work of dogs
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Yale Law lets students “check out” the resident therapy pup
Last week, Yale Law School’s library started offering therapy dog services on a trial basis. Interest has been high, so it’s hopeful that the program will continue.
Students can sign up at the circulation desk to “check out” Monty, a certified therapy dog, for 30-minute sessions of stress busting. The Border Terrier-mix belongs to librarian Julian Aiken, so he’s well loved even when he’s “off duty.”
As you can imagine, it’s easy for students’ stress levels to rise at the nation’s top-ranked law school, so the librarians are always looking for new services to offer. After reading about the benefits of therapy dogs, they contemplated the idea for some time.
To keep the peace among any non-dog lovers, Monty is hypoallergenic and visits are confined to a non-public space in the library.
The idea of therapy dogs and college students isn’t quite new. Other schools, which include Tufts University, New York University (where my therapy group, The Good Dog Foundation, visits), Oberlin College, and the University of California, invite dogs to campus during finals, but Yale is the first I’ve heard of that lets students “check out” a therapy dog.
A little one-on-one time with a friendly pup sounds like the perfect way to beat stress!
News: Guest Posts
Neutering and operant conditioning training for future Guide Dog
It’s hard to believe little Caleb is already six-months-old. He’s become such a fixture in our routines that we all feel a bit off when that routine is interrupted. But it’s something we have to do in order to prepare Caleb for his future as a well-socialized canine ambassador. This month that interruption will be a big one—at least for little Caleb—he’s getting neutered.
Not all Guide Dog for the Blind puppies-in-training are altered during their puppy-raising year. But, Caleb being a male Labrador/Golden Retriever cross is not a candidate for breeding. All working Guide Dogs are altered before they enter formal training, however there is a percentage of puppies who are watched throughout their puppy-raising year as potential breeder candidates and there are a number of puppies, such as Caleb, who are altered during that time too. As I mentioned in a previous post, Guide Dogs for the Blind supports and maintains its own breeding department and dogs. There are about 180 dogs in the breeding program. These dogs live with people who have been selected as “breeder custodians” and spend the majority of their time doing what most pet dogs do—playing and being part of a family. They are a mix of yellow and black Labradors, as well as Golden Retrievers and also female Labrador/Golden Retriever crosses (Caleb’s mom being one of them). Eighty percent of the breeders are females and 20 percent are males, and they are the epitome of the Guide Dog ideal. Guide Dogs for the Blind also participates in an exchange program with other International Guide Dog Federation schools that promotes the sharing of litters and dogs. Puppies-in-training and breeders have come from Guide Dog schools in Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and The Netherlands and in return these schools have received dogs from Guide Dogs for the Blind. This helps the global Guide Dog community to continue to add new genes into the lineage while maintaining the most important Guide Dog traits, health and temperament. Speaking of temperament, Caleb is a rock solid star. For the most part, he’s mature enough to go where we go. He can handle an afternoon of errands, an evening of dinner and a movie, a high school basketball game, even a trip to barn to check up on my horse. As long as he can find a pair of feet to curl up between, he’s happy to be wherever we are. In addition to the fun stuff we do, twice a month we meet with our puppy-raising club to work on obedience and learn from our advisor new and improved way of working with our puppies. All of Caleb’s obedience commands and puppy-handling exercises are rewarded with praise, lots and lots or praise! There are very few instances where we use food rewards for puppies-in-training—in teaching recall and “go to bed” exercise using operant conditioning. In operant conditioning, puppies are rewarded for offering a desired behavior instead of being physically manipulated to respond to a command. Essentially, it’s a game, a fun and rewarding game for the pups. Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy-raising department uses operant conditioning in the “go to bed” exercise. Using a mat or crate pad, I walk Caleb by the mat and if he offers the desired behavior of touching the mat I “mark” him with the word “nice” followed immediately with a piece of kibble. The timing is everything as the marker occurs immediately upon the behavior and the kibble reinforces the behavior. After a few rounds of touching the mat, I wait for Caleb to remain standing on the mat, where he again receives the verbal marker followed by kibble. Next I wait for Caleb to offer a sit and eventually lay down on the mat, continuing to give him a verbal marker and kibble to reaffirm the behavior. I don’t name the behavior Caleb does this all on his own, knowing the verbal marker and food reward will follow. Once the behavior is consistent I add the “go to bed” name and from then on I cue him with the words to perform the behavior. It’s amazing to see how quickly the puppies pick it up and how this technique becomes a cornerstone of training for dogs when puppies return to campus for formal Guide Dog training. Operant conditioning can be taught with a verbal marker or a clicker and was originally used in the lab and with marine mammals. It took me awhile to get in sync with the coordination of the marker and reward, but now that we have it Caleb rocks this training. Another big training milestone is coming up next month, Caleb will take his first airplane ride as we head down to San Francisco for Caleb’s photo shoot with our dear friend and Bark photo contributor, Amanda Jones. Stay tuned.
News: Guest Posts
Follow their progress online
A dozen American search-and-rescue dogs are on the ground in Japan to search for survivors after last week’s earthquake and tsunami.Riley, Baxter, Pearl, Hunter, Cadillac and Joe were trained by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) and are based with firefighters in California. They’re currently at work in the hard-hit city of Ofunato. According to a CNN report, another group of six dogs, from Virginia Task Force 1 in Fairfax County, Va., have joined the effort as well. Both rescue crews have responded to some of the biggest disasters of the last 20 years, from the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Learn more about the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation in Lisa Wade McCormick’s story for Bark, “Rescue, Doubled” (Sept/Oct 2009). The teams will sniff for humans still alive and trapped in the wreckage—even unconscious victims can be detected. Nosing into the layers of rubble, the dogs help “clear” areas as searchers systematically move through the debris. The dogs’ work is easy to follow stateside: The SDF posts frequent updates on their site and on the group’s Facebook and Twitter pages. There’s even video of the dogs arriving in Japan to begin their mission. Task Force 1 also reports the latest news on their site. The most recent posting, from Wednesday evening in Japan, said the dogs had concluded their searches in Ofunato and Kamaishi with no victims located.
News: Guest Posts
But will it solve the problem of badly behaving humans?
Starting today, March 15, 2011, only service dogs and trained miniature horses are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Monkeys, rodents and reptiles, among others, are no longer permitted to accompany individuals with disabilities into places of public accommodation.Department of Justice regulations (implementing Title III of the ADA) used to define a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” The ADA revisions going into affect today were drawn up after some disability advocates asked the Department of Justice to crack down on people who were faking or exaggerating disabilities in order to get their companion animals into places of public accommodation. Starting today, a service animal is defined as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” Notice the specific word dog in that sentence. Aside from one provision for miniature horses, other species of animals (whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained) are no longer deemed service animals. It really does make it harder for the rest of us when an animal or his handler’s poor behavior causes people to think badly about service animals. I’ve heard stories about helper parrots pecking at shoppers in stores, a therapeutic rat that quelled anxiety in his owner but caused anxiety to others, and comfort pigs going crazy on airplanes. In my own life, however, the only negative service animal stories that have affected me personally have been about dogs. The last time I went to a Cubs game, I was stopped while trying to get into Wrigley Field with my Seeing Eye dog. The man taking tickets said he didn’t know if the dog was allowed. I pointed to the harness, told him she was a Seeing Eye dog. He was skeptical. Turns out that a week earlier someone had brought a puppy to Wrigley, claiming the dog was a service dog. The dog misbehaved, and fans sitting nearby complained. After that, the people working the gates were told to scrutinize anyone coming in with a service dog. In addition to being despicable, faking a disability to gain privilege is fraud. It also results in increased scrutiny of people with legitimate disabilities. I’ve had this happen to me at Crate and Barrel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. At a jazz club in the Loop. At a sandwich shop in our neighborhood. I was stopped at the door at each place. At the first two, the doorman checked with a supervisor before letting me through with my Seeing Eye dog. At Jimmy John’s, they just kicked us out. We haven’t been back. As the very first school in the U.S. to train guide dogs for the blind, the Seeing Eye has worked for nearly a century to give guide dog’s public access. I didn’t really have a problem with having this access extended to qualified service animals of any type—helper pigs, parrots, monkeys, you name it, as long as they were qualified. I wish the powers that be could have somehow revised the law to regulate the behavior of the animal rather than its species. And as long as we’re cracking down, why not start with the species that is most at fault here: humans.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Seattle hospital attaches cameras to their therapy pups
When I visit the hospital with Nemo, as part of the Good Dog Foundation therapy program, it’s so rewarding to see the joy the dogs bring to the patients. Pets have an amazing ability to cheer up people and it always brings a smile to my face.
Now everyone can enjoy the power of pet therapy, even if you’re not in the hospital.
The Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Wash., created their own therapy dog program in 2008, called Swedish/Edmonds Therapy Pups (STP). STP recently found a way to share their work through the dogs’ point of view.
STP attaches special video cameras to their therapy dogs and posts selected videos online through YouTube. The videos can be found on their website, and I guarantee they will brighten your day!
News: Guest Posts
Pair weaves through wreckage for three hours after Christchurch earthquake
Blair McConnell had the bad fortune to be at work in Christchurch on February 22, 2011, when the earthquake hit. His luck changed when he dove under his office desk. His guide dog Kiwi was there waiting to help him. A story in New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times describes noble guide dog Kiwi leading McConnell through fallen masonry and concrete to safety. “I grabbed his harness and he was quite keen to get out,” said the Telecom sales rep.“We had got out of the building and into the middle of Hereford Street with hundreds of others when the second big aftershock hit. There was lots of screaming and hysterical people.” Stories are flying around New Zealand about Kiwi walking his blind companion all the way home, and McConnell is quick to dispel those rumors. The 8-year-old curly-haired Labrador/Retriever cross did stay calm, McConnell says. And it’s true the beloved guide dog threaded McConnell through the carnage and rubble along the banks of the city’s Avon River for three long hours. In the end, though, a stranger stopped to give the pair a ride home, which has left McConnell feeling “a bit of a fraud,” knowing he got a ride, but: “I’m quite sure he would have walked me home that day if he had needed to.” I don’t doubt that for one minute. One of the many, many reasons dogs have been selected to guide people who are blind is that strong canine homing instinct. My new Seeing Eye dog Harper has only been home with me for three months, and it’s amazing how good he already is at retracing his steps home and finding known destinations. I’m confident he’d find our way home in a crisis, I just hope I never have to find that out! And PS: If someone offered Harper me a ride after an earthquake, I’d take it.
News: Guest Posts
Caleb visits Washington and Idaho
As usual, we’ve had another busy month of adventures, activities and … first graders. Caleb is fast asleep in my office as I type this but don’t let that image fool you; he’s clearly coming out of his shell and has discovered being a puppy can be FUN!
Most people assume Guide Dog puppies are always working, which is sort of true. They are expected to maintain generally good house manners—no to running in the house and counter surfing; yes to listening, following directions and behaving with a level of self-control—not unlike those first graders (more on them in a second). But when we are home Caleb for the most part acts like a pet. He follows me from room to room and sleeps most of the time. We take breaks to play games of tug, work on his obedience skill, run around the backyard, walk to the mailbox and repeat.
Guide Dog puppies have a lot of routine to their days, however, it’s also important they are exposed to a number of people, places and things they might encounter as a working Guide Dog to help prepare them to deal with new and different situations calmly. This month was no exception for Caleb.
I travel frequently for work and Guide Dog puppies are not allowed to travel by plane until they’re 6 months old—even then it requires approval from Guide Dogs for the Blind. So for now Caleb stays home with my husband Alex when I travel. Alex works in healthcare, and a hospital can be a bit much for a young puppy so a few days a week Caleb has been attending first grade with one of the puppy raisers in our club.
This is a beneficial experience for Caleb and the children. They are all learning about self-control; the first graders are learning to ignore Caleb and Caleb is learning not to pick up paper off the floor! The kids are also learning about people with disabilities, service dogs and volunteering. It’s a win-win for everyone. Clearly, it takes a village to raise a Guide Dog puppy too.
In addition to my work travel, we had a few weekend road trips this month that afforded Caleb his first out-of-state adventures. Travel can be stressful for dogs so we try to ease the pups into being comfortable in different cars, relieving themselves in different places on various surfaces and staying in new places. With this in mind, we took a quick day trip to Washington that gave Caleb the opportunity to spend a few hours in the car and experience some new sights and smells.
The following weekend we made the trek to Boise, Idaho, to visit Alex’s parents and sister. Caleb had his first opportunity to stay in a hotel room, experience a bustling downtown area and visit some new and different places. Downtown Bend is relatively small and quiet so a visit to downtown Boise was a great introduction for Caleb to city streets, smells and noises. The happy-go-lucky swagger of his tail continues to reflect his easygoing personality and willingness to go with the flow.
My husband did not grow up with dogs and Caleb was the first puppy in training we’ve brought with us to visit his parents, everyone was impressed with how calm and well behaved Caleb was. Especially my father-in-law, who more than once was found camped out on the floor playing with Caleb.
We are clearly coming out of the baby puppy phase with Caleb as he’s tipping the scales at 40 pounds and has quite possibly lost every single one of his baby teeth. Now, we are ready for the next phase—“teenage puppy in all his glory.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Biologists train rescue pups to help in wildlife surveys
Whether we like it or not, dogs seem to have an uncanny ability to seek out animal droppings. My Sheltie’s favorite is the goose waste left behind at the lakeside path we run on.
Believe it or not, this natural affinity for poop seeking is now being harnessed to help in scientific studies. Biologists at the University of California Berkley have trained dogs to detect animal droppings in order to conduct more accurate environmental surveys.
Wildlife detection dogs have long been used in airports to detect smuggled exotics, but in recent years many of these working canines have been used to help scientists study endangered species and habitat loss.
While most people are trying to figure out how to get rid of animal waste, the information found in excrement is invaluable to scientists. Droppings are a non-invasive way to monitor an area and its animal population. The information in animal waste can be used to identify individuals and analyze hormone levels and diet.
The cool thing about the University of California’s program is that all of the dogs they use are rescues. The researchers say that the characteristics of a successful wildlife detection dog are often the very traits that cause their canines to be abandoned, like having a high energy level.
The selection process is rigorous, as only one in every 200-300 dogs is considered a candidate. And only about 40 percent of those pups make the final cut.
I also love that the training is done by positive reinforcement. When the dogs locate the droppings of a target species, they are rewarded with a play session. The wildlife detection dog program certainly seems like a win-win for everyone!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs help keep the big event safe
The Super Bowl is an exciting event, but like any big gathering, it poses security risks. Where there are security risks, there are often human-canine teams whose job it is to secure the area and keep it safe for everyone. Bomb-sniffing dogs (and their human handlers) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are working long hours searching for explosives in Dallas. Their work includes sweeping for explosives at Cowboys Stadium prior to the Super Bowl this Sunday. There will be more dogs than ever tackling this assignment because of the gigantic proportions involved. The stadium itself covers 73 acres, while the entire site, including the stadium covers 140. Many of the dogs working the Super Bowl have experience sniffing for explosives in high profile events such as the World Series as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Working canines help children called to testify
The courtroom is a stressful environment for all people, especially children. Testifying against a scary adult can be terrifying, causing many kids to shut down.
In an effort to help, programs across the country have started using dogs to provide comfort and support to people in court. The Canine Advocacy Program (CAP) in Michigan is the latest program to join others in Washington, California, and Florida, and specializes in helping children.
CAP was founded last year by Dan Cojanu, former supervisor of the Victim Services Unit for the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.
Dan says that kids take to his dog, Amos, instantly causing their anxiety to melt away. Amos, came from Leader Dogs for the Blind who left the program because he pulled too much on his leash. However, the Chocolate Labrador's friendly and calm demeanor was perfect for the Canine Advocacy Program.
Amos is called into cases by child advocates, law enforcement, and judges. He's trained to sit near children while they wait to testify or even when they're on the stand. Amos’ latest job was to accompany two children into an Oakland courtroom to testify against a defendant charged with criminal sexual conduct.
While it's easy to see the calming effect that courtroom dogs have on kids, not everyone has welcomed Amos just yet. Some prosecutors don't want to risk having their case reversed or having the child to testify again. Potential allergies and phobias further complicate the matter.
Currently there is no established case law concerning dogs as witness companions in courtrooms. Hopefully this is something that can be explored as a next step to standardizing pets in the courtroom.
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