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Self-Trained Service Dogs

Self-Trained Service Dogs.



Self-Trained Service Dogs
July 31, 2012, 1:17 AM
Filed under: Training | Tags: , ,

I read an article about service dogs and “impostor service dogs” the other day in a dog magazine, that really bothered me. Although I try to keep this blog upbeat and motivating, sometimes I will get on my soapbox. This is one of those times…

The article talked about people that don’t truly have a disability taking their pets into restaurants and other establishments under the pretense that they are service dogs, and how wrong this is. The premise being that only certified, professionally trained and registered dogs and handlers should be allowed to have service dogs. As I see it, and feel free to tell me if you think that I am wrong, there are a few things wrong with this line of thinking.

First and foremost, the people that are most desperately in need of a service dog, are frequently on Disability Income, and don’t have the resources, financial, emotional, or social to get a service dog in the first place. The lucky ones that do, frequently have a dog donated to them through a charity or other benefactor. Placing more roadblocks in their way is only making money for the trainers and breeders, not truly helping the disabled. There is another category of people that use or train service dogs, and I would put myself and my daughters in this box. Not long after buying my German Shepherds, I was diagnosed with a mild form of Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ostoearthritis, and had a 2 level spine fusion. Fortunately, I not only have dogs that are capable of being trained to do the work that I will need them to do, I have a breeder that said to me ” I’ll help you to train them. By the time your disease progresses to where you will need their help, all of you will be ready.” I stay very active to keep my illnesses at bay, and I don’t look sick. There are days though, where I wake up feeling like I’ve been run over by a truck, and it is all that I can do to drag myself out of bed. RA is tricky, because in the beginning, symptoms come and go. A lot of days, I even forget about it, other days I can’t get away from it. So…do I need my dogs to help me every day? No. Do I absolutely need them on some days – YES! Yet every tme that I take one of them with me, I feel like one of the people that article branded as an impostor. My disability is not so severe as to keep me from getting through life, but my dogs do make it so much easier and more comfortable. Some days, if I squat down to get something from a low shelf at a store, I can barely get back up. I’ve trained Rosie to “Brace” so that I can use my arms to push on her shoulders to get myself back up. Steps and hills are tough too, I’ve taught her to “Hold”, which means take 2 steps, wait for me, then take 2 more, etc until we are up or down. That helps me to balance, and if a knee gives out, I can steady myself on her shoulder. When I carry things for awhile, even light things, my joints gel, I feel like the Tin Man. I can’t unbend my hands or elbows, and it hurts when I finally do. Having Rosie wear a backpack that has pockets so she can carry for me removes all of that discomfort. Thank God that I am not anywhere nearly as disabled as most people who have service dogs, hopefully I never will be. Having the ADA laws set up the way that they are now gives me, and others like me, and opportunity to train our dogs for when we truly need them. Our own dogs, with whom we’ve already developed a relationship and training habits, dogs that already read our moods and body language. My dogs are both young 1 and 1 1/2, but we’ve come a long way, because I am still relatively healthy and active. Working with them helps me to stay healthy and active, it’s a self-feeding cycle. I don’t like the fact that Service Dog trainers make me feel guilty for training my own dog to help me with true physical limitations. I certainly am lucky enough to not need a Seeing Eye, or Hearing Asssistance Dog, but Rosie does assist me in many ways and makes my life easier, richer and better.

As for the lady that had her “World Class trained Border Collie” in a restaurant with her. I’m sorry, but I really don’t see the problem. Dogs like that, when seen in a public area, make the general public aware of how well-behaved and unobtrusive a dog can be. They strengthen the cause for service dogs in general. Some people say they are afraid that dogs will be smelly, loud or intrusive and ruin their dining or social experience. Honestly – I’ve run into more humans that ruin my social outings than dogs that do. 😉

Speak up about this when asked. Dogs provide so much support for all of us, physical and emotional. Don’t let a handful of outspoken people take away the piece of our lives that gives us daily comfort and joy.  Don’t let it turn into a political fight that revolves around the money that these people make. Keep the discussion focused on people with disabilities, however slight or severe they may be, and the actual, not potential behavior of their dogs.

This a picture of Rosie & Ranger in their Service Dog in Training Gear. We had spent a week at a tournament with our son. We took them with us, because a huge part of service dog training is socialization. They need to be exposed to as many different situations and people as possible so that they are confident and calm no matter where you take them. Here they are after a tough week, at the awards ceremony in an auditorium with 1000+ people all clapping and yelling. The ceremony lasted over 2 hours, and this is how they looked the entire time. They were better behaved than I was, and were less disruptive than the women standing behind me!

Don’t get me wrong though. If you can’t train your dogs yourself, or don’t have the support available to do it correctly, don’t try it. There is a very fragile space out there, and we don’t want to ruin it for those who truly depend on their dogs.

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How to Choose a Dog Breeder

Rosie and I have been going to Obedience training at the breeder where I bought her. It’s EZ Brook Kennel in Nottingham, PA, USA, owned and run by Susie Zeiner. This is the type of breeder you should be looking for, Susie stays very involved in her dog’s lives beginning to end, and has a clause in her contract that she can repossess a dog if it is not being treated/cared for properly. She has done that a couple of times in the short time that I’ve known her – she really cares.

We took Teresa and Fiona the Border Collie along for some lessons. If you don’t know already, you should know, that the term “Dog Training” is a misnomer. It really is the humans that are being trained. If we aren’t trained properly, we let the dogs get away with whatever bad behaviors they want, or we are too strict or anxious and cause bad behaviors in our dogs. We should all have to do the same kind of training before we have children! 🙂

The weather was horrid on our second trip. Probably over 100 degrees with high humidity and not a cloud in the sky. We were all trying to stay under the shade and work our dogs. Not Susie! She was determined that each person/dog team got the individual attention and work that they needed. This was a very mixed group, there were a couple of 12 week old puppies, a few dogs that were older but still under a year, then some adults and a couple of dogs that had just whelped litters and were still with Susie. The people were a mixed bag too. Some of us have always had dogs, but want to learn other ways of teaching our new dogs, some had never had a dog ever, and needed to learn everything from the beginning, others were somewhere in between. What impresses me so much, is that Susie knows every single dog’s individual personality, what they and their owner need to work on to progress, and how to explain to a human exactly what the dog is understanding every time we interact with them. We learn more from her in an hour than I’ve learned in entire 6 or 8 week programs at other places.

This is what makes EZ Brook a truly unique place though – Susie keeps tabs on all of her dogs to the best of her ability, and is always willing and eager to answer any questions that she can about training, health, general care, anything that will make the human-dog bond better. There is a Facebook site for all of the owners to talk and share pictures of our “babies”. Every new one is welcomed as wholeheartedly as the long-timers. Everyone shares successes, heartbreaks and tips, and everyone is entitled to say their piece. Not only does this help us as owners to know that we have support, but Susie knows how her dogs are doing once they go out into the world. She also holds “Puppy Play Day” once or twice a year, all the dogs are welcome to come and see each other, and we owners can finally meet face to face. The last one that was held this spring had 37 GSDs playing in ine huge fenced yard, off-leash, no fights or aggression. It was amazing – here are some photos…

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I’m not saying that everyone has to go buy a GSD! Get the right dog for you and your family. The point that I am trying to make is to find a breeder who will be your partner and helper in raising your dog(s). Take the time to do the research. Look up the AKC or UKC registered breeders, call and talk to them a bit. You will quickly get a feel for whether they are involved for the long haul or not.

You will also come across some interesting people! In our search for a good breeder, we found a woman whose female had a litter. When we got to the house, the puppies were in the open yard unattended, they had fleas and were listless. The stud dog’s owner had passed away, and they couldn’t find the papers, so the litter couldn’t be registered. We said no thank you to her. I also talked to a man on the phone that had so many puppies, that he was keeping them at friends’ houses and in a neighbor’s barn. He wasn’t even sure how many he had. We told him no thank you also.

When we met Susie, I knew we were in the right place. She has quite a few dogs, they live happily together in the basement and play in her 2 acre yard. When strangers come to the house, the adult dogs come calmly to the door and greet everyone nicely. If you walked in there blindfolded, you wouldn’t even know the dogs were there. It smells like bleach, not like dog, and Susie is adamant about cleaning up after the puppies right away when they go in the house. That really worked in our favor, Rosie never had an accident in the house. When anyone has a question about their dog’s health or behavior, she encourages them to contact her so that she can either answer, or point the owner in the right direction to get help.

Good luck in your search for your new best friend! If you have any questions that you think I can answer, don’t hesitate to get in touch. My email is cbyron@GoWalkEaze.com, if I don’t know the answer, I will at least point you in a direction where you can find the answer you need.



Hot Dogs 2
July 7, 2012, 1:54 PM
Filed under: Training

Hot Dogs 2.



Hot Dogs 2

Well this week I started a new job. I had to leave my Rosie behind while I traveled for some training. Thankfully, I have been able to stay with my sister Judy in Gettysburg, PA all week. She has a lovely 6 month old Border Collie/Lab mix named Marcy. We hit it off right away and have been having a lot of fun together (forget my sister ;-))

Judy also has some neck problems, we blame it on my Mother’s side of the family! While I’ve been here, I’ve been sharing some of the things that I learned when I was so sick. Yesterday, we were swimming and Marcy would get into the pool using the steps, but wouldn’t jump in. She wanted to, but was afraid. So I stood in the middle and splashed and carried on until she was sprinting in circles around the pool like a crazy dog, then I called her. She jumped right in – I got a faceful of dog! After that, she wasn’t afraid anymore, so we played a game. We took an empty water bottle and threw it in the pool. She would jump in like a Dock Jumping Dog. We had a great time, and so did she!
I shared 2 videos, one a success, the other not so much! Enjoy! Feel free to laugh at my expense!



Hot Dogs! How to Keep Dogs Busy When It’s Too Hot to Walk

It has been soooo hot in the Philadelphia area lately! We’re almost in Winter mode, where we don’t even want to stick our noses outside. Having A/C makes it easier to just stay inside than to face 95 degree temps with 100% humidity. Short term, that feels pretty good, it satisfies your sense of self-preservation. I don’t know about you, but some days I feel like I am literally going to melt in this heat!

Unfortunately, as we all know, if we spend too much time sitting on the couch, not getting any exercise, we pay in the long run! Muscles need to be used to support sore joints, joints need to move to stay lubricated and mobile. So even in the “Dog Days of Summer”, we have to play with our dogs. My dogs get antsy and in trouble if they don’t have enough exercise, they need outside time. Maybe they’re just nosey and need to know what is going on outside, because even 15 -20 minutes of playing is often as good as a long 1 hour walk.

So here is my thought for the day. All you need is some shade and a garden hose, a baby pool, or sprinkler can add to the fun, but are optional!

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Rosie, Ranger and I had a great time paying with the hose. Rosie attacks it as if it were a big snake, Ranger prefers to get in the pool and dig in the water. We all get a little wet and cooled off! If I hold the hose up high, I get a good stretch, and some easy exercise; think of the bending, turning, holding, not to mention toweling off the dogs! It all counts as low impact exercise, and it gets you off of the couch without dying of heat stroke!

Get out and enjoy your dogs. Let them help you to feel better and live life more fully!



Traveling Dogless
July 2, 2012, 12:28 AM
Filed under: Dogs as Healers, Dogs as Inspiration | Tags:

I have to travel for a week to get some training for my new job. Rosie was not happy when I left, I really did not want to leave her! I’m sure when she realizes that my husband will let her sleep on my entire side of the bed, she will feel better!

I am fortunate enough to be able to stay with my sister in Gettysburg,PA for this trip. It was a long, lonely drive, but when I got here I was greeted enthusiastically by 6 month old, Lab/BorderCollie, Marcy! She is ignoring my brother-in-law and following me everywhere! It made me feel better!

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