23 August 2010

Therapy Dogs

The names I use in this blog are not their real names, to protect the individuals and the dog (although long deceased). Therapy dogs are service dogs, but not what most people think of when service dogs is a topic of conversation.

While visiting a former neighbor in one of the nursing facilities in a town not too far from our home, I was in the lounge with him when a therapy dog was introduced to the group in the lounge. “Therapy dogs” sneered another resident named Jon, as he got up and left the room. What set him off I wondered? So I asked his daughter, Janet, who was visiting her father in the nursing facility.

At first she was not going to answer me, but after hesitating, said her father was a hunting dog person and did not like being around other dogs. I thought okay, some people are biased about what they like and dislike. I asked her what breed of dogs would get his attention. She had decided she had enough and got up to follow her father. On her way past me, she said, “coon dogs”. Okay, not what I expected, but at least I had something. I had no idea how important this information would become.

Now where in this area was I going to find someone with coon dogs that would have a therapy dog as well. Yes, many raccoon hunters live near here, so I headed out to one of the farms that I knew raised raccoon hunting dogs. They were home when I drove in the driveway. I asked the oldest son if his father, Jason, was in the barn. It was then that their mother, Mattie, came out of the house. I introduced myself and stated the purpose of my visit.

Her face lit up when I said something about therapy dogs and mentioned Jon's name from the nursing facility. It was like I had gotten everyone's attention with his name. They all gather around and they all wanted to know how he was, where he was, and when I had seen him. The short of it is that his farm adjoins their farm and they knew him well. All they knew when I arrived was that about two weeks earlier, his daughter had showed up and taken him somewhere and had not let anyone know.

Mattie said that she and one of their dogs had just completed the therapy dog training course, and she was hoping to start taking the dog to schools and nursing homes in the area. Now she knew where she had to go first. After discussing how to get the dog into the nursing facility, she said she would call them in the morning. I said he may be a little on the difficult side, but she knew that he would be happy to see Sheba (the name of the dog) since it had been purchased from him about a year prior when Jon had sold his dogs.

Sheba is a sleek Redbone Coonhound with no color variations. I had not noticed her in the group of five dogs around us until she was called. I was introduced to the dog and then we went back to talking. Next I knew, I felt a wet nose at my hand. I let my hand slide along her muzzle and down her head and along her back. She was one gentle dog. She wanted the attention and made herself available to get it.

The next day, Mattie called me to say that they were not permitted to visit him by order of the daughter. Uh-ooh. Mattie asked me if I wanted to take the dog into see him as she had that approved. I met them in the visitors lot and went to check with the staff to get the full story.

Janet was the only person of record on the medical power of attorney and general power of attorney and admission records. I knew that Janet had two older brothers so I wondered what was happening. Since Jon was still in his room, I asked if he could be brought to the lounge while I brought the dog in.

Sheba seemed to sense something and was straining at the leash and once inside, her nose was on to something and I was having all I could do to restrain her. When entering the lounge, Sheba needed no more, she let out a howl and was almost more than I could handle. When Jon saw Sheba, he was out of his chair and on his way to greet Sheba with tears in his eyes.

After the two had greeted each other, Jon asked me where Jason and Mattie were. The nurse explained that they had orders from Janet that he we not to see them. Jon was very upset now and asked where his boys were and that he wanted to see them. The nurse said they were not part of his records. I asked if the order by Janet included the grounds outside and the nurse said no, only the indoors. I told the nurse to get her writing board and join us outside. Jon was very happy for a few minutes when he saw Sheba and was now wanting to see Jason and Mattie.

When we were outside and under a tree, Jon thanked me and asked how I had found his friends. I said that was purely by accident and a slip by his daughter when she told me that your favorite dogs were coon dogs. With Jon, Jason, and Mattie all talking, I asked if Jon knew how to reach his sons. He did not as he did not have addresses for them any longer, but knew that his brother would. Jason said he would get Jon's brother, and his sister, there that afternoon along with some other people to get to the bottom of what was happening. The nurse was taking notes and asking questions as well.

That was my introduction to therapy dogs about 18 years ago. Jon (after some legal hassles) was able to return to his farm and lived there for about 15 more years until he returned to the nursing facility where he passed earlier this summer. His daughter passed about 9 years ago.

Yes, there is much more to the story, but I will not go there at the request of Jon's sons who were just thankful that a particular therapy dog came back into their dad's life. Sheba was returned to live with Jon and lived about 8 more years working as a therapy dog with Jon under Mattie's guidance. They became regular visitors at the nursing facility and other nursing homes in a 60 mile area, and in my home.

19 August 2010

Diabetes Alert Dogs – Part 3

There are no trainers presently certified as diabetes alert dog trainers. This is good in a sense that they have adapted from training other service dogs and thus have a history that can be checked to learn if they are good and knowledgeable trainers.

Most dog trainers today are knowledgeable in animal behavior and learning theory plus sufficient experience. Excellent trainers do exist as independent trainers, trainers working for breeders, and as trainers for some tax-exempt organizations. Some trainers are certified as professional dog trainers (CPDT). In fact, over 1400 people have been certified as CPDT since September 2001.

In selecting a trainer, make sure you know what types of dogs the trainer works with best for training. Some trainers work best with certain types of dogs and not others. After the trainer does an evaluation of your situation, is the type of dog they are suggesting, one that you are comfortable having as a 24/7 companion. The closer you and the trainer are in the selection of a dog, the more successful your experience will be.

Some trainers work best with the larger breeds and some the small breeds. Therefore, this should be a factor in the selection of a trainer. Conversely, just because you like a particular dog or breed of dog, does not mean that this type of dog will be the best fit for you. Learn to be flexible.

I will now cover training standards and hope that I do not confuse you. The standard in the dog training profession is the Canine Good Citizen program started in 1989 by the American Kennel Club. The Canine Good Citizen Program is a two-part program that stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and basic good manners for dogs in the public arena.

Several organizations have established standards and do have enforcement procedures in place to curb violations. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) is one organization. The other organization is the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). These two organizations do have certification procedures and continuing education units (CEU's) as a requirement for staying current with changes in dog training. They also have procedures for dealing with trainers that do not stay current.  Another organization worth checking out is Assistance Dogs International.

After following part-time with a mobility dog trainer for the last four months, I have a better understanding of how these organizations work and their requirements. So in the process of selecting your trainer, do your due diligence in checking them out.

One of the weakest parts of the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) is their abstaining from setting up enforceable standards for public access of service dogs and an agency to enforce these standards. Too many “fake credentials” are getting untrained pets into public places where trained service dogs are allowed, thus sometimes creating problems for legitimate service dogs.

One standard that needs to be in place and enforced for any type of service dog is the prevention for use of prong and shock collars and force. Many trainers use them and some boldly advertise that they have and use them claiming that certain dogs will not train without their use. This is an accepted training technique unfortunately. When a service animal is certified as trained, this method should no longer be necessary.

In my opinion, if the animal is not trainable without force, then it needs to be rejected as a candidate for a service dog of any kind and considered for another occupation such as being a guard dog. While it is my opinion only, large dollar fines need to be imposed on trainers using force when a dog is to be partnered with a young person. I would even consider banning these trainers from service dog training. This may not be enforceable, but should be considered. Again, this is my opinion.

The Delta Society totally surprised me in the discussion of service dogs being appropriate for young children. They mention some age ranges that trainers are using and I agree that age limits need to be set. I also respect those that look farther on an individual basis. While it is difficult to be so arbitrary, child maturity factors are necessary. Service dogs should never be a “tool” for the parents to abdicate their responsibilities as some parents are doing.

One of the positive discoveries I have found in training are what a few trainers are almost insistent on and for good reason. The good trainers realize that for a service dog, training must continue after they are out of the picture and for the rest of the life of the service animal. These trainers are training the person and occasionally persons involved with the animal. They want the person partnered with the animal to feel success in training and in the ability of the animal to do its tasks.

More trainers today are training for hand signals (signing) that the dog will understand and follow without verbal communication. While this has been used for the hearing impaired, trainers are starting to use this for other medical disabilities. This has some definite advantages for communicating with the service dog without surrounding persons even knowing that anything is taking place, especially in the public setting.

While I am not in favor of the use of puppies for training to task other than behavior and house breaking, I am finding that I am in the minority view on this. I do question the usefulness of a service dog less than 10 months old. I know that for diabetes, it may be possible to train for some tasks before 12 months, but I will continue to question how effective the dog will be. Again, after following a mobility service dog trainer, I better understand why some training is necessary once the dogs are weaned. This is not concentrated training, but slowly working on habits that will become part of the dog as it matures.

Before training can begin, some determination needs to be made as to how successful the service animal will be in providing the healthcare needed. The primary concern should be the capacity of the individual receiving the service dog and their ability to learn and handle the needs of the animal and training of the animal. Some have said that the abilities of the trainer and the dog are all important. The trainer and the dog can be of no value if the person receiving the dog is incapable of the ongoing training and taking care of the needs of the dog. The service dog is a living animal and not a machine that can be shut off and turned on as some people are want to do.

Most trainers will want to know the following information:

1. Who will be the recipient of the service dog and the type of service dog that is needed.
2. The age of the recipient.
3. Whether other pets will distract the training and effectiveness of the service dog. Most trainers are very careful about this requirement. A household of trained animals can be accepted, but unruly animals cannot be accepted.
4. Whether the owner or family will be able to take care of the needs of the service dog in all situations.

There are other questions of course, but the above are the important questions to determine whether the potential recipient is a good candidate. So be prepared and I urge all to do their research and due diligence in selecting a trainer. Take time to read the sites I have posted with the colored text.