The adventures of SD Juno and SDIT Kaline (and their human, Colt).

29 March 2014

Rally Trial in Petaluma

Yeah, I know, there goes that New Year's Resolution. So much for once a week blogging. It's been a really bad week. If you know me, you know why, and if you don't ... well, I don't need to broadcast it to the ether.

Last weekend Juno, Kaline, Dad and I headed to Petaluma for a Rally trial. Normally, Dad is kept as far away from these things as possible because he is an enormous distraction. However, I was very low on spoons, and knew that if I didn't take him I'd probably fall asleep driving there or coming home. He's a really great dad—I made him get up at 5:00 in the morning so we would get there early. Need my good parking spot, time to set up, and time to practice.

Dad basically dropped us off and went to go have breakfast, so the first part of the trial went fairly smoothly. Juno was in Excellent and Advanced, still looking for an RAE leg, and Kaline was in Advanced for the first time. Juno was great warming up (except for focusing so hard on my face that she walked into the jump). Got her in the ring, and it was like pulling teeth. Being in the ring is just unpleasant for both of us. She was clean though, and ended up with a 93 and second place.
First through fourth place dogs won toys as well as ribbons!
Dad returned to help with wrangling as I warmed both dogs up for Advanced. This turned out not to be such a great idea, even though he made himself scarce about 45 minutes before Juno's run. Kaline went first, and although it was a little insane—he is much faster than Juno, and it makes me feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants—he was very good and got a 94. All our work off leash with the e-collar paid dividends. Even when he was not looking at me at all, a verbal cue got instant results! Super helpful.

Then I took Juno in. She was doing okay, and then halfway through the run, it was like she suddenly realized Dad had left. She lost all focus, and was scanning the crowd, looking for him. I could barely get her through to the end. She got a 70, which is the lowest score you can get while still qualifying. So she got an RAE leg but I think we shall stop there.

Kaline's 94 was good enough for second, which was really exciting. Then we had a long break, during which my wonderful father brought us lunch.

In the second trial, I only entered Kaline. He was again very good, even though we had a bit of a hiccup in our course. Earlier, the judge had let a dog run the course with the wrong jump height, and had to call them back after finishing to have them do a proper jump. Rally jumps only go up to 16", but obviously that's pretty short for a 27" Doberman. So just after Kaline did the jump (second exercise of the course), the judge had an Oh Shit moment and called us back. He was worried the jump was again too short. After a quick check with the stewards, he realized it was right, apologized, and had us restart, promising not to re-judge our first two exercises. I was a little flustered, and Kaline had lost a little focus, but he got it back fairly quickly and did really nicely! Well, except when he heard Juno whining while we were on the far side of the ring. He clearly thought that she was in distress and needed his help (even if she were, she wouldn't want help from him! haha). But he got back on track and got a 95, and another second place finish.

Pretty much unrelated news: Sue Korp, the nice lady with the Doberman bitch with All The Titles, earned her and Jessi's Obedience Grand Master title at the same trial. Very, very cool.

18 March 2014

Criteria for Graduation

A friend and I were talking about how you know it's time to graduate your service dog in training to full service dog status, so I thought I'd do a post about it.

One thing that makes a big difference is whether your state gives the same access rights to handlers with SDITs as with SDs. Since California, our state, treats SDITs and SDs the same according to the law, there is no incentive for me, or any other handler, to rush graduation. I think that's a great argument for all states giving SDIT handlers more rights, but that's another discussion. In states where SDITs have limited or no access rights, one might lower the graduation standards to the minimum, just to have the benefit of the dog's help in more areas.

I'm not talking about graduation standards for anyone but myself. (Just wanted to make that clear.) Right now, I hardly ever remember to actually put Kaline's in training tag on whatever gear he's wearing. But if anyone asks, I will say he's in training. Sometimes, when we're working on a new skill or working through a problem, it's pretty obvious to anyone looking that he's in training. But a lot of the time, at least in harness, he's really starting to act the part of a full SD. (At home and off duty, he can still be a crazy boy.)

Here are some of the things I'll be looking to see before I'll officially graduate Kaline. No hard and fast numbers or anything, just a general idea.

Treats: Do I feel dependent on my treat bag, or can I accidentally leave it in the car and still feel like Kaline will do what he needs to? If the answer to the first part is yes, definitely not ready to graduate. At this point, I try to remember the bag just in case, but I've forgotten it several times and not felt remotely panicky. And Kaline has done everything he's been asked to do. So no, we are no longer treat-dependent for known/proofed skills.

Distractions: This is probably our hardest area. Kaline still wants to make googly eyes at people, especially if they talk to him. He also is still very interested in/distracted by children who are either loud or moving abruptly. He is generally good at ignoring being touched by strangers, although we are working on desensitizing him to being touched on the rear. He was fine with that until very recently, and now all of a sudden, if someone touches his butt, he has an out-of-proportion startle response. Recovers quickly though. Food distractions are not an issue. He doesn't go for food he sees around, and he doesn't beg from the table. Animal distractions ... well, I know small prey animals aren't a big issue because a squirrel basically ran under his feet the other day and he just looked at it interestedly for a second and then moved on. Other dogs, however, he still wants to look at for more than a second, and if the other dog is doing something interesting, like pulling toward Kaline or lunging at him, Kay can definitely lose his focus. This is a main reason why I feel Kaline is not ready for graduation.

General public behavior: I'm really quite pleased with Kaline's recent improvements in this area, especially when he's asked to lie down, settle, and be unobtrusive. His popups have decreased a lot. He's not rattled by much of anything, including, as I discovered a week or so ago, exceedingly loud screams at hockey arenas. He hardly ever sniffs inappropriately, and remains focused on his job most of the time. He definitely has a working mode and understands he has to meet higher standards of behavior when in harness. Basically, he acts professional. Different people have different definitions of what “professional” is ... Mine is a little fuzzy, but basically I want anyone looking at him to know, just by his demeanor, that he is a working dog. And now, they do (most of the time. Some people are just dense, what can you do?). Still, I don't feel the same way about him in public as I do Juno. She is my rock, and he just is not quite there yet. Still a bit higher maintenance, if that makes sense. Building that kind of bond and trust takes a very, very long time—we're almost there, I think.

Tasks: Before I graduate a dog, I want him/her to be able to do all of his tasks promptly and correctly the vast majority of the time. If Kaline needs a little extra help occasionally with accuracy on handicap buttons, I don't consider that a huge issue (for someone with a different disability, it might be a big deal). But when I need DPT, he is on it, no problem, no matter what position I'm in. If I ask him to do stairs, up or down, he's almost always doing it right. (Yes, we are still practicing the various components of going down stairs properly.) Momentum pull is practically perfect. His retrieve is getting pretty reliable, although it needs to be better before he graduates. Helping around the house in the kitchen is excellent, probably because we practice several times a day out of necessity. Kaline cannot learn counterbalance tasks until he is cleared by an orthopedic vet after his second birthday. So having that clearance will be a big milestone indicating graduation is near. I don't think the counterbalance tasks will be too hard for him to learn, but we'll have to get them solid before I will graduate him.

Maturity/endurance: This is a big reason why I think any dog under 18 months of age cannot, by definition, be called a full service dog. As a puppy or adolescent, a dog cannot handle day after day of full-time work without burning out. Burning out is kind of a subjective term, but to me it means a dog loses its drive to work and/or no longer enjoys their work. Puppies and adolescents have bouts of silliness, as well as teenage asshole moments—things that are expected and understandable in a SDIT, but pretty much unacceptable in full SDs. (I say “pretty much” because obviously even adult SDs are not robots, and can have bad days on occasion.) Kaline at this point does have the ability to be a full-time SD, at least for my lifestyle. Being a full-time SD for me involves a lot of off-duty time, given that dogs are my life. It also involves some day-long events, and Kaline has proven he can handle those too. Maturity ... Well, he at least manages to act mature when he's on duty. I guess it doesn't matter terribly much that he acts like a complete idiot sometimes on his own time!

None of this means that training stops. Training NEVER stops, not for service dog teams who want to stay sharp. We will always be working on our weak points, always trying to spice things up with new behaviors whether disability-related or not, and you never know what tasks you might need to teach in the future.

03 March 2014

Goodbye, Fussy Eater, and Other Stories

Kaline has always been a fussy eater, more or less. He goes through phases of eating really nicely, and then phases of just NOT EATING. As you may have guessed from my all-caps, I find this extremely frustrating.

It seems (I am trying not to jinx it) as though the fussy eater days are over! My genius friend Amber, handler of Kaline's cousin and fellow SDIT Rowan, sent me Sue Ailsby's fussy eater protocol and for the most part, it worked like a charm!

DISCLAIMER: What I am about to say is a paraphrase of Sue Ailsby's method. I did NOT think of it myself.

I was pretty desperate, as Kaline hadn't eaten anything in about a day and a half. I finally had gotten him to put on weight so that his ribs could be easily felt but not seen, and was very afraid he was going to lose it all. Amber sent us the protocol, and off we went.

For Kaline's first meal on the plan, I cut him back to about a cup (normal meals are two cups). I filled his bowl, then did what I almost never do when feeding dogs: I tried to amp Kaline up. I squeaky-talked to him, got him racing out to his food bowls, put the bowl down with a great flourish and released him. He rushed up to it, stuck his nose in ... then walked away. I counted to five, then took away the bowl.

At the next meal, I only put in about half a cup. Same excitement ritual and what do you know? He ate it! Scarfed it all down! With one or two hiccups, I got him back to two cups per meal and now he is eating like a champ. You put down that bowl and he eats until the food is gone. I am a very happy dog mommy. Here is the link to the detailed method if you too have a fussy eater and want him to be replaced by a chow hound.

In other news, I have been in a funk that I would find interesting, I suppose, were I not actually in it. I am exceedingly anxious most of the time, churning tummy, racing thoughts, etc., plus just really depressed and negative about most things. Usually it's one or the other. Usually if I'm in a depressed funk I am too low and lethargic to have this much anxiety.

Anyway. I obviously don't do this all the time, and don't really recommend it as a regular mood-booster unless you've just won the lottery, but I treated myself with some Paco collar retail therapy in addition to having the dogs help me over the weekend. With help from Lindsay and Bruce the Painted Doberman, I ordered a new black/silver deluxe super-bling Stardust for Juno, with blue and light blue sea glass along with abalone rhinestones, and a new tan/brass deluxe super-bling Stardust for Kaline, with red, blue, and purple sea glass. We are not going to talk about how much these collars set me back. It is a very great secret. However, I feel much better knowing that I didn't do nearly as badly in my dog walking income for this past month as I thought I would. (Short month, ski week, etc. and I was still only off the previous month by a few hundred dollars. Wooooo.)

After ordering the Pacos, we headed to Lindsay's grooming shop where she very kindly bathed Kaline and Juno in scrumptious-smelling shampoo and conditioner. The dogs smell so good I want to EAT them. And they're extra shiny. Kaline whined and wailed like he was being beaten, because he is Mr. Drama Queen. Never believe it when people tell you Dobermans are tough and scary. They are THE biggest babies ever. It's why we love them!

On Sunday, Kaline got to work my mom's second birthday dinner. (Juno did Real Birthday Dinner.) This was planned by my mom and her sister, so my Auntie Barbara, Uncle Paul, and cousins Walker and Whitney joined us at an Italian place in Burlingame. Kaline was pretty excellent aside from some sniffing as we walked to the back of the restaurant. First we had a table by the kitchen, but Mom didn't like that location, so we went upstairs—where the AC was making an incessant, eardrum-collapsing rumble. You know that bad feeling you can get in your ears if your car windows are open just enough while you're going kinda fast? That feeling, only more. Instant major headache. So we moved again, and Kaline was very excellent matching my pace as we went down the stairs. Then he settled nicely at the table and mostly slept through dinner. He had his head on my feet a lot, which was awesome. And then after dinner I let the kids love on him, which made all of them quite happy.

At least on the job, I think my wee man is maturing. He can still be a bit of a hellion when he gets bouncy around the house, but when he's working, he's been doing really well.

23 February 2014

Blast from Juno's past

We were cleaning out some old stuff and found a bunch of Juno's shelter paperwork. I thought it was pretty fun! So here it is for your viewing pleasure. I should probably note that pretty much anyone actively looking for a SD prospect would not have adopted Juno, due to her dog reactivity. I was looking for a pet Doberman/Doberman mix, with an eye to a fun fixer-upper.
The shelter where we adopted Juno.

Juno's intake form (her first family dumped her):

Where does your pet stay during the day? Backyard     At night? Indoors
What ages of people has your pet been living with? 39, 39, 12, 9, 8 months (explains why Juno has always been so chill and relaxed around kids of all ages)
How would you describe your pet's behavior around kids? Friendly, playful, 
How does your pet react to strangers? Friendly
Has your pet ever bitten or snapped at anyone? No
Has your pet lived with other animals? No
Does this pet have any health problems or injuries? No
Have you ever had any behavior problems with this pet? No
Is this dog housebroken? No (she was, actually) 
Does he ever have accidents? Never
Is your pet afraid of anything? Other animals
What type of training has your pet received? Home training (ha, yeah, surrrrre)
What commands does your pet know? Sit, down, stay, fetch (nottttt really)
Does your pet chase anything? She chases other animals when she or the family feels threatened; very protective of family
Words circled to describe pet's behavior: Friendly with people; friendly to other animals; affectionate; playful; shy; too much energy; doesn't like to be left alone (yep, very true); loves affection; good with kids; likes to be groomed; relaxed; likes treats; demands attention often; not used to other animals
Other good or bad habits? Very friendly, loving member of family 
Is there anything else we should know about your pet: I as the owner is (sic) heartbroken. She loves my children and family. Deserves a loving, stable home. 
Please describe your pet in your own words: I can always depend on her to be warm and happy to see me. Full of love. 

Yup, the last part kinda kills me. Juno now has the best life possible—I bet her old family would be happy to know that. She is loved and all her needs are fulfilled to the best of my ability.

Juno was given the shelter name of Bocci. They listed her as a Doberman/Labrador mix. The evaluator found her to be gentle, cautious, reserved, attentive, tolerant, and friendly. They said she was good with some dogs, not good with cats. She was suggested for a home with a medium activity level; house with a yard; a very experienced owner; and someone who was physically strong. 

The yard part amuses me and also pisses me off a little. You can have the biggest yard in the world, and if you don't make an effort to exercise your dog and give it mental stimulation, the yard ain't going to do it for you. If you have no yard but, say, walk your dog 2-4 hours every day plus training sessions, the lack of yard is not an issue. I feel like “yard” is a confusing euphemism for “commitment to physical and mental exercise.” The experienced owner part I agree with, but obviously I'm not physically strong now, and I wasn't that much stronger before I developed fibromyalgia. Dog training is not about physically overpowering the dog, it's about figuring out what motivates them, and how to teach them effectively what is and isn't acceptable. When I walk six-packs, they outweigh me by a considerable amount. I can't physically overpower them. But I use clear signals with body language, collar corrections, and treats, and we don't have problems. Conversely, I've seen ten-pound tiny dogs dragging their owners down the street. Physical strength ... Not really all it's cracked up to be!

Initial assessment: 

Personality: Other (Other choices were Outgoing, Affectionate, Playful, Timid, and Attentive. I have no clue what they meant by “other.”)
Training: Jumps
Housebroken: Unknown
Relationships: Not friendly with dogs; reactive
Juno on her first day at home.

Notes on Juno's interactions/training throughout her shelter stay:

29 February 2008
Bocci slipped her leash and went after Daisy. She becomes very agitated and aggressive with other female dogs. Very resistant to returning to her kennel, took 15-20 minutes to get her back inside. Very food motivated.

3 March 2008—2nd Chance Class
Bocci is very affectionate and walks nicely on leash when it is just her and the handler. She is reactive—pulling, barking, whining—when she sees other dogs. In class we worked on running by other dogs without barking. She seems to get anxious easily. She was reluctant to go back to her kennel, stopping in the lobby and at the door of the kennel. Once inside she immediately relaxed and was very affectionate and calm. 

8 March 2008—2nd Chance Class
Bocci was nervous and agitated, couldn't/wouldn't focus on me or even on treats. We walked, spent time in play yard, then came into class. Gradually she became more focused and would sit, watch me, and touch my hand for treats. But every few minutes she'd stare at another dog and then bark and lunge at them. We practiced time outs! When she did calm a little, she loved being petted.

10 March 2008
 Very affectionate with all people. Reluctant to go back to kennel, so worked on gradually approaching with treats and praise. Saw two Labs in the next play yard—barked at the fence, but with tail wagging and some bowing. I think Bocci's dog reactions are an unsocialized attempt to play—that she really wants to meet the other dogs.

This handler (wrote on 3 and 10 March, then almost every entry thereafter) worked Juno the most and I think had the best read of her character. She still doesn't have great dog social skills, but has been taught to ignore/avoid rather than her old reaction of barking and generally being annoying. When Juno first started obedience class with me, she'd have a meltdown at the 45 minute mark and have to leave for a little bit. It took a good year or so to get her over her dog reactivity.
Juno at her first obedience class.

10 March 2008—2nd Chance Class
Worked on dog reactivity using 18 (probably refers to another dog, unnamed). Gradually approached play yard while he was in it, entered and did some meetings; and walked in the parking lot. She was reactive and hard to settle, barking, lunging, and mouthing him. He stayed calm. She was able to do “walk by” exercises in the parking lot and remain calm.

17 March 2008—2nd Chance Class
Worked on meeting dog-dog. I took Bocci to the outdoor GAR for lots of play (loves squeaky/tuggy toys), treats and pets to get happy and relaxed. Then John brought in Georgia. We worked on treats/praise when she saw Georgia, then had Georgia leave. Then worked on brief sniffing while Georgia was distracted with treats, followed by lots of praise. In just a few repetitions, Bocci was able to ignore Georgia and sit near her for treats. Did this in brief sessions with some time outs to relax. Great progress! Bocci's language was playful, great play bows and no growls. Otherwise she is playful and affectionate.

21 March 2008
Tried introducing Bocci to Ricky. After a lot of initial barking and excitability, she calmed down and was able to be in the GAR with Ricky without reacting to him.

24 March 2008—2nd Chance Class
Repeated above meeting exercise with Tenilla. More energetic introduction for both of them with Bocci doing a lot of barking and mouth but no growling/aggression. Bocci needs now to learn to play and to have more meetings like this.

26 March 2008
Just did regular TLC today. Bocci was reactive (barking/jumping) when she saw other dogs, but settled quickly when we had passed. Playful and very affectionate.

28 March 2008
Fantastic progress in a play session with Tenilla. Bocci is calming much more quickly. Although they are energetic players, there was no aggression or escalation. At one point they seemed saturated (??) and we worked on leash proximity. They did great! Bocci finally seemed tired.

31 March 2008—2nd Chance Class
Another play session with Tenilla. Her play patterns (sheet cut off, argh!)

3 April 2008
Much calmer on leash today than previously. Play yard with tennis balls. Friendly to everyone but a little unsure about the field service uniform. OK on leash, seeing some dogs at a distance—could be refocused. In the big GAR she was very excited (a lot of barking and jumping) when another dog walked past.

14 April 2008
Play session with Tenilla. Went very well. her play style is very energetic but is able to calm/refocus much faster and able to break the play behavior and show calm behaviors.

20 April 2008
Amy and I took out Bocci and her kennel mate (the German Shepherd/pointer). Bocci doesn't really know the language of play—she goes from 0 to 60 (i.e. growling) very fast. Reactive (barking esp.) with every dog she saw today. Great with people, but her dog manners need a lot of work.

23 April 2008
Typical Bocci—sweet and affectionate. Very energetic today, ran around the play yard with toys. Reactive when she saw dogs—but we know this is her play style. She just needs another dog who knows it too. Some fence fighting on the way back to the kennel. She needs a lot more exercise. 

Once I got Juno home, the first thing I did was start giving her a ton of regular exercise. It was like magic. Within just a few days, she was incredibly calm the majority of the time.

28 April 2008—2nd Chance Class
Attempted to intro Bocci to Shasta, but both were so reactive we did not have a meeting. Worked on approaching and returning. Both seemed frustrated and overly excited, but no growling.

2 May 2008
Played in the big yard. Was distracted when she saw other dogs in the nearby yard, but her attentiveness improved after a lot of exercise (energetic game of fetch). Also spent time calming and getting lots of affection. Bocci needs exercise to help her calm. Some fence fighting on the way back to the kennel.

12 May 2008 (the day we took her home)
Played a good game of fetch (with a fuzzy toy—not interested in tennis balls) in the play yard and also chased each other around. Loves affection and likes to lean and be in contact with you while she chews on toys. Alert and interested in surroundings. Barked at chickens and got excited; may have some small animal prey drive. A sweet girl who needs lots of exercise and interesting things to do.
Juno with her new tiger stuffie on her first day home. We still have the tiger!
Huh ... Lots of exercise and interesting things to do? I think we got that covered! You can tell how much time and love the shelter staff put into Juno. I love Peninsula Humane Society to pieces. Anytime I hear of someone looking to rescue, I always point them to PHS.

I must reiterate that reactivity like what Juno had (note past tense) is not acceptable in a working dog. We adopted Juno in May of 2008 and she did not start her SD training until January 2011—after her dog reactivity had been worked through. Obviously dogs are not robots, and will have bad days every once in a while, but reactivity on a regular basis is, at the very least, a reason to pull the dog from public work until it's resolved. If it can't be resolved, the dog must be washed out. A reactive SD puts both its handler and the public in danger.

14 February 2014


Kaline and I just finished up the six-week package of “classic” movies at the local Cinemark 20 theatre. It was a great help with his long-down consistency. The first couple movies, he'd pop up a bunch, starting mid-movie. By the final couple, pop-ups were down to two or fewer per movie!

He also got to do a lot of practice with hitting handicap buttons, not rushing into or out of elevators, and going at a measured pace down the stairs. He is great at pulling up the stairs, just needs to work on going in a straight line, haha.

I've been working with both dogs, but especially Kaline, on various Rally exercises as well. Kaline has several different things he needs to get down before he competes in Advanced on March 22. He's doing really well with the new finding-heel exercises, but having more trouble with finding front when I don't move my feet. Next week, we're going to work on learning the broad jump!

I'm totally preoccupied right now with new Paco collars for Juno and Kay, as well as new tags to go with them from Aggie's Anvil. I have to wait, however. Kaline's birthday is on April 23, and Juno's Gotcha Day is May 12, so that's the soonest I'm allowing myself to get this new expensive stuff, haha. The new collar for Kaline was supposed to be for his graduation, but yeah, I can't wait that long.

If you couldn't tell, we haven't done a whole lot of exciting stuff lately. Oh well!

31 January 2014

Not all service dogs are the same, or How not to be a jerk Part II

As you may have guessed, the response of many service dog handlers to my friend and her dog being in the news has my feathers exceedingly ruffled. So I shall make an addendum to my last post.

There are some in the service dog community who think they are the self-appointed Service Dog Police™. Service Dog Police™ members know how many patches are okay on a dog's vest or harness. More than that makes you a faker. They know which tasks are legitimate and exactly how those tasks should be performed. If you do it wrong, you're a faker. They also have a very short list of tools that are appropriate for a service dog to wear. If your dog wears something that is not on their list, you're a faker.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

I think we can all agree that service dogs should conform to certain standards. Like not biting, or lunging, or acting aggressively without reason. They shouldn't bark and make a nuisance of themselves in public without reason. They should be housebroken. (These are all reasons a service dog can legally be asked to leave a public place.) Beyond that, every team is different. Different standards apply to different teams. That's why the laws are so broad. 

Just because a service dog team uses a tool you don't use, or a tool you personally do not like, does not mean the team is not legitimate.

Some teams work in a flat collar. Some teams use a slip chain (this includes pretty much all program-trained guide dogs). Some, like my dogs, work in prongs. Others work in head collars or harnesses of various types. The only things that matter are: 1) Is the tool/combination of tools working for that dog and handler? and 2) Is the dog generally happy working in that tool? Training tools, and when to use and not to use them, are not up to the Service Dog Police™. They are up to each individual team. There is a reason why laws regarding service dogs don't require any specific gear.

Just because a service dog team uses a task you don't use, or a task you personally deem “unprofessional,” does not mean the team is not legitimate.

For certain service dogs, climbing into the handler's lap and beginning to lick his or her face in public might be a sign of misbehavior. A dog trained only to guide its blind handler would have no reason to do such a thing. However, a service dog trained to interrupt dissociation might do this as a task. Licking the handler's face is not inherently wrong, in some way, though the Service Dog Police™ would have you believe it is. Some even think that a dog being in the handler's lap to perform deep pressure therapy is wrong!

Some dogs never need to be off-leash to perform all their tasks. Some dogs, however, do—if they need to run and get help, or circle their handler in order to keep enough space around them, for instance. There are reasons for service dogs to be off-leash. The lack of a leash is not inherently wrong, as long as the dog is under voice control of the handler.

Service dogs sometimes need to be on laps. Sometimes they need to lick. Sometimes they seem to be pulling their handler along, when in fact they are leading that person to an exit, a safe place, or another person who can help them. Sometimes they seem to be sniffing needlessly, when in fact they are searching for their handler's human partner. Sometimes they need to be off leash. Sometimes, if they're small, they need to be carried in certain situations. Sometimes they wear blinged out vests which are extremely colorful or have lots of patches.

Sometimes, service dogs just don't conform to what some may think are unwritten service dog “rules.”

That does not give anyone the right to scream “faker” at another team.

29 January 2014

Service dogs in the news, or How not to be a jerk

This is a service dog.
This is also a service dog.
A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine was illegally forced to leave a hospital where she was visiting a sick friend. This happened because of the breed of her service dog: American Pit Bull Terrier. The story is finally hitting the news, especially because the person supposed to prosecute the case won't do it—because he is prejudiced against pit bulls. And because he thinks the ADA was written by morons.

Most people are being supportive. Her dog did absolutely nothing wrong, was never off-leash as this scumbag lawyer might have you believe, and she had every right to be accompanied by him in the hospital.

Yet a lot of people are doing two things that just make me flaming mad. Some of these people are members of the public who may not know any better, so I will cut them a tiny bit of slack. But some of these people are other service dog handlers.

Here are the two things. DO NOT DO THESE THINGS.

1. Respond to a story of discrimination against a service dog handler with victim-blaming. Example: “Why would you choose a pit bull as your SD? You know it's going to be harder.”

2. Demand to know exactly what the handler's disability is and/or exactly what the dog does to mitigate it.

We'll start with point one. I will be very blunt.


When someone is discriminated against, the fault lies with the person who did the discriminating. The victim did nothing wrong.

Yes, when you choose a pit bull as your SD—or a Doberman, for that matter—you go into it knowing that your dog's behavior will probably color people's perceptions of their entire breed. You accept that your dog will probably be held to much higher standards of behavior. You prepare yourself for the probability that you will encounter more access challenges than a handler of a Labrador or Golden Retriever.

Choosing a breed is very personal. It is not a choice anyone makes lightly. You choose your breed because it works best for you in terms of both your personality and disability. For some people, the breed they mesh best with is a Golden Retriever. For some people, it is a pit bull.

Just because you will encounter more access challenges with a pit bull SD does NOT mean that these challenges have any merit. Pit bull handlers deserve the same respectful treatment, the same rights, as Labrador handlers. Even if their dogs are very fit and well-muscled, even if their dogs' ears are cropped. They may have to fight harder for those rights, as my friend is doing. As I said, that's something you prepare for when you have a pit bull, a Doberman, a Rottweiler, a Cane Corso, any “scary” breed as a service dog.

When you encounter these challenges, you deserve exactly the same support as a Labrador handler. My friend did not bring this hassle on herself, somehow, by choosing to work a pit bull. This is not her fault. This is the fault of the hospital staff who illegally discriminated against her, a disabled SD handler.

Even if those who threw her out hadn't mentioned her dog's breed as the reason, his breed still would not be relevant to the case. The only thing about him that is relevant is that he is a highly trained, impeccably behaved service dog who was doing his job. His handler's federally protected right to be accompanied by her SD was violated. The end.

On to point No. 2.

I understand that members of the public are curious about other people. (Boy, do I understand.) I understand that fake service dogs are a problem (though not nearly as much of a problem as the media make them out to be). I understand that other service dog handlers are curious and want to know all the details of every service dog story.

But here's the thing: It's still none of your business. You still have no right to know what a handler's disability is or what her dog does specifically to mitigate it. If she chooses to share it, fine. If she doesn't, put on your big-kid pants and deal with it.

A service dog handler's rights do not vanish into thin air when they become a subject of a news story. I hear many handlers complain about members of the public asking intrusive questions about their dog and/or disability, but many of these same handlers feel they have every right to know this personal information once a team is in the news. Members of the public seem to feel that if they are not given this personal medical information, the team must be fake.

Sorry, that's not how it works.

The only people with the right to delve into a handler's disability are their doctor(s) and a judge, if a case regarding their SD goes to court and they need to prove their disability and the dog's training. That's the complete list.

Handlers, of course, may choose to divulge details to friends and family. Some are exceedingly open and have no problem sharing these details with the world. More power to them—I admire that kind of bravery, since I would never, ever voluntarily do that. But some handlers don't want their medical history splashed all over a news story. That is a perfectly valid position. It does not somehow mean they're fake.

Please remember these things when you read stories of service dogs and their handlers in the news. No one deserves or “asks for” discrimination, no matter what breed of dog they work. Their personal information is still personal and private. Be supportive, because tomorrow, that could be you.