I wasn’t permitted to share..

A couple of weeks ago we were sent the minutes for the meeting and once they are approved, they will be publicly available.

Now that I have an idea of what kinds of things I can share, here’s my post.

The Canadian General Standards Board, Committee on Service Dogs is comprised of: organization heads, government officials, some academics, a couple of professionals (like a veterinarian), and then a number of general stakeholders, such as owner-trainers, disability groups and other service dog handlers.

Other than Rogue, there were about 11 other dogs. It was neat because even though there were 12 dogs in one room, you really didn’t notice any of them unless you happened to walk past and their handler told you to watch a paw or a tail.

Rogue and I sat beside a guy and his dog both days and neither paid any attention to the other. I was SO proud of my little red girl!

The first meeting started out with a video introducing everyone to what CGSB does and then each of the committee members introduced themselves. I had struggled all night to figure out what I wanted to say about myself, so I was ready and I don’t think I sounded too nervous.

Once all of the introductory stuff was done, the committee chair asked if anyone had questions. There were some of the usual questions about how this committee came to be and then about how long it would take for the standards to be developed.

As I had guessed, it was Veterans Affairs who initiated the process and who are funding the venture. The VA wants a set of guidelines to follow when deciding whether a veteran should receive funding for their service dog.

And, also as I thought, the standards are voluntary, so it is up to each individual province to implement them. This means that it’s not the big fix many people were looking for. As an owner-trainer, this news made me happy because it means that at least for now I don’t need to worry about Rogue not being able to perform her duties in public.

The process is supposed to take about 2 years, with about 6 meetings during that time.

Once people asked all of their questions, the chair asked us to start tossing out ideas for the scope of the committee. Not everyone understood what was meant by scope, so after about 20 minutes of less than helpful ideas, the chair gave us a definition and explanation.

I don’t remember off hand what was decided, but I do remember that we had 4 basic points that people felt were necessary to cover within the standard.

A discussion surrounding what terms we wanted to use in the wording of the scope description kept coming up, so the chair moved us in that direction.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up by a debate surrounding terminology. The discussion primarily focused around whether we wanted to use ‘service dog’ or ‘assistance dog,’ and ‘handler’ or ‘client’ or ‘user.’

Terminology has been a big part of my thesis research, so I sat back and listened to everyone talk, making notes as I listened.

The split seems to be between the industry people and the handlers when it comes to what terms should be used.

The industry tends to follow the language of Assistance Dogs International who uses ‘assistance dog’ as an umbrella term which then breaks into guide dogs, hearing dogs and service dogs. The handlers all seem to want ‘service dog’ because it’s the term that appears in most government documents and the one that is used in public.

From my research, I have to agree with the handlers because ‘service dog’ is the term I’m seeing used within the literature, unless the article is written by someone from the UK. As the discussion was selling, I put my hand up and said exactly that.

Once we had sort of settled on using ‘service dog,’ we moved onto debating whether we should be using ‘handler,’ ‘user,’ or ‘client.’ Of course, handlers didn’t want to be called users or clients, but those are the terms used within the industry. After some back and forth, the chair reminded everyone that the standards were mostly meant for government, so we need to use terms that are found within government documents.

It was at this point when someone suggested we form a working group to determine what terminology should be used and the definitions that should go along with the various terms.

The second day started with a quick recap of the scope we had come up with the day before. We then started to talk about what conditions a dog could help with and what types of service dogs there are.

This part didn’t go too slowly, we appeared to come up with a lot of good points, but then someone put out the question of whether we should be dictating what breeds can be service dogs. Thankfully, everyone agreed that it was a topic no one wanted to touch.

Then we moved on to the individual points under the scope.

the next big discussion came when we started talking about the training of a service dog.

This is when it got a bit heated.

To lower the temperature of the discussion, the chair suggested we just focus on the specifics and not on what types of training methods are acceptable or what equipment can be used.

As lunch approached, someone suggested that another working group should be formed to discuss training – GOOD IDEA!!!

After lunch, one of the industry people gave a speech on how they, and other ADI members, felt attacked. They very passionately voiced their opinion and strongly suggested people back off. I do agree that people seemed to attack ADI a bit too much in previous discussions, but I also felt as though a specific organization was getting attacked by not only individual members, but by other organization heads. It made me kind of sad because I don’t think any organization deserves the finger pointing, especially when the organization is being represented by one person, so to have almost 49 people (or feel like that many) pointing fingers at you, isn’t fair. I felt like saying something, but it wasn’t my place to do so.

The rest of the second day was taken up by a discussion of performance requirements and evaluation processes. It’s believed that the standard should outline what a service dog’s job is and provide an expectation of evaluation to ensure the team is working properly. I am personally not sure how you can decree what a service dog’s job is, but I do think it is a good plan to expect a certain level of evaluation.

I often wonder if maybe some of the supposed ‘fakes’ people talk about aren’t actually just service dogs who no longer do their job properly.

This is just a brief outline of some of the things we discussed and the debates we got into. If I find out where it is posted, I will post the link for the actual committee minutes.

I was assigned to the working group that is looking at terminology and definitions, yay!

Our next meeting is in February.