National Guide Dog Month – Should You Pet?

Sorry for slacking on these posts, but this weekend was pretty busy so I thought we’d just make it something that will happen each weekend this month – no “National Guide Dog Month” posts on weekends.

Today, Huib and I took Cessna and Rogue into town for a little sidewalk and intersection work. While walking the streets of Englehart, I heard a few people saying to their companions that they must not distract the working dogs. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we would actually like people to come up and ask to pet Rogue.

This got me thinking about all the service dog handlers who have a “absolutely no petting” policy, or who wish people would just stop asking.

Instead of taking the time to write a post about everything that has already been said by some other bloggers, I thought I’d just give links to their wonderful posts.

Teach Them Well by L^ & Jack

Don’t Pet by Nati & the Dogs

To Pet Or Not Pet A Guide Dog by Lynette & DeeDee

I am in the “ask, and I might let you pet my guide dog” camp.

I understand why some people have an “absolutely don’t pet my guide dog” policy.

And I understand why some get really annoyed by people constantly asking.

But, I have been blessed to have been matched with dogs who could care less about other people and their attempts at distracting them from their job.

I guess the bottom line is…to always ask someone before petting their dog, whether it’s a guide dog or pet. It’s just safer that way for everyone.

National Guide Dog Month – Psychiatric Service Dogs

Today I thought we’d look at the controversial psychiatric service dog. You’re probably wondering why I call them “controversial”, it’s because this type of service dog can be easily confused with the therapy dog or emotional support dog.

Therapy dogs are personal pets which have been put through vigorous tests in order to be registered to visit public places, such as hospitals, long-term care homes and schools.

In contrast, psychiatric service dogs are special canines who are trained to perform specific tasks which mitigate the psychiatric disabilities of their human partners, whereas emotional support dogs are solely there fore “support”.

Both emotional support and therapy dogs do not have any special privileges in Canada, so must ride in the cargo holds of planes, remain outside public places, and do not qualify for residency in “pet free” housing.

Some of the tasks which psychiatric service dogs can be trained to do are:

• Wake up their client;
• Remind client to take medications;
• Track/find lost items;
• Lead client to a safe place;
• Alert client to oncoming symptoms;
• Check a room before client enters;
• Make space for client in crowded places;
• Provide pressure therapy when their client is feeling anxious; and
• Interfere with repetitive or harmful behaviours.

This link, will take you to a paper which discusses the results of a survey that looked at how psychiatric service dogs have effected the well-being of their clients.

Unlike guide dogs for the blind or service dogs for people with physical disabilities, the psychiatric service dog is still quite uncommon, so their clients often run into issues regarding public access. This issue is compounded by the fact that most clients do not have anything visibly wrong and there is still a large stigma surrounding mental illness, so clients are often reluctant to disclose why they need the dog and what tasks are performed.

This link, will take you to an article about a woman who owns and runs a program based in Guelph which provides psychiatric service dogs. I briefly volunteered with K-9 Helpers and had a chance to meet D’fer and see the amazing work he does for Sue. I also had the opportunity to participate in their weekly client sessions and observe the process Sue goes through when choosing, and later training a service dog candidate.

Psychiatric service dogs may not currently be a well-known type of canine assistant, but with the well documented benefits they provide for their clients, I’m sure they will soon be a common sight on our streets.

If you are left with any questions regarding anything I’ve written about, please don’t hesitate to leave a paw print in the comments section of the particular entry.

National Guide Dog Month – Poor Dog…

This is harder than I thought it would be. It’s tough to think of topics to write about each day of the month. I’m only on like day four, and am already beginning to wonder if it is even worth my time. I like educating people about service dogs and dispelling some of the myths surrounding what the public thinks a service dog should be, but it’s really hard to think about what I should write that isn’t written somewhere else already.

If you have any questions for me or about service dogs in general please post them in the comments section and I’ll gladly take a moment to write about them.

So…now….what to write about today….

“Poor dog…”

The above comment is one I hear almost every day. It seems as though people think Cessna works day and night. It’s like they think she’s my slave.

In reality, Cessna works only in public places. And on average works less than 20 hours in a week.

Yes, there are weeks when I may need her to work more, but these are very rare. During those weeks, I spoil her with tasty treats and make sure to maximize the fun-factor during her “time off”.

Most days, Cessna is a couch potato.

She loves to get as much sleep as possible, even on days when she’s done nothing at all, you’ll be sure to find her curled up on our queen-sized pillow top mattress or sprawled out in the middle of the couch.

When she isn’t sleeping, Cessna loves to chase squirrels, birds, chipmunks and even Canyon when he’s retrieving a ball. I know guide dogs aren’t “supposed” to be chasing small critters, but Cessna isn’t your “typical” guide dog.

Cessna isn’t afraid to tell me when she needs a day off either. If she sees me getting ready to go somewhere, she’ll watch intently and if she isn’t in the mood, then I will usually find her pretending to nap on the bed. This is honestly a welcome change from the days I worked with Phoenix, because even if I wanted to leave him home, it just wasn’t going to happen.

Maybe there are service dogs out there who work non-stop, but this is definitely not Cessna.

Most times I will just ignore someone who makes the comment “poor dog…”, but on the rare occasion I have been known to stop and ask the commenter a few questions.

Me: “do you have a dog?”

Joe Public: “Yes.

Me: “May I ask where he or she is?”

Joe Public: “At home.”

Me: “Poor dog.”

Joe Public: “What do you mean?”

Me: “I feel bad for your dog having to sit home alone, while Cessna is out with me having a great time.”

At this point, the person usually just gives me a strange look (why do people give blind people dirty looks?) and walks away.

But, there are those, who will continue on trying to argue that their dogs are much happier than Cessna because they are not expected to “work all the time”.

At this point, I will usually ask them what they think she does, when we’re at home.

This usually makes them think a moment, and I will continue on my way because I’m not interested in listening any more.

In an earlier post, I wrote about an article I had read regarding PETA and their feelings surrounding service dogs.

There are other interesting comments I’ve heard during my public excursions with Cessna, but I’ll keep those for future posting.

National Guide Dog Month – Why Labs?

Since the past two days have been focused on more serious topics, types of service dogs, I thought I’d look at something a little less “boring.

Often when I am out with Cessna, I have people ask me why labs are the main breeds used for guide dogs. I think this is a pretty interesting question, so decided to do a little research.

According to this website, 60-70% of guide dogs in the U.S. are Labrador Retrievers.

All three colours of labs have been used for guide work, but there are some programs in the U.S. who will not use chocolates. The coat colour of a lab does not make a difference in temperament or trainability, but there is still this sad myth. And, if the breeder at Wylanbriar hasn’t convinced you that these myths regarding chocolate labs are unfounded, then take a look at this post, written a while back by our friends, L^ and Jack.

If intelligence was the number one decision-making factor regarding which breeds would make the best guide dogs, then labs would have to move over for the border Collie and German Shepherd. It is a well known fact that labs are not considered the smartest breed, but there are many other traits which help these floppy eared goofballs excel in the field.

Some of the personality traits which make the lab a perfect choice for guide work, are:
• Their willingness to please;
• their ability to easily adapt to new people/surroundings;
• their ability to “bounce back” quickly when startled; and
• their trainability.

But, the most important quality, which makes the breed such a great guide dog for the blind, is their “stubborn streak”. It is important for a guide dog to obey, but in times of danger they must choose to go against their partner’s wishes, without concern, therefore this is an area in which the lab far exceeds the qualifications of other breeds.

I have only had personal experience with the Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever, but will always choose a lab for my working partner. I have found my relationship with Cessna and Phoenix before her, to be one of true teamwork and dedication. Cessna has been working with me for six years now, but still thrives on being challenged and asked to work in highly stimulating environments. She constantly looks to me for direction, but will also take charge and guide me through some of the most difficult surroundings with a continuous smile on her face.

My goldens are softer. They find it tough to adapt to new environments at first, and become almost frantic if they can’t follow. I don’t find they possess the same level of desire to please and willingness to learn that my labs offer.

I’m sure there are labs out there who are not going to make great guide dogs, and goldens who would be great candidates for the job, but in my experience, I prefer the lab by far for working and the golden as a pet and/or competition partner.

This link, will take you to a page on the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners website, which discusses some of the points that should be considered when deciding upon which breed might best suit your needs.

Come back tomorrow for another installment of our National Guide Dog Month entries.

National Guide Dog Month – Seizure Response Dog

***This post was supposed to show up this morning, but since I saved it in drafts last night, it decided to post as another Monday post***

Yesterday, we looked at autism service dogs, so today I thought we’d look at another less common type of service dog, the seizure response dog.

According to Epilepsy Newfoundland And Labrador (2011):

• 300,000 Canadians have epilepsy.
• 1 in 2000 Canadians are diagnosed each year.
• 38 people on average are told they have epilepsy each day.
• 60% of these cases each year, are children or the elderly.

Even though some dogs have been known to detect seizures, it is not a skill which most possess. Therefore, guide dog programs such as The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, have taken it upon themselves to train dogs to respond to their client’s physical cues.

Similar to the application process for other service dogs, individuals must first decide whether they have the financial, emotional and physical ability to support a canine assistant. They must then go through a vigorous screening process to make sure they can provide a suitable environment for the dog to thrive, and to make sure they truly understand what skills a seizure response dog can perform.

Some of the skills which these special canines can be trained to do are:

• to stay beside their client during a seizure;
• bark for attention;
• fetch medications;
• get the telephone, or
• alert a caretaker.

In this article, you can read about how the media has created some unfortunate expectations surrounding the job of a seizure response dog.

Even though there are some limitations regarding the job of a seizure response dog, these special canines continue to bring happiness into the lives of their clients through providing them with a sense of safety and independence they did not formerly possess. This link will take you to the stories of four seizure response teams which were sponsored by a private registered charity called Care-Alive.

Please join me tomorrow, when I discuss another guide dog related subject.

If there is anything in particular you might want me to examine, please leave a comment.

National Guide Dog Month – Autism Service Dogs

September is National Guide Dog Month. I’m about five days behind, but since it seems to be mainly celebrated in the U.S., I thought my tardiness was acceptable.

Since this blog has been a little lacking in interesting and factual information, I thought I’d post some service dog related entries for the next25 days.

I began
my blogging journey during March of 2008, when we started fostering, Aiden,
for Autism Dog Services.

Here’s a picture of Aiden that was taken in Toronto in June of 2008.

Therefore, I think I will start my National Guide Dog Month entries, with a post on autism service dogs.

Autism service dogs perform a wide variety of tasks, such as help curb unwanted behaviours, encourage interaction with others, and provide independence. Unlike traditional service programs though, such as the ones which train guide dogs, there is a little less consistency surrounding the training of these special canines.

Some of the skills which they have been known to perform are:

• Act as an anchor to keep children from bolting into traffic;
• Alert their child’s guardian to harmful behaviour (such as an attempt to escape);
• Search for their child in the event of a successful escape;
• Help their child calm down and/or handle highly stimulating environments; and
• Provide a bridge for social interactions.

Even though there are many benefits to having an autism service dog, it is important to look at how a dog’s presence might change the family dynamics. Not every child will find a dog comforting. And not every family will find a service dog helpful. Some families will start the process of attaining a service dog, only to find out that the added responsibilities and public pressures are too much. They may also find that their child is disinterested in the dog and that the dog’s desire to be nearby is too overwhelming.

In this article from February of 2003, you will read about two boys (Scotty and Riley), who are learning about how different life can be with their autism service dogs.

In this second article, you will read about Aiden’s sister Amber, and the process Katie’s family went through to find out whether a dog was right for her.

Here’s a picture of Amber with her brother Aiden, that was taken in October of 2008 at the St. Jacob’s Market.

Currently, there are only four programs in Canada which provide autism service dogs.

National Service Dogs;
Autism Dog Services;
Dogs with Wings, and more recently,
The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.

With the seemingly endless requests for these special canines, I’m very certain that we will soon see more programs offering autism service dogs, and that it may become just as common to see one as it is to see guide dogs who assist the blind and visually impaired.

Come back tomorrow to learn more about our special canine helpers.

(Just a closing note, I got most of my information through a basic Google search, but also took some points from an article inspired by the book “Animal-Assisted Interventions For Individuals With Autism” by Merope Pavlides)