Update on Tracking

Our winter wasn’t as cold or snowy as most, so we did get some opportunities to track. We didn’t really do any field tracking, but focused more on urban tracking.

In urban tracking the dog is learning to follow scent on short grass and pavement and in high traffic (or highly contaminated) areas. We tend to practice in school yards, on the University of Guelph campus or in local parks.

Rogue is loving it! And, she’s doing fabulously. We try to lay a track a few times a week and then we attend a private Friday or group Saturday tracking session, depending on Laura’s schedule.

If all goes well, we will be entering an urban tracking dog (UTD) test in June that is taking place in London.

I am trying to get Rogue to spend more time exploring the ‘scent pad’ by putting more food on it and by introducing a start cue “are you ready to track?” in an excited voice, and then once she looks at me, “FIND!!”

Some people ask their dog to ‘sit’ or ‘down’ before releasing them to start, but Rogue is usually quite revved up and she really doesn’t enjoy either of those cues. I know, you’re wondering how a service dog can succeed while disliking ‘sit’ and ‘down,’ well it’s because I try not to ask her for them unless we actually need to seriously do it.

So far we’ve done 2 to 3 hour old tracks between 200 and 300 meters long with a variety of surface changes and different numbers of turns. Rogue seems to be struggling with wind, with harnessing her enthusiasm, and, at times, with highly contaminated areas. We have a couple of months to go before the test, so we’re going to try and practice at least a few times a week, in different places, on different ages and lengths of tracks.

I really think Rogue can get her UTD this spring/summer, and then we’ll work towards possibly getting her TDX (or Tracking Dog Excellent) title in the fall.

Arizona has also started to track. We are practicing on short grass and pavement for now because it’s convenient, and it will help her in the end when she actually starts training for her TD, which is the first level of field tracking.

Arizona has a bit of trouble starting, but once she gets into the zone, she’s awesome! Huib has chosen to track with her on his own, and says she seems to be a more methodical tracker than Rogue.

The club here in Guelph hosts TD and TDX tests in early November, so I think we are going to try and enter both Arizona and Rogue.

We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, so stay tuned for more tracking news.

Field and Obedience

I apologize for the long absence, it’s been a really busy few months.

Over the past few months, we’ve been doing weekly field and obedience lessons with the goldens, and sometimes with Rogue as well.

We’ve made a great deal of progress!!

We’ve been working on: heeling, sitting whenever I stop moving, walking in a figure eight pattern, stays, recalls, and having the dogs pay attention to my body language because in obedience I cannot talk to my dog.

I still need to work on their heeling and sit-stay, but overall the goldens are doing really well.

Rogue has a great stay, but she seems to be confused about heeling, when I’m usually asking her to lead out when guiding, so Susie has suggested Huib work with her and I continue to work with the goldens. Huib has said he’ll do that and I think it’ll b a good challenge for him and a great experience for Rogue.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, we’ll start focusing on field and our obedience lessons will reduce to once a month.

In field, Arizona is doing fabulously!! She no longer hesitates about retrieving the duck, and rarely feels the need to visit the ‘gunner,’ choosing to return to me as soon as she has picked up the duck. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working on her ‘hold’ because she often drops the duck in front of me instead of giving it directly to me. In order for her to obtain her JH (or Junior Hunter), Arizona needs to be able to put the duck in my hand. For her WC (or working certificate) she can just bring the duck back and drop it near me. In order to reinforce the need to give the duck right to me, I’m starting to ask her to ‘sit’ as she approaches and then continue to ‘hold’ the duck until I say ‘give.’ She’s doing it really well at home, we just need to continue practicing it outside of the home.

Canyon has also been progressing well in field, but with his seizures Susie has suggested we not go for titles because he could have a seizure while swimming. We had been hesitant about the water portion of the test for other reasons, mainly because he tends to get hot spots after swimming, so when the seizure issue came up, we fully supported the decision not to work towards the titles.

The incident that highlighted the seizures as a potentially life-threatening concern, was that last night while Canyon was waiting for Arizona to finish her land retrieves, Canyon had a seizure. Usually his seizures only happen when he’s at home and relaxing, not when we’re out and he’s eagerly awaiting his turn. So, once this happened, we realized that his seizures could create a life-threatening situation.

Canyon still really loves field though, so we’ll give him the chance to take part in the lessons, avoiding the water portion.

Rogue does not hesitate to retrieve the duck, so I am working on her ‘hold.’ Currently, Rogue will run over to the duck, come back and toss it at me. I don’t think it will take too long for her to catch on to what I really want her to do. I am going to start by asking her to help me carry things through the house, like I did with Arizona when I was teaching her to carry things. I think in the end, this training will add to her actual skill set as a working dog.

With the warmer weather approaching, our field lessons will now turn into group ones and become our Tuesday evening activity.

Well, that’s what we’ve been up to in field and obedience. I will keep you all posted on our progress and hopefully I’ll get back to regular blogging soon.

Biting My Tongue

Do you ever wish you could push aside politeness and just say whatever is on your mind?

I feel this way a lot, but like a good girl, I continue to bite my tongue.

Yesterday we went to see Huib’s former co-worker. We had been out shopping and decided we’d drop in since we were in the area.

At first, the conversation was great. We all caught up and Huib and his former co-worker chatted about work related stuff.

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Do you ever wish you had listened to your dog? I sure do.

While we were chatting, Rogue had two accidents in the middle of the co-workers office – how embarrassing!!

In her defence, she had tried to tell me she needed the grass before we had entered, but she’s not usually one to relieve herself when not at home, so I ignored her – which turned out to be a bad decision.

Just a quick aside to show everyone that service dogs, and especially their handlers, are not perfect.
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Now back to my story.

Another staff member then came over and the discussion turned to my dogs and how I trained Rogue myself.

The woman told me that her kid has chronic pain issues and the doctor suggested she look into a dog. The kid would use the dog to protect the painful side, making space around them when out in public, and the woman thought the dog could also provide companionship since the kid has some anxiety issues. I thought this was an interesting idea, until the woman started talking about how she felt a therapy dog would be what the kid needed.

I didn’t know how to step in and explain the differences between therapy vs. service dogs. Terminology is a big part of my thesis research, so this was a great example to show that the confusion is real. People really do not know what the difference is between all of the different types of dogs.

Then, to add to the frustration I was feeling, Huib’s co-worker started talking about how her pet dog had been ‘certified’ as an emotional support dog for her kid. Again, I didn’t know how to step in and clear up the confusion.

If it wasn’t bad enough to hear that someone had their dog ‘certified’ as an ESA, she then went on to explain that the dog seems to be more stressed at times than her kid. What the…?

Why would you make your stressed out dog do something they don’t feel comfortable doing? And, who ‘certified’ this dog to do this job?

Boy, was my tongue ever sore by the time we left and got back into the car where I could vent.

Article Indication

In the TDX test, Rogue will need to indicate three articles and follow the scent across a surface change.

Laura laid four different tracks for Rogue: two were quite short with a glove at the end, one was her usual TD track and the final was a short track that went across a driveway.

Rogue overshot the article at the end of the first track, but indicated the article at the end of the second one better.

She did the third track perfectly and indicated the article well.

Laura wasn’t sure how she would do on the final track since she had never done surface changes, but Rogue was not phased, she followed the scent without hesitating and immediately found the article across the driveway.

I am not sure how much longer we will be able to track in the fields before the snow begins, but I think this was a pretty good lesson.

Success!!

She did it!! Rogue passed her tracking test!!

She is now RLR Babe In Total Control TD CGN.

The test went REALLY well. Rogue was extremely revved before and during the test.

A gentleman asked me if my dog was ready for the test and I told him “I don’t know.”

It’s true, I didn’t know. Just like humans, dogs have their good days and their bad. I didn’t know what sort of day this was going to be for Rogue.

Well, it was a good day. Together, we made history. As far as I understand, I am the first blind person to track at a Canadian Kennel Club event.

Our track was 410 metres long and we finished it in just over 6 minutes. Huib and I were dying by the end, Rogue was freaking flying!!

I am SO proud of my little red girl! She has been a great friend and training buddy. Not only does she work well to keep me safe each day, she also works hard to impress me with her intelligence and willingness to try anything.

On Friday morning we are going to start training for the next level, TDX. If it is not too snowy or cold this winter we may also start training for our first urban tracking title.

**There are pictures from our tracking adventure, so I will see if Huib can help me post them in the next week or so**

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.

19 Days

Rogue and I have 19 days left to practice before we do our first CKC tracking test.

Over the past month we have been practicing at least a few times a week.

We have also been playing a “find the glove” game in the house to reinforce her “indications.” In order to pass the test, Rogue needs to clearly indicate that she has found the glove because the judge needs to know it was her and not me who found it.

We had a mock test on Thanksgiving Monday, but we completely bombed it!!

Rogue seemed excited to track, but Huib said that from the start she seemed unsure, and as the track went along she got more and more insecure. I also became frustrated, so near the end, I got her to come close and we walked together to the end.

After I’d calmed down, I was SO embarrassed, we assessed the situation. We realized that the track was over an hour old (to that point, she’d only been doing 40 minute old tracks) and it was extremely windy.

Despite being unsuccessful, the experience was also useful because it gave me an idea of what things we need to work on before the actual test.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been doing 3 tracks, with each one being 10 minutes older than the last. She seems to be doing well and I think we’ll continue this up until the test.

In the meantime, I need to remind myself that even if we fail, we learned something and we can always do it again next year.

In the News: Using the Canine Nose

In the United Kingdom, Tui, a flat-coated retriever is being trained to search for harvest mice.

Researchers are hoping Tui will be able to help them better estimate their numbers because it is believed that their population is on the decline.

You can read more about Tui and the reason for her mission here.

In ruled by paws news…

Rogue and I had an excellent tracking practice this morning, so this article was a great one to share.

We ran a CKC regulation length track in just over 8 minutes without difficulty.

We need to practice corners a bit more and work on Rogue’s article indication, but those are very minor problems.

I think I will break out the clicker and work on teaching Rogue to come “touch” me and then return to the article.

The countdown is on, 46 days until our tracking test.

I Just Wanted to Enter

Let me begin by saying, I didn’t want to cause any problems for the Canadian Kennel Club, I just wanted the same opportunity as others to enter a tracking test with Rogue.

Over the past couple of months Rogue and I have ramped up our tracking practice. I have been trying to get us ready for the upcoming tests that happen in October and November.

I knew we wouldn’t be quite ready for October, so I had my eye on entering the tracking test being held in Guelph on November 8th. Not only do we live in Guelph, so the trip to the test wouldn’t be too long, but it also gives us a better chance of comfortable weather and more practice time.

I talked to my instructor, who also happens to be our area’s tracking rep, about my plans to enter the test. She said she would talk to other judges and see how the rules work for my situation. After talking to other judges, she suggested I talk to the CKC because there is a rule in the book that says people cannot have help on the track, so taken literally, this would mean I could not have a guide.

I called the CKC and the woman I talked to seemed quite willing to help me. She read through the rule book and also didn’t know what should happen. She suggested I talk to my area’s tracking rep and also gave me the email address for the Tracking Council.

I emailed the council and cc’d my instructor, so she was aware of what I had done.

It took a few days, but I finally got a response from the CKC rep for my area and he seemed to understand that it was against the law in Canada to discriminate based on a persons disability. He cc’d the head of CKC events in the hopes that she would be able to clear up the confusion.

The woman emailed back and said that “the issue” was on the agenda for the council conference call that was happening in early October, but then went on to say that she would let us all know if any decisions were made and changes implemented at their general meeting in December.

I wrote her back and said that I wanted to enter a test in November and asked if it would be possible for a temporary amendment to be put into the rules, so that I can be accommodated. She wrote back to say that unfortunately it was not possible because the rule book says no one can have assistance on the track, so it was up to the council to make the changes at their general meeting.

This response was not acceptable. The council cannot decide wether to accommodate a person with a disability, they need to accommodate them because it is the law in Canada.

So, I went to Twitter and Facebook, asking my friends and family to share our story.

Remember, I didn’t want to cause an issue, I just wanted to be given the same opportunity as a sighted person.

About two and a half to three hours later I got an email from the CKC.

After some digging, they located minutes from a 2009 meeting that put forth a policy allowing individual judges to make modifications when needed, such as for persons with disabilities. The policy was supposed to be written into the rule books of the various CKC events, but some rule books are still missing this policy.

The woman apologized and said that she would make sure the judge of my event is aware of the policy.

So, I went back on Twitter and Facebook, thanked my friends and family for their help and announced that I would be entering a tracking test on November 8th with Rogue.

Maybe some people would push this further, wanting to make sure the CKC does not do this to someone else, but I just want the opportunity to participate in dog sports like everyone else. I don’t want to cause any drama or problems.

Thank you friends and family for helping me achieve my goal, and thank you CKC for finding a solution to our dilemma.

8 days until we can submit our entry (fingers crossed we get in), and 47 days until Rogue and I try for Rogue’s Tracking Dog (TD) title.

It’s Official!!!

even though Cessna has been retired for almost a year, I didn’t call her school to let them know – I honestly didn’t see the point since we hadn’t heard from them in years.

I got a call a couple of weeks ago to “check in.” It may have been a call to let me know that it was time to consider retiring Cessna since she’ll be 12 at the end of October.

I personally think someone finally mentioned Rogue to a trainer. I don’t mind though.

The trainer asked how we are doing. I told her I had retired her back in October, but that I hadn’t called because I assumed it didn’t matter since I was planning on keeping her.

She said that they wanted to update my file, so were calling to make sure things were still up to date. I gave her my new address.

She said that they would send me Cessna’s adoption papers to make it “official.”

The papers arrived last week. In addition to saying that by adopting her I was no longer able to work her, it said that I am also responsible for paying for vet bills – which is funny because I have been paying the bills since I got her.

I am sitting at a table holding a pen above a piece of paper with writing on it. Arizona has her paws up and she's looking over my left arm at the paper. I am wearing a navy blue hooded sweatshirt with a grey bear paw on the front.

Now that I have signed the papers, with Arizona’s help, I guess Cessna is officially mine.

I hope we have several more years of adventures ahead of us.

They’ll no longer be working adventures, but they’ll be adventures nonetheless.