Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Making huge progress - Two Weeks in Review

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. We had a wonderful time with family and friends, enjoyed some yummy food and church fellowship. I know going to church with a service dog can sometimes be hard due to the fact that churches do not have to follow the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), thankfully we have have found a wonderful church that is very accommodating to Ara and Luke and really go above and beyond to make us feel welcome.

These past two weeks Luke has made some wonderful progress and so has Ara. Ara is doing things now that were a struggle or near impossible for her to do a year ago. She can walk through the grocery store, go on long walks, fun events, she is sleeping through the night, talking in complete sentences, able to sit in church and so much more. Most of this is made possible by Luke help and her speech and OT therapies. We have been so blessed this year and are looking forward to an even better next year.

What We Worked On at Home:

Find Ara - So we have made the game a bit tougher for Luke to include more areas of the house that Ara hides in. This is fun for both Ara and Luke. We are also adding in a "sit" when he finds her. Eventually I would like for Luke to find Ara, and either bring her to us or if unable to come and get us.

DPT (Deep Pressure Therapy) - Right now we are working on where he needs to put his paws/body when she is laying on the floor or bed. We also worked on teaching him to just put his head in her lap. Ara enjoys this as she gets to "act". I will tell her to lay down and pretend to cry and then will cue Luke to her, then put him in a down, then ask for his paws over Ara's legs or hips. He is catching on very quick. Then I will tell Ara to give him his release word so he knows he is done with the task.

Gear Conditioning - Conditioning him to the BLD Harness, he will now put his head all the way through and I can put it on and buckle it. We are working to make it very positive and fun for him, so lots of treats and playing with a ball as rewards.

Behavior Interruption -  Worked on nail biting interruption with a nose touch and also on her zoning out episodes with a nose touch to the cheek.


Church -  (Christmas Eve) - we worked on down stay, guide tasks, brace position, find out and find car. It was very crowded at church and Luke did very good navigating the crowds. Luke has also picked up on where Ara needs him and were he should stand, so we are shaping that. For example in the bathroom instead of doing a down stay he will aromatically go stand parallel to the potty incase Ara needs him. I was able to tell Luke "find out/take us out" and Luke lead Ara (with me behind them holding the leash) outside and waited for the next direction. "Find Car" is becoming more reliable as well. (Sunday) - Guide tasks, down stay, block, "say hi", find out and find car. "Say Hi" is a new command we are working on, we use it when we allow people to pet or interact with Luke. This tells him it is ok to be petted and greet people. If we dont give the command he will ignore people. We mostly use this with small children, teens and such. It gives us a chance to tell them about service dogs. It was snowing heavily when we left church and Luke was able to find the car with no problem. Here is a video of Luke finding the Car.

Lucky's - guide tasks, block, find out, find car and ignore distractions.

Walmart - Guide tasks, PAT, find out, find car and distractions. He is getting more reliable with the right/left turn directions and also with maneuvering through the large crowds. I have add in an "over right/left" cue now as well. With this he will go as close as possible to the side of an aisle, walkway or a wall, instead of walking in the middle ect.

Red Lobster - Under, down stay, guide tasks and ignoring many distractions such as food on the floor, kids ect. When we entered they told us "sorry no dogs" after telling them Luke was a Service Dog in Training they had no problems. I never get mad when someone asks or says "no dogs" as there are many people who try to bring pets into places they should not. Luke did wonderful and the dinning area had filled up by the time we were ready to leave. As we leave we here many people say "wow there was a dog under there" even some of the employees. I actually love hearing that, as that means he did a great job of being well behaved.

Walk through our Neighborhood - We had a day of good weather so we all went on a long walk through our neighborhood to the walking trail. We worked on heel, guide tasks, left/right directions, went through a pedestrian tunnel and had many distractions. We saw a bicyclist, jogger with a puppy and trail went by a busy road. Luke handled everything with out problem, he only looked at the puppy and gave a small whine but did not break from position or pull. Ara really enjoyed the walk and only had a few times where she zoned out or had issues with noise.  Here are some videos

Monday, December 15, 2014

Whats the Difference ? Service Dog, ESA and Therapy Dogs

Many people have the question of "What's the difference between a Service Dog, ESA and Therapy Dog? Dont they all do the same thing?" So I thought I would do a post about the differences and some the laws that cover each of these.  I will state this up front the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act 2010) only covers Service Dogs and in some situations mini horses. I will also explain registries/IDs at the bottom of this.

Service Dogs

From the ADA brief 2010  http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm
       " Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."
This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.
Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office."

Service Dogs come in all different sizes and breeds. They must have the right temperament in order to handle a variety of environments, people and situations. They must also be task trained to aid their disabled handler, under the ADA they must do more than one task or work (emotional support or comfort are not tasks).  Whether owner trained or going through an organization, service dog training takes about 18mo - 2years. Service Dog Handlers have public access rights under the ADA which means that their service dog can go in most public places (some exceptions are sterile hospital situations, commercial kitchens, or where the general public is not allowed)

ESA (Emotional Support Animal)

An ESA is a pet that provides comfort and emotional support to their owner. It has no special training and is usually prescribed by a doctor (you still must be disabled or elderly to have an ESA). ESAs can help people with PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, Alzheimers ect.  ESAs can live in non pet housing and fly with their owners the two areas of law regulations that pertain to them are HUD Fair Housing Act and FAA Air Carrier Access Act (both can request doctors letters). The ADA does not cover ESAs in public access and is very clear that providing comfort and emotional support only are NOT tasks.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dogs are not a type of service dog, they are not trained to aid their handler but instead to help multiple people. They are a type of working dog with a great temperament and usually have basic obedience and have to pass a test to be registered with a therapy dog organization. Most places will require that a therapy dog be registered with an organization due to insurance and liability coverage. Therapy dogs provide comfort and affection to people in hospitals, nursing homes, after disasters happen and even help students destress during finals. 


There are no federal laws that require a service dog or esa to be registered or have ID. The ADA even states "Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task." There are several sites online that offer "official" registrations, certificates and IDs these are all scams to make money off disabled people and people who want to bring their pets everywhere. Most of these registry sites will also state wrong info about how you can take your ESA or Pet everywhere with you in public places (refer to the ADA link above for why this is wrong). It is against the law and even punishable in some states to present your dog as a service dog when it is only a pet.

There is nothing "official" you do to make your dog a service dog except to follow the ADA:
1) have a disability (the full ADA has a definition of disability)
2) Your dog is trained to do tasks that mitigate that disability
3) your dog is behaved in public and not be aggressive or destructive in public

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Week in Review Dec 1 - 7

I just want to thank everyone for reading Ara and Luke's Santa experience. It was so special that I could not wait for this week in review to post it.  We did a lot this past week, Luke's training is really coming along very nicely and we are working on a lot of tasks to help Ara. **Please read to the bottom for Luke medical update**

What we Worked on:

Team Work - Ara and Luke are already very bonded and work well together. Every week we work on team work with Ara leading. This week we did recalls with a sit, leash walking (no vest), obedience hand signals and block.

Retrieval (Get It/Take It/Give It/Bring It )- This is one of Luke's favorite things to work on. I am adding in a lot of different items for him to retrieve and take. We worked with a nylon strap, rubber tube, cardboard tube, doggie dumbell, small juice bottle and even a treat. Luke is getting better at identifying the item I am pointing at and also with bringing to me with out too much playing with the item. He is still needing work on holding the item a bit longer until I ask for it. I have added in a sit or wait at the end to try and work on this.

Block - On leash and vest only working on getting a solid perpendicular block. I am training this just like we did for the heel positions. I have him in heel the lure him to the position of the block, once he is there I click and treat.

Behavior Interruption (Nail/hand biting) - We are working on this more and more with myself doing the nail/hand biting behavior and Luke doing a nose touch to interrupt it. We do about 10 sets per session of this.

DPT - Depp Pressure Therapy this is another new one. When Ara is getting upset, overwhelmed or having a meltdown Luke will either put his head in her lap or his legs across her lap/legs depending on what she needs. Here is a picture of one of our first attempts.

BLD Harness Conditioning - Luke is almost old enough to start mobility training, so we are conditioning him to the harness. It is bigger and a very different than his vest so we are going slow and making the harness very positive for him.

Nose Touch - I used the clik stik, post it note, small button and my hand all for targets this week. He is understanding the "nose" cue better each time.  Here is a video of an overview of how I am training Luke for Nose Touch.


Church - our church had their Christmas production this week. They kindly allowed Luke and I to attend one of the dress rehearsals as Luke has never been to anything like that and it was a great training opportunity. There were lots of commotion, loud noises, flashing lights and complete darkness, people moving in the dark. He did great and nothing bothered him. When we went to the production as a family Luke slept through most of it unless Ara needed him. He also did a great "find car" in the dark which we had not worked on before (I got video but it was very dark working to see if I can brighten it). Here is a picture from the rehearsal

Mall - We went to the mall a couple of times as I mentioned in my previous blog post :) and saw Santa. We also went to build a bear to have two of the girls' stuff animals fixed. Luke did very well and even used his paw to operate the foot petal of the machines. We worked on right/left guide directions, down stays, under (while at the pizza place), block, recall, and "Find Car" (again did wonderful). There were many distracts such as ZooMers (giant motorized stuff animals people can ride), people trying to distract Luke, strange noises ect. He ignored all the distractions. We did get pictures with Santa and I will share them a little later (want to make sure family see them first),

Walmart - This was an interesting trip. On the way in there were to cars of barking dogs. Luke did a little glance over at them but otherwise ignored them and kept working. Once inside we worked on Public Access Test items, stand stays with Ara holding leash, right/left directions. Once we left the check out counter I thought I would work on a new task "find out/exit" Luke is very smart so I told him "find out, take us out" I figured I would need to redirect him as we went, well I was wrong. He side glanced at every opening and once we go to the front doors he took a right and lead us to a stop at the cross walk just outside the doors. I was so proud of him and he got a hand full of treats for a job well done. Ara told him "find car" and he lead us down an isle we did not come in from (I allow him to take the lead in this and will redirect if needed, as he has gotten very good at this task). I was just about to redirect him (point him in the right direction) when he turned right at the cart return and there was our car. The isle we were parked in was much busier than the one he lead us down, so again very proud and lots of treats for a job well done.

I promise next trip out I will stop and make sure to actually hit the record button on my phone so I can share the "find car" task with everyone....lol

**Luke got neutered yesterday. When we got home yesterday with him Ara sat next to him with a pile of books and read to him. He is still a bit out of it, sore and does not want to eat. If he is not eating or feeling a little better in a day he will have to go back in for a check up. He will be out of active work for about a week or so depending on how recovery goes. **

Due to Luke recovering I will not have a "Week in Review" post so instead I will be doing a few general service dog posts such as the differences between Service Dogs, ESAs and Therapy Dogs, Service Dog Etiquette and Red Flags/Warnings of Scams (organizations/online certifications ect).

Sunday, December 7, 2014

An Early Christmas Story

Earlier this week we all heard the story out of California of a “Santa and Elf” that were more like grinches, as they denied a child and her service dog of seeing Santa.

I would like to share what happened to my daughter and her service dog in training Luke a Standard Poodle. Ara has Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, MI and has some physical health issues. Luke is being trained to assist her with her disabilities. I would like to note that in our state service dogs in training are treated just like service dogs.

We went to Rimrock Mall to see Santa. I knew we would probably need to make a few trips to make sure Ara was comfortable and it was also the first time Luke has seen Santa. One the first trip Luke was not to sure about him and just gave him a sniff, Santa was great and told us he loved dogs. Ara and her little sister talked to Santa but were both a little shy.  On the second trip to see Santa, Luke was very happy to see him and Ara even asked to sit on Santa’s lap and told him she wanted a Barbie Elsa (little sister was still a bit shy). On both these trips Santa’s helpers asked questions about Luke, his training and Ara and I was happy to share.

On our third time (picture time) the line was very long and Ara was beginning to get overwhelmed. Luke did some blocks for her and some redirection. Ara, Molly and Luke were all very excited to see Santa. Luke lead Ara up to Santa were he then placed his head in Santa’s lap and tried to sneak Santa some doggie kisses. We got everyone in place to take pictures I put Luke in a sit stay and went to the photographer. It took a little while to get a good picture because Ara was having a hard time with her hands being near her face and being very ridged. We got a good shot and Santa started asking the girls what they wanted while daddy and I picked out pictures. Luke broke his stay to help Ara get down and then nudged her as she started to zone out. I told Santa and the helpers how much I appreciated all the time they had spent with our family and how much it meant to us. Santa came over to Ara and told her he had a very special surprise for her. He opened his hand and there was a golden sleigh bell, he told her that Santa loved her and that the bell came off his sleigh. Her face lit up and she clutched it to her as hard as she could and told him Thank you.  At this point I am trying very hard not to cry. As we left Santa to buy our pictures Ara zoned out for a bit, she was going into overload. The helpers handed us our pictures and told us no charge and to come back anytime to visit again with Santa. Both girls also got reindeer hats and lollipops.

Santa and his helpers went above and beyond what I could imagine. Also everyone who was standing in line with us and allowed us a little extra time, Thank you. I am happy to say the Spirit of Christmas is alive and well in Billings, MT. 

 You cant see it but she is clutching the bell.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Week of November 24th

This week was a bit short for training due to the holidays but I have come up with a great schedule that is really working well for Luke's training. We are also utilizing the clicker more as he responds very well to it when starting a new task/command.

What we Worked On:

Nose Touch - we are still working to make this more solid. I used the clik stik and was able extend it 3/4 of the way with the cue "nose". He is also learning to follow the target, I am teaching him "around" using it.

Block - Luke is getting much better at the "block" task. We are working on him being a bit straighter when he does it and also being able to do it from both the left and right side heel, with him returning to a heel position after released from the command. This will take time but he is doing very well.

Switch Sides - Again we are working in Right and Left Heel. Ara's right side is weaker so that is the side he needs to heel on. However when I am handling him he is on the left (in between me and Ara). I want to make sure he can work for Ara on any side so I introduced switch, basically we start of in left heel, I say switch and lure him behind my back with a treat to the right side once he is in position click and treat.

Nail Biting - Right now I am doing the nail biting and cue him to touch my hand with his nose, then click and treat. He is catching on fast and as soon as I cue he touches my hand, we will work on dropping the cue and having him watch for the behavior to interrupt.

BLD Harness conditioning - We have a Bold Lead Designs Mobility Harness for him to help Ara with mobility. It is a heavier and different than his vest, so right now I bring it out and when he sniffs, noses it, ect I click and treat. We have gotten to the point he will readily come up to it while I am holding it and put his head partially through it. We want his harness to equal fun and good things. We dont want him to be gear shy, but excited to put on his working gear.

Basic Obedience - as always we worked on sit, down, stand, stay, wait, under, place and recalls. Ara is helping with this more and is very excited to help.

We did not have any outings this week due to extreme cold temperatures, snow and the holiday.

Preview for the week of Dec 1st - We have done a lot of training, some fun new tools to use, a new outing to experience and more.

Here is a video I made this week to show you how we are training nose (and paw) touch and some of the tools I have talked about.