Friday, May 29, 2015

BC Government Answers to Questions about Service and Assistance Dogs

A new document has been posted on the Ministry of Justice website. The new legislation has passed three readings but has not yet become law. It is expected that later in 2015, it will.

The current regulations are still posted at the top of the page. Look at the second section with the blue heading for the NEW information.

BC Ministry of Justice webpage

There is some good news for owner-trained service dogs!

Good News!

Service and Assistance dogs are not required to be certified in BC but it is still recommended. This applies to both residents and visitors.

It appears like those individuals/organizations who are authorized to recommend the certification to the government will not have to be affiliated with ADI or IGDF. Designated third parties (who can test owner-trained and recommend certification of owner-trained and out-of-province dogs) will be revealed by the government at a later date.

There is a higher penalty for fakers (people who claim their dog is a service dog but is really a pet, therapy or emotional support dog.) Police officers will be authorized to issue fines to publically-accessible location who deny access if the service dog team has a valid BC ID card.

More effort will be made in educating retail, housing and transportation providers about the laws.

Bad News: 

If you visit a public place with an uncertified dog, there may be delays in allowing you access with your service dog as they have a right to question you as ask for proof that your dog is a trained service dog.

In the case of access difficulty for people with service dogs, if it goes to court, only those with certified dogs will be supported by BC laws and it will be up to owners of non-certified service and assistance dogs to prove that their dog meets the standards. However, their lack of access issue would still be valid under the Canadian Human Right Code.

Monday, May 25, 2015

How Do You Respond?

You are out with your service dog and a child comes running over to pet your dog while she is working. You...
You are standing in a cash line and behind you is a chatty woman who wants to know all about your disabilities...
A retailer asks you to remove your assistance dog. You...

These and other situations can be hard to deal with, especially if you are having a bad day (or are shy or just don't like to interact with people generally due to your disability). Despite this, each and every person with an assistance is an ambassador for people with assistance dogs and set the tone for how people, staff of retailers etc deal with people with SD generally.

What similar situations have you found yourself in and what positive, proactive (not reactive) methods have you used to deal with the situation.  I am looking for some concrete positive examples of what to do, what to say, what you give to people etc. in such situations.

If you have practiced some of these responses before you are faced with them, they will come more easily when you are. It is no different than the extensive training done with service dogs to prepare them for the high level of distractions they may encounter in their job.

Please write a brief scenario in the comments below and specific details of how you dealt with it (what you said or did) and the outcome. I will edit them and add them to the post, if they are appropriate to share.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 2

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 2

It is important to try to identify the parts of the training that you aren't enjoying.
What exactly is slowing you down, tiring you out or turning you off?

Once you have done that, you can tackle each part, change what you need to make it work for you and move beyond each. Talk to others to get ideas. Ask on Facebook or dog trainers. Even ask a friend. We all go through it and have different ways to cope that you can try.

What I don't like:
How I can change it:

Here are some other ideas to stay motivated:

1. Take regular days off. Just like us and other work, we need to take 2 days off each week to give ourselves time down to recharge. Training every day takes the fun out of it. Training doesn't have to be done every day and in fact, giving our dogs time off between lets them think about a behavior and progress faster. They and we are eager to get back to training. Burn out is huge among owner-trained service dogs.

2. Find a friend to train with once a week. Working together with someone else helps keeps you committed to scheduled days at different locations.

3. Vary the behaviors you train. Come back a month later and retrain from the beginning but progress further than before.

4. Randomly draw from a list of behaviors you need to train and train that behavior for several sessions. Draw a new one and train that. Work your way through all of those and repeat until you get to your progress goal for each behavior. When you finish one, add another in to take it's place. The somewhat unpredictable nature of the process keeps you interested.

5. Teach someone else (whether by explaining or writing it down or making a video) how to train a behavior you aren't enjoying or are having a challenge with. This will help you think form another's perspective and you may even come up with a solution or a new way to teach it.

6. Train one aspect of the behavior that you enjoy then leave it for a bit. Come back to it later.

7. Break behaviors or tasks into smaller steps. Identify your specific challenges and break those down into 4 steps, the again another 2 each.

8. Research other ways to teach a behavior or generalize or proof it. Do those as they may be more fun! 

9. Make a training plan and tick off or fill in the steps you have accomplished. This gives you a quick visual reinforcer that you are making progress!

10. Add what you are training to your computer calendar for the next week or month. Then you get reminders the day before and you can mull it over in your mind. This allows you to adjust it as you go along. 

11. Do a simple version of the task. Come back at later date and teach more complex version.

12. Use a 'snakes and ladders' approach on ourselves. Train to your goal for a few days, then do a shorter training day. Go back to a longer day. This way you get mini breaks but still move towards your goals.

13. Work on concepts rather than behaviors. It's a bigger picture approach. Once your dog understands the concept, she can learn  new applications of it much faster.
For example: teaching distance as a concept
If you teach the distance aspect of several different behaviors all at once, the dog will understand it faster.  Each of these behaviors have a distance element: nose target, paw, sit, down, crate, mat, jump, retrieve. If you train each behavior to 10 feet, your dog will solidly be able to do a behavior at that distance. Train each one to 15 feet. etc.

14. For public access training, start with what is doable for you.
Maybe one day a week is fine. Even when you are doing mostly public access training, do only a maximum of 3 days each week. Adding transportation to and from the pubic site adds stress. You need to account for that. You will be more relaxed and so will your dog if you give yourself time to recharge between by staying closer to home. Plan the further location like field trips. Pack a lunch.

15. For public access training, invite a friend to be a helper. They can run interference from people and dogs, taking the focus off you so you can focus on training.

16. Collect and store all equipment as close as possible to where you train at home or stored in a trunk when you do public access training. Have to carry and set up equipment every time can be very demotivating. You may need to be creative and store some equipment in unusual places. Get permission and focus on training those behaviors in a short period, then remove the equipment and go on to other behaviors.

17. Prepare treats in bulk once a week. Bake, cut up and freeze them into training session sized portion. Sandwich bags work well. If treat preparation gets you down, splurge and purchase good quality pre-cut treats once in awhile. Search out easy to make recipes. Or easy to make treats. My dogs works for cut up vegetables like cooked carrots and yam, raw cucumbers and zuchini, frozen peas. Partly thawed slow-cooked kidney beans. They also enjoy Cheerios, squares of beef fat (instead of cheese), yogurt, thick pea soup and gravy placed in tubes.

What other things do you do to keep yourself motivated to train?  Share them in the comments section.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 1

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 1

Many people embark on a dream to train their own service dog. Along the way they get bogged down, tired, life happens or their medical issues flare up and all contribute to them taking a longer than planned break from training.

What can you do to stay motivated?

Reinforce and Reward Yourself!
Before you scoff at this idea...
When you go to work, you get paid, right? Why shouldn't you get paid to train your dog as well? If your boss offered you the opportunity to do your job without getting paid, you would do it right? Wrong! So why are you asking yourself to do another job without payment? Payment comes in many forms. We'll get into external motivation versus internal motivation in a minute, so bear with me.

The first thing we need to address is that we humans need both reinforcement and rewards to start and keep up behaviors just like our dogs do. Training is one such behavior that can be reinforced and rewarded. Explained simply, reinforcers occur immediately after a specific behavior has occurred. They increase the possibility of the behavior happening again. Rewards occur after a series of behaviors have been completed and reward the whole process, rather than one specific act. A hug given immediately after someone is assertive on behalf of someone else, is a reinforcer. A $200 bonus received at Christmas time is a reward.

What is Reinforcing and Rewarding to You?
Just like we would for our dog, we need to make a list of what foods, things, activities, people and events are reinforcing to you. Make sure to include some from each group. Include some of small value, medium value and high value. The low and medium items are used as reinforcers. The high value ones will be reserved as rewards for bigger accomplishments. Prioritize them least to greatest value to you in their separate groups.

Next, make an overall training plan for your dog. Start with today's date and end with your goal date in the future when your dog will be ready to help you as a service dog. If your area needs the dog to be certified, that would be your end date. If you want to use the public access test as your end date, use that!  Click here to see a more detailed post on creating a training plan.

Go ahead and reinforce your self for taking the first step of making the plan! Have a special coffee, eat a piece of chocolate. There, doesn't that feel better? Reinforcement is delivered as soon as the desired behavior is done. Finish writing down the first step of your plan, eat your chocolate.

Take the Next Step
Identify the foundation skills your dog needs to be able to do both at home then in public no matter the distraction? List those.

Here's a few:

at home
in public



leave it

nose target

loose leash walking


be handled by a stranger

ignore other dogs

Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks does your dog need to do to mitigate your disability? List those.

at home
in public
alert you to a doorbell ringing

pick up a dropped item

do deep pressure therapy to you

Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks or behaviors are not needed but you think might be fun to train? List those.

task or behavior
at home
in public
pivoting from in front of you

backing up

Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

There's a good start on a reward plan for yourself!

To incorporate reinforcement into the plan, break down each of those behaviors into their smaller training steps and choose reinforcers for each one. Even if your dog isn't as successful as you like, reinforce yourself for doing the training that day! Be kind to yourself (use a higher rate of reinforcement on yourself when you start losing motivation for a specific behavior) and motivation will come!

Behavior: settle/relax
relaxes on dog bed or mat voluntarily

relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location

relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location

settles on mat until released by cue

relaxes on mat on cue

settles on mat on cue near chair in new room

settles on mat near chair in yard

Another way you can apply Premack principle is to do a training session of one behavior you enjoy less to train, and alternate that with a behavior you enjoy training. It works! 

What other creative ways can use use Premack Principle on yourself?

External Motivation vs Internal Motivation

Back to this. The difference between these two is interesting. They have a relationship. External reinforcers and rewards can be things, objects, games, activities, travel, interaction with people, another person's approval etc. Internal motivators are feelings that you get from inside yourself when a step, task, job is completed or your dog figures something out on his own.

When you start out using external motivators, then apply them to yourself intermittently (ask for more of the same behavior to earn a reinforcement (called two-fers and three-fers in dog training) , the activity that you are being reinforced for becomes reinforcing with application of the external reinforcers. When you start to see a change in your dog's behaviors in specific situations, you feel good about it. Those feelings, caused by your dog's change of behavior, lead you to be more motivated to train your dog as you want to see more behavior change and feel better about the fact that "Yes! you CAN do this! "

This process is explained by the application of the Premack Principle that is the most powerful tool in a trainer's toolbox. Premack Principle says that if you pair a lower likelihood behavior with a higher likelihood behavior, over time the lower level behavior will increase in value to the learner. Sometimes becoming equal in value to the higher value behavior.  So pairing a lower likelihood activity (training in public) with a higher value activity (going out for coffee with a friend afterward), you increase your enjoyment of training.

Ultimately, the process of doing the activity becomes internally reinforcing. Internal reinforcement is when we do specific activities for the satisfaction or pleasure of doing them. No external rewards are necessary to do them. Over time, little things become internal reinforcers. The fast that your dog CAN do a specific behavior that he was having trouble figuring out. That your dog CAN do the same behavior in a pubic place! Voluntary eye contact from your dog. that makes you feel good! The feeling of pride when your dog helps you for the first time in public as a service dog in training learning public access. Many, many such things will become reinforcers to keep you motivated if you start incorporating external reinforcers into your training plan. 

For me, in writing these posts, I am reinforced by the feeling of satisfaction that I get when I hit the "Post" button on the blog. It is one step in being able to help others. I then Premack myself by having lunch of something I enjoy eating.  I get rewarded when someone lets me know that the post was helpful to them!

Watch for Part 2 for more ways to keep yourself motivated to train your service dog.

Monday, May 4, 2015

New Online Class! Loose Leash Walking for Service Dogs

Teaching a dog to loose leash walk is a foundation skill for every dog. Walking with another being attached to a leash does not come naturally to them. They normally move about independently. Seems like an obvious point, but it is one that most people forget. Having a tight leash causes frustration and leash aggression in many dogs due to the feeling of confinement. For people with disabilities, a tight leash can aggravate joint issues,  pull the handler off balance triggering a fall and cause injury.

This series of classes provide the structure you need to successfully teach your dog to walk on a loose leash with you, so the leash becomes the cue to stay close. It becomes an emergency back up, rather than the primary means of control. We want the dog to choose to stay close to the handler. No corrections or strength are required to teach this skill.

Learning to walk on a loose leash is an incremental process that can be taught while you are teaching other skills, but you do need to put time and energy into training it just it on its own just as you do other skills and service dog tasks. The main focus is building value for being near you no matter what obstacles you may encounter.

In these classes, the use of distractions are integrated into the training process early on so you and the dog know how to deal with them as they come up and also how to train for each one that is a challenge for your dog.

Work at your own pace on your own schedule. The more often you train, the faster you will progress. If you are starting with a puppy, you will instill good habits in both you and the pup early on. Starting with an adult dog who pulls will take longer. That's why the classes are designed in a set of 5 and spaced out to allow you and your dog to continue to practice and generalize the skills in months when the classes are not offered.

A checklist is provided for each class so you can keep track visually of where you and your dog are in the process. It can be a long haul for dogs that have already learned that pulling gets them what they want so that's why the humans need reinforcement! Puppies learn quickly and easily and maintain good habits for life-if the handler is consistent in her responses.

Level 2 Classes start today! Level 1 is a prerequisite and can be purchased at the same time as level 2.
Registration closes Sat May 9, 2015

Join our online classes and our school community!

Check out our video trailer!

Go here to register:!service-dog-training/cr8z