work of dogs
News: Guest Posts
Meet the “Wonder Dogs”
It’s no secret that in addition to being great companions, dogs are our willing and generous collaborators, doing jobs that make our lives safer and easier. As Barbara Robertson observes in “Wonder Dogs” in the upcoming issue, “They’re more than our best friends, they’re our partners. For millennia, dogs have lived and worked at our sides, helping us in ways too numerous to count.” In the soon-to-be-posted story, Robertson reports on the new jobs people are finding for dogs, jobs that take advantage of their exceptional sensory skills as well as their intrinsic good nature and willingness to partner with us in whatever activity we elect to engage in. Though it’s the most recent entry in the list, “Wonder Dogs” isn’t the first we’ve published on our hard-working companions. Click here for more stories from our archives.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Playing service dog to travel first class.
The legitimacy and training of service dogs has come up a lot recently, and many of the cases do not have clear solutions. But what about when someone is consciously taking advantage of the privileges granted to service dogs?
With the USDAA Cynosport World Games coming up in Scottsdale, Ariz., I’ve been talking to many of the local competitors about how they’re traveling with their dogs. Some are caravanning in their RVs and others are reluctantly putting their pups in cargo.
One of the more seasoned competitors mentioned that while she dutifully puts her dogs in cargo, she always sees fellow competitors passing their pups off as service dogs on the plane.
I understand the appeal of having your dog fly with you, safe and sound. It’s certainly a tempting option, and probably in your pet's best interest, but it seems to me like an abuse of the system.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with service dogs, which the federal government defines as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. They don’t need to be licensed or certified by the government, nor are they required to show any identification to prove a medical condition or the dog’s capabilities (although many companies sell authentic looking certificates for a hefty fee).
The flexibility designed to help the disabled also allows the law to be easily abused. These well-meaning people have their pup's best interest in mind, but are also unknowingly undermining legitimate service dogs.
What’s your take? Is playing service dog unethical or responsible pet care?
News: Guest Posts
Jingle knows her girl.
[Below are excerpts from Michelle O’Neil's blog about her daughter Riley’s autism service dog, which she got earlier this month. In these entries, O’Neil writes about the second half of training at 4 Paws for Ability with Jingle.]
Day 5, Behavior Disruption
“Riley, why didn’t you ask for help?” I asked.
That did it.
“I’m not a baaaaaaby!” she wailed.
I sat her on the mat in front of me and immediately gave Jingle the “lap” command. Jingle sprung to action, she started down by Riley’s knees, and I gave her treats as she inched her way up to Riley’s lap. After the treats, she just stayed there, her body providing deep pressure. I talked to Jingle in a soothing tone, telling her what a good girl she was. Riley started to pet her. We just sat like that, petting Jingle and I could feel Riley’s body start to relax. It didn’t take long, maybe five minutes, definitely less than ten. Then, when she was calm, Riley just got up and marched herself out of the room and back to the play area. We didn’t need to discuss it. She was okay.
This is exactly what we were hoping for. I sit here trying to think of a pithy ending for this post, but there are no words.
Go to Bed
She knows who her girl is.
Day 6, Can I pet your dog?
We’re going to have to figure out what feels comfortable for Riley. So far she has been open to it, but we will absolutely let it be her prerogative, and I guess she might feel differently about it on different days. Perhaps we can put an “I’m working” sign on Jingle when Riley doesn’t feel like interacting with people out in public, and take it off when she does.
We made our second trip to the mall today and Jingle was the perfect angel. She held the heel command even when I took her into loud busy stores. She is so smart! She didn’t want me putting the Gentle Leader back on her!
Riley had another upset today, came in crying from the kid’s area, and we practiced the “over” command again. We got Jingle to put her body over Riley’s lap, and Riley pet her as we praised her. Jingle is definitely motivated by the treats at this point, and not by an altruistic goal to help Riley, but they are bonding more and more with each passing day. Todd is still her sweetheart (full tail wags when he comes in sight), but she’s responding better to me.
Jingle sat on the seat in the car today with her head on Seth’s lap, which thrilled him to no end. We also let him give her the peanut butter filled Kong, but are saving the Pupperonis (doggie crack) for Riley to give. Todd and I are using biscuits for the obedience piece. We are all feeling a little bit more relaxed about the whole thing, and not like we have to get everything perfect, right this minute. It is a process, one that will continue to evolve long after we’ve left 4 Paws and headed back to Cleveland.
Jingle is such a good dog! Today we practiced more obedience, and the “touch” command. When a child is upset/crying, the dog is taught to touch them on the leg, “Tap, tap, hello? Look at me kid! Whaddya say we change the subject? Aren’t I cute? Got any treats?”
We are having to modify the command, because we found out today (thankfully on me) Jingle’s nails are powerful! It’s like she’s digging a rake into your thigh. So, Jingle is only touching Riley’s sneaker for now. We will work on touching the side of her paw, to the side of Riley’s leg, more like a brush with the back of her paw rather than the clawing action she’s got going on now. Jingle is intense. You tell her “touch,” and she wants to do it. With gusto!
“See what a good girl I am? I will really touch like I mean it!”
Yesterday, we watched the dogs practice tethering. It was amazing. The tether strap is attached to the child’s belt, or vest, and the dogs lie on the ground and will not budge. This gives kids with autism so much more freedom out in public. The parents don’t have to constantly hold onto their hands. Riley doesn’t need tethering, but Todd and I both helped by acting as the kids for the training. We tugged and pulled and those sweet dogs, just did what they were trained to do. Even if they were pulled, they stayed in the down position, being dragged slowly across the floor if need be. For those autistic kids who are escape artists, it is like lugging a 50-100 pound weight depending on the dog. It really slows them down. All of the dogs have had basic training in tethering but we were fine-tuning. Tethering is going to open up the world for these families.
Wait, where was I? Ah yes, Jingle peed.
Even though she is a well-trained dog, there are always going to be situations she is unfamiliar with. She is not a robot. She is a dog, and she has fears and feelings. This is why it is important to get her out as much as possible, in as many situations as we can while we are here, and after we go home. The great thing about Jingle is she’s a quick learner. First time in this particular elevator, she pees. Second time. She was fine. She was scared of a certain set of stairs at the mall too, but we went over them just a couple of times and she did much better.
We’re back at the hotel now, chilling out. The kids are watching Arthur, and Jingle is snoozing on her Mutt Matt. The Mutt Matt is Jingle’s “place.” A “place” is a little rug or matt the dog uses when put in a stay-type mode. It is the spot she will stay on in class if she goes to school. The “place” command is a stay command. They are allowed to move around, stand, stretch, but they have to keep at least two paws on the matt. Jingle will push it, she will be completely off the matt with just her two hind paws on the outside seam, but she’s technically still on her “place,” so we can’t get on her. If Jingle has been put in a “place” command she has to stay for as long as we tell her, until we give her the “free” command. It can be minutes or hours. All of the dogs understand “place” and it is incredible how they stay on those matts, even if someone deliberately drops a treat a few feet away to test them.
It will never cease to amaze me how you can have 13 dogs in one room, all of them behaving.
Hmm….a doctor blowing off a “parent’s” concerns. Sounds vaguely familiar.
Listen to your Inner Guidance. Got it. Absolutely. Will do.
Tomorrow is the big test. If Jingle passes she is officially our service dog and we can take her home! She’ll be at the mall with Todd (since between the two of us she loves him best) demonstrating all the commands. She’ll be walking through crowded stores, dealing with strangers, navigating the food court, sitting under a table, heeling, sitting, staying down. She’ll be doing the elevator again (please don’t pee Jingle or you won’t pass)! Todd has to demonstrate he can handle her well.
Yes, she loves Todd, but she knows who her girl is. Any time Riley comes near her the tail goes wild, and today at training Riley crossed the room on her way to the bathroom and Jingle never took her eyes off of her. She watched the bathroom door until Riley came out and watched her again as she walked all the way back to the play area.
So, if all goes well, tomorrow we head home … and Jingle meets the cats. Insert scary music.
Pray for us.
News: Guest Posts
Part I: Getting started
It started with a crazy longing for a dog. We don’t need a dog. We already have three cats and our children are high-need. Our daughter has Asperger’s (a high-functioning form of autism) and our son has autoimmune issues. My hands are quite full, but somehow I’d find myself looking at petfinder.com, or the Greyhound rescue sites, or the Golden Retriever rescue sites. I’d stare longingly at the faces in need of adoption. I’d send their photos to my husband’s e-mail at work. He’d e-mail back, “We don’t need a dog.” I knew he was right.
Then, about a year ago, I was asked to review the book A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardener. It is about a boy with autism and the amazing gains he made with his Golden Retriever by his side. My wheels started to turn. Is it possible a dog could help with the intense meltdowns our daughter experiences when she becomes overwhelmed? Is she “autistic enough” for a service dog? With the encouragement of fellow bloggers I checked it out and found 4 Paws for Ability. It is one of the only organizations in the country that places service dogs with children under 18, and yes, they do train dogs for children with Asperger’s.
4 Paws for Ability does not let people purchase service dogs. Each family must fund raise between $11,000 and $14,000 depending on what the dog will be trained to do. The dogs receive between 400 and 600 hours of training before being placed with a family. The families must also be trained and are required to attend a ten-day session in Xenia, Ohio, where 4 Paws is located.
We thought it would take at least a year to raise the funds, but once my husband and I got over our pride and asked for help, the money came pouring in. Musician friends altruistically performed a benefit concert in our hometown in upstate New York. Friends, neighbors and a local church made generous donations. The power of the Internet was lassoed and virtual friends who’d followed my blog came out of the woodwork to donate money. One blogger friend organized a fund-raising autism/mommy blogger dinner in Boston with author John Elder Robison who wrote a book about growing up with undiagnosed Asperger’s.
To our amazement, we raised $11,000 in less than two months. The goodness of people is overwhelming.
Then came the waiting. For ten months we didn't know who our dog would be. In the meantime, we had to videotape Riley’s meltdowns and send the tapes off to 4 Paws. As the time drew near, they studied the tapes and matched her with the perfect dog for her.
Jingle is her name-o! We met her this week. She is an adorable Australian Shepherd/Boxer mix and we are here in Xenia, Ohio, in the middle of training. I’m typing this from our hotel room. (Yes, we bring the dog back to the hotel with us every night for ten days!)
I'll be blogging throughout the training, and will continue to tell our service dog story at my blog Full-Soul-Ahead! It is a thrill for me that The Bark will be featuring some of these posts on its website. We hope you will join us for this incredible ride.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Department of Defense begins research on the canine potential for helping veterans.
Back in July I wrote about the Puppies Behind Bars' Dog Tags program that provides service dogs to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now research is underway to demonstrate the impact of pairing up returning soldiers with trained canines.
The U.S. Department of Defense is financing a $300,000, 12-month study that will look at the effects of service dogs on changes in PTSD symptoms and medication use. Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. will compare soldiers with PTSD who have a service dog with a control group of dog-less soldiers. Some of the dogs being trained for the study will be rescues, making this program even more compelling.
Last week, research psychologist, Craig Love, and Psychiatric Service Dog Society founder, Joan Esnayra, presented a preliminary survey of veterans with PTSD. Since receiving a service dog, 82 percent of respondents reported fewer symptoms and 40 percent reported using fewer medications. Furthermore, the length of time the team had been together correlated with the reduction in symptoms and medication use.
Pet lovers already know about the healing power of dogs, but scientific research will increase the potential for initiatives like Sen. Al Franken’s legislation to provide funding for the training of service dogs for veterans. I look forward to the impact this study is bound to have on future research on the power of the human-canine relationship.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Detection dogs to the rescue in Hawai’i.
Invasive species can quickly decimate the native species of a region, but getting rid of the invaders can be challenging. In Hawai’i, the wolf snail has been linked to the decline and even the extinction of many species of snail that are endemic to (only occur in) Hawai’i. Wolf snails are on the top 100 “World’s Worst” invaders list, and eradicating them in our 50th state is a high priority among conservation groups. So, what’s the latest method for finding these wolf snails? Detection dogs, of course!
Canine-human teams, trained in their home region of Montana to the scent of the wolf snail, headed to Hawai’i for four weeks of work and troubleshooting with researchers. Picking up the scent of these snails in a wet tropical region proved challenging and this initial foray served to provide information they will use to design additional training techniques back in Montana and design the best system for detecting the snails.
While dogs are well known for their ability to sniff out everything from bed bugs and illegal DVDs to criminals carrying cash and peanuts, it is not well known that every type of successful detection work requires creative thinking in every aspect of the process from training the dogs to the specifics of the search strategies. Each new challenge requires lots of work, patience, and sometimes even multiple trips to Hawai’i! Let’s hope these dogs and their humans are soon able to stop the spread of this snail before more precious species are lost forever.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What makes a dog a service dog?
[Editor's Note: A few days after Karen posted this blog about parents fighting against dogs in schools, the Star-Telegram reported on the big success of therapy dogs at a Fort Worth elementary school. The reporter's timing was perfect.]
The family of an autistic boy wants their dog to accompany him to school to ease the transition to a new place and to help keep him safe from traffic and other dangers. Service dogs are allowed in his school. However, opponents claim that this dog is just a source of comfort rather than a true service dog. A trial is scheduled for November 2009 to determine if the dog can accompany the boy, but thanks to a judge’s order in July, when the boy starts school, his dog will go with him.
What constitutes a service dog? Is it the old-fashioned definition of being a guide dog for a blind person or are we as a society ready to wholeheartedly expand our definition to dogs who alert people with diabetes or epilepsy to impending problems, dogs who provide people with emotional stability that they cannot achieve on their own, dogs who support people physically in case of loss of balance, dogs who protect impulsive children from running towards the road or other perilous situations and dogs who allow children to handle school when they might otherwise be incapable of doing so?
How do we distinguish between service dogs and dogs who are merely helpful but not in any official capacity?
News: Guest Posts
Prison dog-training program on Fresh Air.
Fresh Air guest host Dave Davies provides a wonderful introduction to Puppies Behind Bars (listen online), a nonprofit organization that lets inmates train bomb-sniffing dogs and companion animals for war veterans. Gloria Gilbert Stoga, founder and president of Puppies Behind Bars; Nora Moran, a former inmate who now works for the group; and Iraq War veteran Marine Cpl. Paul Bang-Knudsen illustrate how the program provides multiple benefits to the dogs, the inmates and the service dog recipients. Bang-Knudsen’s black lab Samba helps him cope with the challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder. For information about another prison training program, check out The Bark’s story on the Prison Pet Partnership in Washington State, where women inmates train shelter and rescue dogs to become service, seizure or therapy dogs, or to live as pets.
News: Guest Posts
Courtroom dog comforts victims at defendant's sentencing
Awhile ago I wrote an article for Bark about prosecuting attorneys’ innovative use of service dogs with victims of crime. Since then, I’ve become a prosecuting attorney in one of the counties I highlighted. I thought I’d check in on Stilson--and take Bark’s readers along--as he performed a routine part of his job. These dogs never stop giving; they're simply amazing.
The trial is over, the defendant convicted by a jury. The victim and his family are recovering, physically and emotionally. Now it’s time for sentencing. They must see that man again, who did so much damage, hear him speak.
Stilson helps them through it.
Stilson is the five-year-old facility dog utilized by the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Victim/Witness Advocate, Heidi Potter. He’s a handsome black lab who has an instinct for comfort. (See Dogs in the Courtroom.)
A jury found the defendant guilty of first degree assault, with a firearm enhancement. What that really means, on a human level, is this: Some kids and their uncle--from their car on the road--watched a deer on their neighbor’s property; the neighbor accused them of spinning their wheels; when the kids’ father heard about it and went to talk to the neighbor the next day, he was shot in the face.
Stilson attended the trial in his special role as canine advocate. Mostly, he stayed in the hallway with the kids and their mom as the kids waited to testify. He invited them to stroke and hug him, to play and be distracted from the awfulness they were being asked to relive.
The victim, a handsome man of about 40, has few remaining visible scars of his ordeal. His wife and kids hover nearby as all nervously await the start of the hearing. They take a bench in the large courtroom, forming a long row of emotional support for each other. Heidi hands Stilson to another victim advocate, who places his lead into the victim’s hands. The victim smiles and visibly relaxes, petting Stilson, an old friend. Quietly, Stilson lies at his feet, squeezing himself between the rows of benches, providing a calming presence without being intrusive or demanding. No commands are given by Heidi or the other advocate. Stilson simply knows what to do.
The defendant is led into the courtroom in shackles, wearing the standard jail garb. He’s older, thin, bent, disheveled. He stands facing the bench; his two attorneys flank him, whispering. Deputies stand nearby, guarding. The victim and his wife tense, watching intently from their seats several yards back, waiting, wondering.
The judge enters, takes the bench, and the proceeding begins. The prosecutor outlines the sentence she seeks. The victim goes forward to address the court, giving his impact statement. He’s brief. “I’m not a hateful person. I teach my kids not to hate. I don’t hate the man, but I feel hate for what he did.” He notes that the ordeal has been harder on his wife and kids than on him. He’s disturbed that the defendant doesn’t feel any remorse. “I want to move on, living, loving and laughing,” the victim concludes. He returns to his seat, stepping over Stilson, who hasn’t moved, and resumes holding the lead, caressing its fibers like a string of worry beads.
Finally, the judge asks the defendant if he has anything to say. The victim and his wife both stiffen, as if expecting a blow. The kids are still. Stilson stays in place, at the feet of their father. Several Stilsons are needed today, one for each family member impacted by this horrible crime.
The defendant speaks. “I maintain my innocence, your honor. That man attacked me. I forgive him. He has to live with that for the rest of his life. He gave me no choice. I beg you to sentence me in the lower end of the range. I’m innocent. The man attacked me. He lied. He destroyed my life. I forgive him.”
Court observers are taken aback by the vehemence of the statement. The wife looks down at her hands, her face red with emotion, even fear; she can’t bear to look. The kids fidget beside her. The victim is motionless, staring at the back of the defendant while tightly gripping Stilson’s lead.
The judge pronounces sentence: fifteen years, the maximum allowed. There’s palpable relief among the victim and his family. The prosecutor smiles. Standing to leave the courtroom, the victim bends to stroke Stilson’s head one last time before handing his lead back to the advocate.
Stilson has done his job well.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Korean Customs Service clones drug-sniffing canines.
The Korean Customs Service has long bred and trained their own drug sniffing canines to work at airports throughout the country, but it has proved to be a costly endeavor. Typically only 10-15 percent of puppies even pass the behavior test just to qualify to begin training. Of those dogs, only 30 percent graduate from the program, an investment of over $40,000 per pup, an expensive operation that produces mostly dogs that are adopted out as pets.
South Korean scientists now believe they’ve found a way to boost the success rate to 90 percent by cloning. Their first experiment, a litter of seven puppies cloned from Chase, a talented drug-sniffing Labrador Retriever, in 2007 are already showing tremendous potential.
As puppies, all seven passed the initial behavior test and six of the seven graduated from the training program and are now working at airports throughout South Korea. The seventh dog dropped out of the program due to an injury.
On top of the prodigy litter’s extraordinary passing rate, the Korean Customs Service has reported that the dogs, like Chase, have shown superior performance compared to other working canines.
I’m still unsure about the ethical implication of cloning dogs but I certainly see the positives. Besides saving money, higher passing rates means less dogs need to be adopted out, opening those homes to other pups. In addition, if the Korean Customs Service's success can be replicated, cloning could have a huge impact on other working canines, like guide dogs.
Check out New Tang Dynasty Television's coverage of the puppies:
What are your thoughts on cloning working dogs?
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