Monday, September 29, 2014

Cinder's New Job and Service Dogs

     Last week, I posted on Facebook that Cinder’s been exhibiting a new set of behaviors I want to foster.  I am profoundly deaf without my hearing aids and remain well below the normal hearing range with them. In fact, one evening last spring, while I was showering, Cinder absconded with one of my less than nine month old hearing aids and chewed it to unrecognizable bits.  Luckily, my hearing aids came with an incredible one year warranty/replacement policy and the $4500 hearing aid was replaced a few weeks later!  That escapade makes her among the most expensive Border Collie puppies ever!  However, maybe she’s decided she should make up for it by learning to help me around the house by alerting me to sounds I can’t hear.  This week I've been having a hard time sleeping and decided I should use my flashing alarm clock in case I didn't wake up in time for work.  Usually I don’t need my alarm clock-we’re up by 4:30-5:30 every morning without alarms. I've awakened well before the alarm each morning. Since I don’t usually set an alarm, I've forgotten to shut it off each morning.  Each morning, the alarm went off while was in the living room, drinking coffee and watching the news. Cinder began racing between me in the living room and the bedroom.  Each time when I've followed to see what she was trying to tell me, I've gone with her to the bedroom and she’s jumped on the bed, looked at the flashing, beeping alarm; and yipped at it, then looked at me.  That’s exactly the behavior of a Hearing Service Dog trained to alert someone to a noise-get the person’s attention and alert them to the noise and its cause by taking them to it.  Hence I posted on Facebook that perhaps Cinder’s behavior indicates a talent which I had not considered-to help alert me to noises and alarms around the house as my Hearing Dog.  ***Please note that I am not in any way intending to claim her to be a working, registered Service Dog, but more like a personal home helper Hearing Dog.  Real Service Dogs are intensively trained and registered.
     In response to my Facebook post, I've had several inquiries about my experience with a Hearing Dog or Service Dogs and information about Service Dogs.  This is my response, and I apologize for the delay:

     Yes, I've had a couple of Hearing Dogs. My last one was actually also raised and trained by me, my son, and canine behaviorist friends at Purdue University while I was an adult student there.  We trained a variety of Service Dogs of different breeds, ages, and goals.  I acquired my last Hearing Dog as an eight week old puppy from a friend who gave him to me as a gift for that purpose.  Normally people do NOT acquire and train their own Service Dogs so this was all by special circumstances and my association with behaviorists specializing in Service Dog training and research on different aspects of things that pertain to training quality Service Dogs.  I also happened to be one of the only people my behaviorist friends knew personally who had dog training experience and also needed a Hearing Dog.  My puppy became part of the program and study as my Hearing Dog.  He never retired - cancer took him at eight years old.  He was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the dog for whom my current Border Collie, Gilley, filled the void in my heart.  Gilley was never supposed to be a Service Dog for me-just my new “BFF.”  As it turns out, Gilley’s equally as intelligent, special and helpful to me – but not as a Service Dog.

      Qualities desired in a Service Dog vary. The most basic qualities are a dog with a pleasant and unflappable personality, possessing good health, confidence, stamina, intelligence, desire to please, and the likelihood of a good “work ethic.”  Other qualities are also required, but those are the basics.  Other qualities desired are generally characteristics that relate to specific Service Dog types and duties.  You don’t want to use a Chihuahua as a Guide Dog because they’re too small, but they may make excellent Seizure Alert Dogs.  When it comes to Service Dogs, there is no singular suitable breed because there are so many different jobs for Service Dogs and so many dogs that can fit the need.  Many programs make a point to use rescue puppies and young adult dogs too.  By using rescues, they achieve meeting program goals while saving dogs’ lives. 

     Service Dog puppies are generally raised by breeders and foster families who specialize in raising puppies intended for Service Dog work. Many Service Dog programs have a list of “approved puppy raisers” to whom they send available puppies to be raised until they’re ready to enter their program of specialized training. Puppies are raised by foster families until they're 12-18 months.  All Service Dogs are well socialized, obedience trained; and generally have their Canine Good Citizen certificates before they ever begin their specialized Service Dog training.  Some will go on to become Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Seizure Alert Dogs and many other specialized Service Dogs. Others are “cross-trained” to be Service Dogs for people with multiple disabilities requiring a combination of skills. 

      Each type of Service Dog is trained based on their size, personality, and particular characteristics needed for a specific type of service. Most Guide Dogs are taught the same basic skills of assisting their visually disabled human partners, but many are also taught added skills specific to helping partners with multiple disabilities.  Service Dogs are truly, “tailor made” with training for some “generic” skills and tailored training to fit the needs of human partners they will serve.  This ensures a disabled person obtains a Service Dog that truly provides things they need in ways that work for them with their disabilities and lifestyle needs. 
     By the time a Service Dog is fully trained and ready for a human partner, there is a huge investment of time, training, maintenance and expense involved.  Every effort is made to match dogs and humans that  are a good match together as working and life companions.  The average age of most dogs when finished with their Service Dog training is around three years old. Their expected life of service is generally five to seven years; and they are generally retired between 8-10 years old.  When retired, they usually are placed with someone else in another home.  The reason for retiring them to live in another home is that if they remain with their disabled partner, they often do not understand NOT working for them after a life of service with them. Retirement is meant to take them out of service and give them a pleasant retired life for the remainder of their elderly dog life.  

      People often wonder if a breed like the Border Collie, known for high drive and high energy can be a good Service Dog.  The answer is yes, if it’s the right Border Collie with the right training, matched for the right job.  But not every Golden Retriever or Labrador is a great potential Service Dog either!  It’s all a matter of a dog with the right set of characteristics for the job.  Energy level is not a criterion for inclusion or exclusion since energy can be channeled in positive ways.  Attitude and aptitude are far more important characteristics.

      Back to Cinder.  Could she be a real Service Dog? NO!  Cinder’s reactivity immediately disqualifies her from being either a Service Dog or a Therapy Dog.  A dog that’s unpredictable in any way is NOT a good candidate, especially if that unpredictability may also endanger someone.  Why would I consider making her my unofficial Hearing Dog?  I already have her and she is already showing me indicators that I could train her to help ME in MY home situation.  I would never consider any attempt to pass her off as a working Hearing Dog!  That is not the idea at all!  My thought is to capitalize on what she seems inclined to do for me already before I ever try to train her for more.  She is a Border Collie and needs a job so the more she can do, the more her job(s) can expand to give her a greater sense of purpose and expand her repertoire of skills to help her stay busy and have more purpose.  She can learn to tell me about various alarms, phones ringing, appliances making noises, doorbells, cars, and other sounds I can’t actually hear.  It’s not a physically demanding but they’re things she can do within our home to help me.  Since going out in public is generally stressful for her, I need to teach her things to occupy her in any way realistically possible.  Who knows?  Maybe she just really hates my alarm clock and wants me to shut the dang thing off; and she may not learn to alert me to other alarms unless she hates them too!  That could be the whole thing start to finish; and my idea of capitalizing on her as a helper may not be so great.  But I prefer to remain optimistic about adding, “handy momma’s hearing helper” to her list of skills if we can.

      I'm including some links to websites for Service Dog programs that have more information if interested in more/better information:

Assistance Dogs International (ADI)
National Service Animal Registry (NSAR)
Service Dog Registration of America
The United States Service Dog Registry
Seeing Eye-Guide Dogs
Paws with a Cause
Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind
Dogs for the Deaf, Inc
Circle Tail, Inc.
Midwest Assistance Dogs, Inc.
St. Francis Service Dogs
Indiana Canine Assistant Network, Inc. (ICAN)
Guiding Eyes for the Blind 
Leader Dogs for the Blind 
Pilot Dogs, Inc.

Again, back to Cinder.  Cinder’s been doing pretty well with her obedience work so far; and the first two weeks yielded no significant reactivity issues.  However, I've intentionally been strategic in where we claim our spot during class so I've been able to keep her view of most of the other pups fairly limited.   This week, I’ve been asked to move to the middle of our class so I can see and hear as much as possible while our instructor addresses the class; and so we try putting Cinder in a position to see more dogs more of the time.  I’m not sure I’m ready for Cinder to more easily see more pups, but we can’t improve if we don’t test ourselves.  I guess we'll soon find out how it works tomorrow evening.  I think we both come home tired after class, but I'm not sure which one of us is more so.  Cinder naps for the 45 minute drive and is still tired when we arrive home.  Stress is a definite energy sapper-for both of us.  I'm just glad that so far, we haven't been kicked out of class because I have a reactive dog that can't control herself-yet.  I'm learning to celebrate every victory no matter how large or small.  Just because we do something well once doesn't mean it will always be repeated so we pray for more victories than non-victories.
     Whatever path we trod, we’ll go together as friends to the end.  Meanwhile, today was just another day in the on-going endeavor Raising Cinder.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Cinder-Obedience Class Starts & That's the News...

We haven't been doing a lot of training work these last few weeks because I started a new job and I still haven't got my schedule honed yet.  But, that's about to change! This week we start a puppy obedience class for puppies Cinder's age in which none of the puppies are allowed to socialize nose-to-nose during the class.  Even at 15 feet away, Cinder gets reactive so just the idea of other puppies in the same area simultaneously is almost incomprehensible to me right now.  However, our behavioral specialist is the class teacher and she says we can and will work through it.  I hope so - for Cinder and me.  We both need this class to keep us motivated and accountable for making quantifiable training progress.  I do all right training on my own, but Cinder needs the experience of working in company. We also need to break the monotony of our weeknights now that summer is over and the days are growing shorter.  Tuesdays will be our special evenings of work away from home each week for the next nine weeks.  At least one night a week I know Cinder will come home tired and quiet.  It will be good for us both.

Last week may have been our last good week of swimming at either of our favorite swimming ponds for the season.  One pond developed an ugly, thick, green scum covering the entire pond in two days so we don't go near that pond any more.  The other pond seems fine, but our temperatures dove into the 40's by night and the 60's by day with more cloud cover than sunshine.  I'm sure we'll have a few more days we can go to the pond for a little swimming time, but the regular days of swimming for fun and exercise are likely over for this year.  Now I'm working to figure out how I can continue keeping Cinder exercised and fit through what may be another long, hard winter.  Ho hum. 

The last time we had swim time at the farm pond, we were invaded by turkeys.  The turkeys were loose and for some reason, found our pond play intriguing and enticing.  A couple even came up behind me and pecked my leg.  Dang turkeys!  About 10 of them gathered and they were ruining our playtime because they wouldn't relocate and leave us alone.  Ultimately, it was Gilley who had enough and decided they needed a good herding.  In the midst of playing a game of flyer, Gilley seemed to instruct Cinder to quit playing to, "watch and learn."  She ran along with him, but at a little distance as he made his first large circles around the turkeys to begin closing up the flock.  He rounded up the turkeys and Cinder watched, fascinated by the whole scene as Gilley maneuvered the dang turkeys toward a corner pen area.  Several times Cinder thought to try helping, but her version of help wasn't helpful. I was able to call her off pretty easily, which was somewhat surprising.  Gilley got them almost rounded up and Cinder darted over to one before I could either nab her or recall her.  She suddenly slowed, crouched and "assumed the position" of the typical herder on duty, stalking the turkeys.  I couldn't get her to recall or break her focus so I had Gilley do it by having him herd her into the back of my open Jeep!  I'm fairly certain she was strongly considering personally inviting that turkey to dinner - or rather, to BE dinner.  Once Gilley got Cinder in the Jeep, he resumed his duty rounding up turkeys and getting them put where they belonged. Then he ran over and jumped in the Jeep with Cinder, where they both watched the turkeys; and the new barn cat who came to taunt them too.  That was Cinder's first time to be so close to any fowl; and see Gilley at work herding (not hurting) them.  I'm okay with how that went since it was her first encounter.  

Recently we measured Cinder and she has outgrown her Uncle Gilley by about a half inch in height and she's about 3/4 of an inch shorter than her Uncle Buzz. That means Gilley is now my shortest dog.  Cinder's only nine months old, so she could grow even more over the next 11 months.  I feel her current size is pretty perfect so if she's done growing, I'm fine with that. I love the density of her bones - definitely not fine and spindly, but neither is she so big boned she's awkward or masculine looking.  Her chest has good space; and she's pretty proportionate for a pup.  It will be interesting to see what she looks like next Spring.

Cinder's newest interests of late are her die-hard interest in chasing balls and soft Frisbees (we call them flyers).  She LOVES chasing flyers in the field and would do it endlessly.  She didn't have any interest in them at all before she started swimming; and her interest in the fields without the boys has been limited until the last couple weeks.  Now, she's a Frisbee chaser no matter where we play.  However, when she's with her uncles, she habitually races ahead to chase and catch the flyer only to hand it off to Gilley to return it to us.  It's quite interesting that she seems to feel the flyers are Gilley's to return to our hands, but they're all hers to chase and catch mid-air whenever possible.  However, all three dogs chase the flyer so it often becomes quite comedic to watch them all suddenly trying to avoid collisions at the last second; sometimes actually colliding or doing some odd jumps and contortionist moves to avoid each other.  A few days ago, Cinder literally had too much of a power run when the flyer suddenly dove to the ground and she tried to stop to nab it; and her butt went into the air as she slid on her face for about six feet in the hayfield! It was HILARIOUS to see.  She never missed a beat though. She got up and ran back fast enough to grab the flyer off the ground a split second before Gilley nabbed it - only to run half way back to us and hand it to Gilley anyway.  Goofy girl.  Without the boys, she's very good at the game and manages to bring the flyer back to us - or at least within a couple feet of us.  Gilley always hands it to us, but Cinder hasn't got that figured out yet. Perhaps Cinder thinks I need to bend my fat self over and pick it up since that's similar to exercise!

That's pretty much all there is to tell for the last three weeks, since I've started my job.  As you can guess, going to work all day and arriving home between 5:15 - 5:45 means we scurry to get the chores done before dark and that's about all we've managed.  By the time I hone my schedule, it will be dark by the time I get home.  Maybe we'll have to work on more tricks just to have things to do to keep us busy and something to share with everyone.  

Right now, Princess Cinder awaits her "Mom & Me" indoor ball game for the evening.  It's about 20-40 minutes of Cinder & Gilley playing ball while Buzz barks the whole time. Buzz gets tired from all the barking while Cinder & Gilley wish he'd quit being an obstacle in their way - but he catches a few that they miss...and he gives them to Gilley and Cinder. It's just another day in the continuing endeavors Raising Cinder.