Sunday, May 15, 2016

What are the standard behaviors and cues of a service dog?

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Look for Dealing with Resource Guarding in Service Dogs Part 2

Part 2 Dealing with Resource Guarding in Service Dogs 

Resource Guarding Appears "Out of the Blue"

Even among carefully selected and raised service dogs, resource guarding may appear in a dog that has never previously demonstrated it.

If the resource guarding behavior is 'appearing out of the blue' at around 6 mos to 16 mos, you may be dealing with a fear period or adolescent hormones. The larger the breed, the later adolescence sets in and the longer it lasts.

Resource Guarding is most commonly species specific. This means that he will typically only guard against other dogs, not humans or vice versa. Just because your dog resource guards again other dogs doesn't not mean he will do it against people Just because he resource guards against people, does not mean he will do it against other dogs. The most important thing is that he is safe in public. If he is not, remove him from public access training or work immediately.

If your dog resource guards in both situations, it may be an indicator of his underlying temperament. Look at other aspects of his life. Does he show fear or mistrust in other ways? Where does he lack confidence? Is he a bully? Bully dogs are typically fearful dogs that were not properly socialized. They may have had a buddy who was too over the topic for them and they adapted by becoming pushing themselves. Just like in humans, bullying is an indicator of lack of control and fear.

Resource guarding could also be a result his training history.  Even if you think you are not using confrontation-based training methods, your dog may see it differently.
Each dog has his own tolerance level for force and emotional pressure and each copes with it differently.  This is a common reason I see for the mistrust seen in resource guarding. In past situations, you may have inadvertently used emotional or physical force and your dog has legitimate reason not to trust you. Confrontational methods may lead to resource guarding as the dog learns he cannot trust you with things that are important to him. Unfortunately using violence in training, often gets violence in return.

An altercation with another dog over his toys or food may affect future interactions with that specific dog or be generalized to react when the next strange dog that approaches when he has a toy. Generalizing to other dogs is more common in dogs that have had limited or poor dog to dog socialization during the critical socialization period when he was 5 to 12 weeks old. This is because they have very few positive interactions to draw from to overcome one negative interaction. Science tells us that negative experiences have much more influence than positive experiences as a survival mechanism.

Consult a positive dog training professional or veterinary behaviorist for their help and assessment. Look long and hard at his over all behaviors. Is he fearful? How is he responding to training? You do not want your service dog to be a liability to you in public. If he has underlying fears or mistrust, he may not be a good service dog candidate and may need to be removed from training as a service dog.

What you want to do is avoid a confrontation with your dog at all costs. Putting in that situation allows him to practice the unwanted behavior. Practice makes perfect. If you back away when he does react, he is reinforced for growling (or worse). If you force him to give up his item, he learns he can't trust you and it further undermines his trust in you.

1. Observe Your Dog
Watch for situations that trigger the resource guarding behaviors.
What exactly are the things the dog guards?
Against who does he guard them?
What specific behaviors do you see and when do they occur?
Early warnings are the dog asking for distance. He might look away, turn his eyes  away (called whale eye) or turn his head away as you approach. He might do a big yawn. He might lick nose tip. This one most people miss as it happens so quickly. He may paw the object or move closer to it. Watch your dog when he is with his food dish or higher value toys.
The end stage behaviors are the dog freezing (get still) and his eyes get 'hard" and glaring. If the dog is doing this, the dog has escalated his behavior from the early signs and you may hear growls. This is the dog telling you (or the other dog) that he is willing to escalate his behavior further to air snapping or biting to protect the resource. If the dog has been punished for growling previously, he may just freeze and then bite. Punishment to a dog might just be you verbally chastising him "Don't you do that." in a lowered tone.
What age was the dog when you first noticed it?

2. Once you have determined the things your dog resource guards against and what he doesn't, start with thing that are lower value that those. In a situation such as on his dog bed where he has resource guarded in the past, give your dog a lower value toy or treat that he has ever shown RG for. If needed start with an object that the dog has not interacted with before like a piece of wooden dowel or a plastic tube. Starting this process with a lower value item teaches the dog how to play the game and what he can expect later.

If there are children or mentally incapacitated adults involved, make sure they are not involved in the process and removed form the room while you train. This helps to give the dog one less thing to worry about and keeps them safe until it is time to bring them into the process.

Prepare your treats: choose medium value treats (commercial treats are fine like Rollover or Zukes) and make sure that the treats are hidden in a pocket or treat pouch out of sight before you bring them out.

Start by giving to dog the item, then back outside the dog's personal space for a few seconds. Now take a small step into your dog's space and toss a treat right near his mouth and take a step back.  Repeat for several sets of 10 repetitions until your dog is looking eagerly up at you anticipating that your moving towards him (while he has the item) means more treats are coming.

When that happens, you can decrease your distance from your dog by stepping a little closer in, toss the treat and pick up the toy, the drop it again.  Step away.  Once you can get closer you can lean in, drop the treat and lean out.  Repeat several times until again the dog is looking forward to your approach and you taking the time away.

Next step is to step in, toss a treat, and while he is eating take the toy away, toss another treat and step away.  This step teaches the dog that even when the toy is removed, something good will come in its place.

3. Next, increase in the value of the item, and repeat the process but use high value food treats (any kind of REAL meat, not commercially made treats-cooked beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey-I use heart, tongue or roast) instead. Make sure that the treats are hidden in a pocket or treat pouch out of sight before they appear.

Since you know the dog resource guards this object, you will need to add more distance away from the dog to start and progress forward much more slowly. Wait for body language that tells you he is looking forward to you moving towards him with the treat. It may take several sessions to be able to progress to where you can get close enough to touch the item. Taking it away may be many more. If it seems to e taking too long, or your dog's behavior is getting worse, not better, then consult a qualified positive trainer or veterinarian behaviorist for help. 

Take each step slowly and do many repetitions.

Repeat the 3 step process process with many different high value items.

Now repeat the process right from the start of step 3 in many different locations. You want to make sure the dog has generalized the behavior (can do it) in many different locations and situations. Always err on the side of caution. Protect children and the public when possible. Remember that you are ultimately liable for the behavior of your dog.

Periodically in your training review the process to make sure the behavior stays fresh in your dogs mind. This step is called maintenance so your dog can remember how to do it eve years after he learned it. This will help to keep you and the public safe.

Happy training!

Dealing with Resource Guarding in Service Dogs Part 1

The first time your service dog growls at you when you try to take something away from him, you feel shocked and affronted. Your first impulse may be to strike out.
"But this is my SERVICE DOG! He should be able to trusted in any situation."

Well, I have news for you: dogs are dogs, just like people are people. If someone tries to take something away from you that you feel is yours and is valuable to you, then you will defend your right to keep it. At the very least, you would verbally warn them that what they are doing may lead to confrontation. If someone walked up, even a family member, and just grabbed your cell phone from your hands, you would be upset, wouldn't you? You'd certainly voice your complaint. That is what your dog is doing. He is saying "This is mine, I value it highly and I don't trust you to not take it away from me." The only thing wrong with this behavior in dogs is how humans interpret the situation.

Resource Guarding is a Normal Behavior for Dogs
Resource Guarding  is a normal behavior for dogs, though not a desirable in a service dog since in public, despite laws that protect your dog from being interfered with while working, the reality is that people don't think before interacting with service dogs and they don't read patches on vests etc. People of all ages may try to take things way and they may let their dogs approach your dog when he is working.

Possession is 9/10 of the Law
Among dogs, possession is nine tenths of the law. What this means is that if a high value object (food or toy) is in the personal space of a dog, (whether or not the object is in his mouth) that object is considered his. It would be rude if another dog or person came over and removed it without invitation or permission. In many cases a fight would start.

While some dogs will allow another dog to take it, it is because they know the other dog wants the object more than they do and to keep the peace, they will not fight for it.  These are usually highly socialized dogs who spend time with other functionally socialized dogs.

Dogs, unless not properly socialized or they have been traumatized by another dog or their handlers, in general, are willing to do what it takes to keep the peace between themselves and other beings that have been socialized with. Fighting is risky and they made end up injured or dead, so that is why dogs have developed a complex communication system to avoid conflict.

Each dog has different things that are important to him (might be food, toy or even their person) and depending on the value, he may be willing to give it up to keep the peace. But every dog has his limit. If that object happens to be the human equivalent of cell phone or iPad, then he might not want to give it up as easily and may let the other dog (or person) know by growling.

Unfortunately, not all humans have learned to speak dog as a second language and may feel it is their right to take anything away from a dog, even if it is not their dog.  And even if the dog has warned them not to. Kids may run up and take an object away, or stick their hands between your service dog and a treat you are feeding him. Humans exhibit all sorts of odd behaviors in the presence of dogs. So, since you are taking your dog into public places as a service dog, you need to teach him that strangers may take valuable things away from him, and that is fine for them to do that!

Preventing Resource Guarding

Start Young
As soon as your pup comes home from the breeder at 8-9 weeks, give him a few days to settle in, then start trading items with him. To take a valued toy, move in slowly but be relaxed, gently ask for the toy, take it away and at the same time present an equivalent value toy or treat in return. Praise!

When the pup is reliably trading, you can ask for the toy, then delay presenting the other toy until after he has given you the one he has. That way, the second toy is a reward for giving up the first one, rather than a bribe.  Mark (or click) the instant the chooses to give it up, praise and give him the other toy.

Repeat the process with higher value things like bones. Using two equal value items helps at first. On the last trade of the training session, give the pup something higher value like a treat that he can consume and you keep the toy.

If he won't give up the toy willingly, the toy, switch your approach. Let him play with the toy he has and ignore him until he has dropped the toy and walked away from it. Pick up the high value toy. Next, use a lower value toy, get some high value treats and present the toy to him. Click a soft clicker and present a food or equivalent toy reward to him as soon as he drops the toy. Repeat until he's reliably dropping the toy when he hears the clicker. Now start adding your 'drop it' cue just before you click. After several sessions of this, try just saying the drop it cue, wait for the drop it, the click and reward. Now he's started to understand the cue means to drop it.
This also starts the process of the pup learning to give an object for a retrieve (so you get two benefits for one behavior).

Increase the value of the toy or bones etc. until you are able to cue drop it and your dog willingly drops it. For most dogs raw bones or a plate of human food are the highest value to them.

If your pup has come home from the breeder doing resource guarding, you need to dig into the recent history. Do the parents do this (an indication of genetics)? What type of handling did the breeder use that may have fostered this lack of trust in the pups? Were the pups handled enough in an appropriate manner? Did their kids tease the pups with food or toys? Learning he history will help you figure out the right way of approaching it and how long it might take to overcome, especially if it is an established habitat at that tender age.

Living with Other Dogs
If your dog lives with another dog, ensure that behavior around feeding times is calm. Start by feeding one in a crate or behind a baby gate, before feeding them at opposite ends of the room before moving them incrementally closer together. Both dogs need to learn the presence of another dog near his food or toys is a good thing. Treats appear when the other dog is near.  When the other dog moves away, the treats stop coming.

Teaching your dogs to take turns with other dogs for doing behaviors and getting rewarded for doing so is a great way to approach it. Make sure to generalize it to many other dogs, known and unknown to your dog.

In Public
Avoid feeding your dog in public. If you are away from home, take your dog to a private location to feed him. Put him in your car, a crate or behind a locked door. This will help to keep his stress level low and prevent strange dogs and people from approaching while he eats. 

Teach your dog to take turns while training with other dogs. That way, when food is used for training, he will know that his turn is coming and he will be able to earn his the food ad will not get anxious about it.

Choose the value of toys used in public carefully. Avoid using bones, pigs ears, stuffed Kongs etc that other dogs may find valuable unless your dog is in a location with no other dogs. If you are trying to increase duration of your dog settling in public, use hand-delivered treats instead so you can control when, how and to whom they are delivered.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What is the Difference Between a Service Dog, Assistance Dog, Therapy Dog and Emotional Support Dog?

What is a Service Dog? 
A service dog is a broader category of dogs that includes any dogs that are specially trained to work in public with their handlers. A police dog, search and rescue dog and assistance dog are all considered 'service dogs'

What is an Assistance Dog?
An assistance dog is a type of service dog is a dog that is considered a medical device for a person with a disability. The dog is specially trained for public access and 
specifically trained to do tasks that mitigate the disability of their one handler. Service dogs are legally allowed to have public access with the person with the disability to any places where the general public is allowed. 

In some areas (such as BC and Alberta , Canada), the dog will have a tag affixed to his collar issued by the government body that states the dog is certified for public access. Business owners are allowed to ask 1. if the dog is a service dog and if, so, 2. to see the collar tag. 

In the US, members of the public are allowed to ask two questions to verify if the dog is a service dog. 1. Do you have disabilities? 2. If so, what tasks is the dog trained to do?

What is a Therapy Dog?
A therapy dog is a dog that goes into care homes, hospitals, schools and other places where there are groups of people. They are trained to allow unfamiliar people to physically interact with them in order to give them comfort. Some dogs assist people that have been traumatized by events such as mass shootings, bombings etc.  A dog may be specially trained by an organization to do so, or it may be an individual’s dog who takes the dog into a facility. These dogs are not given any special public access rights except for the individual facilities that give their approval. 

What is an Emotional Support Dog? 
A dog that by it’s presence, calms and comforts the person. Such a dog usually works with only one person. No specific task training is done. Public access is not given to these animals except by special approval in specific facilities. In some areas, the dogs are allowed by housing laws. A letter from a Doctor, Psychiatrist, Social worker or other mental health care professional is usually requested as proof that the dog qualifies as an emotional support dog. Some airlines will allow emotional support animals to accompany their person. In BC, they are not recognized at any level. In the US, they are allowed by the tenancy act of some states. Check the local laws. O

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Income Tax Deductions for US Residents with a Trained Service Dog

Income Tax time is coming up in a  few months.

Here is a great article that indicates that all costs incurred for obtaining, maintaining and training a service or assistance dog are eligible as deductions as long as you are under the care of a medical practitioner and your disability warrants a service dog in the US. That includes equipment too.

There is no mention that the dog must be supplied or trained by a program.

Note: laws are different in different countries so check with your own countries income tax office before  making deductions.

Here is a link to an article about deductions in Canada:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Back Foot Awareness for Service Dogs

Back Foot Awareness for Service Dogs

Service dogs need to be aware of their body and where it is in space. In particular, many need to be taught that they have a back end. These dogs often just focus on their froth end and the back end just follows along. It comes in handy in getting their back legs and tail out of the way of doors, wheels and other things they encounter on a daily basis. It is handy to untangle themselves in the leash and to step over low items carefully. The skill is particularly helpful if you have a dog that is large and lacks an understand of his strength and size. By learning that they have a back end and where it is in space, they can also turn with you more easily.

Here is a video that give you some ideas of what you can teach him to help him learn he has a back end and how to move it efficiently.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Desensitizing Service Dogs to Loud Sounds

Desensitizing Service Dogs to Loud Sounds

Over the various holidays in the year when frozen turkeys are on sale, we purchase several of them and process them one by one (thaw, cut into meal portions, then refreeze) for the dogs meals (we feed raw).

For the last few years, we have been taking frozen backbones etc and chopping them with hatchet on wood stumps and letting the dogs watch from the inside of the garage with the door open. I used a baby gate or Xpen keep them safely inside but allow them to watch. When we are done, they get to clean up the bits (a real version of "Sprinkles ™" game. LOL!) They made the association with the chopping sounds to food quickly.

More recently, I had less space to freeze so I ended up laying meat on smaller metal pans (muffin tins, aluminum pans etc) to prevent them from freezing into a solid mass. Of course they still stick to the pan and somewhat together so when it comes time to break them apart and place the pieces into bags, I have to drop them on the garage floor. (Warning, the tins do get dented when they are dropped, so get a set of used ones from a second hand store purchased for this purpose).

I started by letting the dogs in the backyard with the back door open and they could watch the (yummy) food being processed just inside the garage door.  This time the open barrier kept them out. I started with the big garage door open to diffuse the sound at first, then later kept it closed. Before each time I dropped the meat tray, I started with a warning cue like "Ready" and then dropped it.

I stopped often at first and let the dogs come clean up the bits before sending them out and dropping again. Over several sessions, the dogs went from being about 30 feet away in the yard to standing almost over me as I drop the trays.

The trick is to go slow, start the dog at a distance that you think they won't react at all (enlist a helper if you need to to walk the dog far enough away), and give the dog frequent breaks. If they show any mild signs of fear, close the door to muffle the sound. This would be a good start for conditioning them to loud sounds they may encounter in life. After a sound, feed a handful of great treats to maintain and generalize the positive association.

The important steps in the process are:
1. Starting the dog at a distance with quieter sounds, then let her approach as they are comfortable.
2. Give her a warning sound before the loud sound occurs.
3. Pair the sound with a high value food or game the dog really enjoys.
4. Give the dog choice if or not she moves closer to the sound.
5. Add the distance back in when increasing the loudness of the sound and let her approach on her own again.
6. Take frequent breaks and do training sessions several days apart to allow the dog to recover if you made the changes too fast.

Do NOT let anyone drop a metal object right behind your dog on a hdd surface for any reason, even when testing as part of an assessment. This is especially important when the dog is in any of the fear periods (7-12 weeks, 6 mos, 11-14 mos, and 2 years). This is unfair to a dog and may actually cause the dog to become fearful of sudden sounds when it was previously not. It is better to make the associations slowly. Ideally, give the dog a warning if at all possible. In real life there are many more things we can predict than those we cannot. The sense of control is important in helping the dogs to deal with loud sounds.

Fireworks, once they have start, or if you know they are scheduled are somewhat predictable, especially if you can see them in the distance as you can see the flare before they bang.
Common unpredictable ones are car backfiring (becoming less common), cars and motorcycles with no mufflers. Thunder is somewhat predictable as it usually occurs after lightening.

Both dogs tend towards some sound sensitivity so if it works for them, it should work for most other dogs.

What other sounds can you predict and not predict?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Retail Business and Accommodation Provider Rights wrt Service Dogs in BC

If you are a retail, small business, transportation provider or accommodation provider in BC, you will want to know the following:

Province of BC Certified service dogs are allowed to accompany their handler in all places that the general public can access. If the public cannot access it, then the person with the service dog cannot either. Employment situations may vary and is a separate issue.

1. Ask if this is a service dog
2. Ask to see the collar tag issued only by the Province of BC, Ministry of Justice Dept (The handler must be able to provide the tag on the spot just like they would a driver's licence. If they cannot, you can ask them to go get it and come back.) Note: they do not have to have any sort of other vest, harness or collar to identify the dog as a service dog.

Service dogs in training are only protected by law IF the handler is a certified trainer with a Assistance Dog International (ADI) accredited program or International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) accredited trainer and carries a BC issued certificate. OR if they have received prior permission in writing from the owner or manager of the premises to train.

Be aware there are hundreds of places online where people can purchase a "certification" that is not legitimate. The people may honestly believe their dog is certified. These certifications do not require an in-person test so the dog is an unknown.

You can ask the handler to remove a certified service dog if:
the dog is not under control of the handler
a dog is disruptive (barking, growling etc)
a dog has defecated or urinated on your premises (keep in mind the dogs do make occasional mistakes and the handler should be prepared to clean it up)
off leash (unless the leash legitimately interferes with the dog's ability to do his job-there are very few situations where this would occur according to BC laws)

A service dog handler may be asked to leave if:
s/he is behaving inappropriately (just as any other patron can be) or causing a disruption

Accommodation provider (short or long term):
cannot charge a pet deposit or cleaning fee for certified service dogs.
cannot evict a person from a rental or request them to remove a dog who is a certified service dog, certified service dog in training or a certified retired service dog living with them.

What to do if a member of a service dog team is creating a disturbance:
  • Verify if they are or are not a BC certified team   If so, record their certificate number and general description of the team (person's sex, hair colour, height of person, sex and breed of dog etc.)
  • If they are not BC certified and do not have special permission to have access your site or facility, ask the team to leave.
  • If the problem is the dog, ask the person to remove the dog, but the person can come back in without the dog
  • If the problem is the person, ask the person to leave and the dog goes with them
If a legitimate BC Certified service dog is disallowed access, there is up to a $3000 fine to the retailer/service provider.

Additional notes:
1. There are service dog teams that are not yet certified that may be legitimate teams in training but are owner-training (usually with the support of a private trainer). They would have asked for permission in writing from the owner or manager of the premises to be allowed to train on site. 
If a team can prove they have a prescription from a BC Doctor for a service dog, that the dog has specific training as a service dog (proof of training and logged hours) and that the dog has been  specifically trained to do tasks that mitigate their disability, then they are legitimate. This can only be determined after the fact and it is up to the person with the dog to prove it. When the team is ready for assessment for public access, they can apply for BC Certification through the Ministry of Justice. 


2. Visitors from outside of BC without a BC certification card are not recognized as service dogs. However, if they have been trained and have another certification by an ADI or IGDF accredited school, then you may choose to waive this law but it is at your own risk if your establishment service food etc.

The BC Human Rights Tribunal hears public access disputes and settles them. If found guilty of faking a service dog, a handler is subject up to a $3000 fine.

Note: The above is not legal information. Please refer to or talk to for the most accurate and current information.

Emotional support dogs (provide only emotional support for one indivdual and not trained to do tasks) or therapy dogs (a dog generally visits groups of people such as the St John Ambulance Therapy dogs) are not recognized for protection under British Columbia public access laws.

Page Updated Dec 1, 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What Does it Take to Train Your Own Service Dog?

What Does it Take to Train Your Own Service Dog?

Training your own service dog or assistance dog is a challenge for anyone, never mind a person with disabilities. You need to know what you are getting into before you commit to the process.

Below is some basic information about service dogs to consider before you decide. 

Requirements for a dog to be recognized as a Service Dog 
by the International Association for Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP):

Dog must have a MINIMUM of 120 hours over a 6 month period or more (average dogs take 18 months or 540 hours)
AT LEAST 30 of those hours must be in public places

The Assistance Dog International (ADI) recommends a minimum of 3 tasks specially trained to mitigate disabilities.

The average working life of a service dog is 5 to 7 years.

CHARACTERISTICS of a Successful Service Dog Trainer

Here are some characteristics of a service dog trainer. Do you have enough of these to be able to succeed? Are you willing and able to develop some or find human helpers who can help you with them while you train your service dog? 
  • Flexible in your date to complete service dog training. If you have a disease that periodically debilitates you, will need to allow yourself to time to recover. That means your dog gets a break and your goals will be set back. 
  • Ability to follow printed directions and problem solve as you follow them.
  • Good record keeping habits. Documentation of training both general, public access and task specific is required for service dogs. 
  • Dedicated to the task with a strong work ethic, motivated and patience. Training a service dog doesn’t happen overnight. There can be setbacks and major hurdles to cross with the dog. 
  • Ability to work to your own with little supervision. Because of the nature of the internet, videotaping etc, you will not have a supervisor peering over your shoulder or pushing you. You will need to schedule regular training sessions with your dog and post videos and questions at least 3 times a week. You will need to set goals and follow them. You will need to find ways to get you and your dog to public places to practice for public access. 
  • Have a genuine love for and respect of animals. Your dog is a live being and will have down days and well as days when he exhibits brilliance. This love will help you empathize when you need to take a look at life from his or her perspective. Empathy and understanding goes far to building a strong relationship.
  • Have had daily access to animals both as a child and an adult. This helps by giving you some background to draw form to create realistic expectations of what life is like living with a dog. A service dog is a more intense experience than a pet as they expose you to many more issues. 
  • Have been involved in puppy raising in the past. This will give you a more realistic expectation of what it is like to live with a puppy, the stages of development and what they can learn at what age. A 6 months old dog is still very much a puppy. Even an 18 month old dog is still an adolescent. Most dogs are not fully physically or mentally mature until at least 24 months. A realistic time frame for most dogs to be ready for public access is by 3 years unless you are a dedicated professional trainer.
  • Lifelong Learner. Training a service dog involves learning many things you never thought you would need to know or do. You need to have curiosity, a need to seek out information as it applies to you. There is always more to know. Being resistant to new information will impede your progress. 
  • Resourceful. Can you source objects needed for training? Can you rustle up and human helper at times? 
  • Source of income. Raising a puppy to a service dog and maintaining pne to retirement is not a cheap endeavor. 
  • Can you be assertive?   "Assertiveness is standing up for your right to be treated fairly. It is expressing your opinions, needs, and feelings, without ignoring or hurting the opinions, needs, and feelings of others."  Do you mind asking for permission to access public areas for your service dog while he is in training? Even after training is complete, bringing a service dog into public place where dogs are not normally allowed may increase the number of conflictual interactions. Can you explain your rights without blowing up? Can you politely tell the public your dog is working. Educating others about public access laws is a constant job.
  • Ability to maintain credibility in the service dog world and in public. Appearances are important. The gear you use on your dog tells much about your relationship and degree of training. Grooming is important. Is your dog clean and odor free when in public?Making sure your knowledge of dogs, their health and laws is current is key. Using language that is appropriate for the audience and demonstrating knowledge of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA-US only), Human Rights Laws and state/provincial laws goes a long way to build credibility. Carrying a business card with weblinks and phone numbers can be useful.
  • Ability to be unbiased about issues such as when your service dog in training dog be spayed or neutered. Spaying/neutering too young can negatively affect their health, growth and over all behavior. Spaying/neutering too late can increase chances of health issues such as cancers. 
  • No previous history of violence towards animals or people. If you have this, you at putting your potential service dog at risk both from you and by being removed from your service. This also risks a charge by the SPCA and other animal protection services. 
  • Ability to meet the social, mental and exercise needs of a dog. Whether you do this yourself or have a family member or hire  another person to do this, your dog’s needs must be met.
  • Are willing and able to use food to train your dog (kibble, commercial treats, real meat etc). Meals will be given twice a day minus the amount needed for training to keep your dog at a good weight.  Toys, games, personal interaction and natural reinforces are also used in later stages of training.
  • Have realistic expectations of the lifestyle with a service dog, and the potential for failure even after they are trained. Many owner-trained dogs are removed from training due to fear, aggression, health issues that develop or inability to cope with the ongoing stress of being a service dog. Consider what would you do with a failed dog or a retired dog? Rehome him? Keep him and train another? Look at your disabilities, income, housing etc and consider how those would affect your decision.
  • Meet all ethical considerations as outlined by assistance dogs international (ADI)
  • Are able to work with your dog 1-2 hours per day 5 days a week for minimum 6 mos (120 to 540 hours)  (most people need 18 to 24 months) and beyond as well for more in-depth training.
  • Able to get out of your home to socialize and train your dog on a regular basis. 
  • Have access to transport with dog to public places (vehicle, public transit etc).

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Service Dog with Gas is more than Just Embarassing!

A Service Dog with Gas is more than Just Embarrassing! 

Has your service dog ever passed gas in a public place while working. It's embarrassing isn't it?
Well, for the dog there could be much more going on.

If it happens occasionally, you may want to look more closely at what special treats you are feeding your dog. Sure, after Thanksgiving or Christmas when cooked turkey with (fatty) gravy is on the menu, we expect it. Spicy foods, and any of the legumes-beans, peas, lentils, soybeans can cause gas (like in humans).

Food Causes:

If it is happening more often than that, you need to take a closer look at what you are feeding your dog on a more regular basis. As a dog providing professional medical assistance to you, it is important to find out the cause and eliminate the gas.

Gas forms when a dog eats a food product that his intestines do not have the appropriate bacteria to digest.

Some common food culprits are cheap grain-based dog treats. Many years ago I had a daxie who could clear the room when she farted, and she did it often! As soon as we removed the Milkbones from her diet, the flatulence stopped. Whenever a neighbor sneaked her a treat, within hours we were complaining about her gas.

When introducing new foods to your dog (such as in changing foods), it helps if you start by feeding very small amounts intermittently, then slowly increase the amount. This allows the dog's intestines to grow the type of bacteria needed to digest the new food. Giving too much food too fast causes gas and diarrhea because there isn't enough of the specific bacteria available in the gut to digest the new food.

Some dogs don't digest grain products very well in general so try some grain-free dog food.

Unfermented milk products may also cause this if the dog does not tolerate milk well. In general, cheese and yogurt are fine for most dogs as they have undone a fermentation process already, but if you feed them and your dog has gas, try eliminating these to see if it helps.

Food allergies may also cause incomplete digestion that contributes to gas. Rule allergies out by putting your dog on an elimination diet where he is eating only one type of protein for a period of at least 2 weeks to see if there are any changes. If it stops, then the dog probably tolerates what you were feeding. If it comes back when you feed a certain protein, then you may want to remove that from your dog's diet, or at the very least, feed only every 4 days or so to minimize the allergic reaction (called a "rotational diet"where you feed at least 4 different protein sources).

Air Gulpers:

If your dog is a "hungry hippo" and gulps air while she eats, this may contribute to the production of gas. Try feeding her smaller amounts at a time. Using her food as training treats really slows the process down. If your dog needs more mental stimulation, put her food in a food puzzle. There are many kinds from Kongs to Kong Wobblers, Buster Cubes and and of the Nina Ottoson Toys. Working for their food is much more satisfying for dogs that gulp anyway.

Placing food in "slow" feeding bowls (spirals) or distributed in muffin tins (either tight side up or upside down) or even just spread out on a mud mat will slow the dog down. Another great way is to use a "Snuffle mat" or spread the kibble in a small area of the yard and let your dog find each kibble and eat it (also called "Sprinkles ™".

Remote food dispensers are a great thing to incorporate into training. "Treat N Train" or "Pet Tutor" are tools to investigate. They are also a great way to teach dogs duration, distance and to withstand distractions.


If your dog is on any medication, new or old, consider it as a possible cause. Look at the pattern. Did the gas start close to when the medication was started? Talk to your vet if the answer is yes.
One common cause is antibiotics. Antibiotics kill ALL bacteria, good and bad, so leaves your dog with difficulty digesting food. A good probiotic can help repopulate the gut with good bacteria both during and after a round of antibiotics. Ask for vet which kind will work best for the antibiotic your dog is on.

If the medication is anything other than antibiotics, the vet  may be able to give your dog an alternative that they tolerate better or at the very least, assure you that the gas will go away when the dog is finished her medication. Remember that being a service dog is stressful and your dog should not be working while on medication. A sick dog should not be exposed to the public or other dogs as he is vulnerable to infection (just like humans on antibiotics are).


If none of the above seem to be relevant, consult your vet to explore other reasons. Gas could be an indication of gastrointestinal medical problems especially if it is often companied by diarrhea, vomiting, unusual weight loss or decrease in appetite.

Monday, January 18, 2016

New BC Service Dog Laws Effective Jan 18, 2016

Have a look at the information provided by the BC Ministry of Justice.
Some key points: Read others at the link below.

The new legislation broadens the act to include other types of assistance and service dogs beyond just Seeing Eye Dogs.

There is a 40 point assessment each service dog team (dog with human) must pass. They must pass all 40 items. At that time they will be issued a collar tag.

All dogs that are certified must now wear the collar tag on his collar, much like a driver's licence.

Businesses and transportation providers just need to ask if it is a service dog and if so, request to see the tag on the dog's collar.  If no collar tag is present, they can choose to ask the patron to remove the dog.

Owners/handlers of fraudulent dogs are subject to a fine of up to $3000 and a violation ticket.

It is unlawful to interfere with or harm a certified service dog (under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act).

Dogs from out of province (visitors and new residents) need to have their dogs validated (be tested for and pass all the 40 assessment points) to be issued a collar tag and have access to public places where pet dogs are not allowed.

Service Dogs-in-training (SDit) with ADI and IGDF organizations will be allowed public access for training. Owner-trained will not.

Retired Service Dogs will be granted Retired Service Dog Certification so they may remain with their handlers. This is important for Landlord and Tenancy Act where only certified service dogs are given access to non-pet rentals and strata bylaws.

Emotional Support Animals are not recognized by the province of BC for tenancy rights. Therapy Dogs have no public access other than what pet dogs have and are given specific access permission only by the facilities that use them.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pottying a Service Dog

Pottying a Service Dog 

This is an important but often overlooked topic for service dogs.

It is usually understood that a service dog needs to be 'house trained" in all public places but there is so much more to it than that. The dog needs to have both urinating and defecating under stimulus control so you can control where and when he will go. That is, you give a cue and he responds by going where you are and he will not go in places when you do not cue it, even if there are other cues like scent of other dogs there. You need to know how often your dog typically 'goes' in a typical day when given a choice, based on your daily schedule of drinking, feeding, exercise, rest and play and how long he can comfortably 'hold it' before it becomes uncomfortable.

If you have mobility issues, you have a flare up of your medical condition that limits your ability to get him outside or live or work in a challenging situation like an apartment where access to outdoors is limited by stairs or elevators, you need to have alternative options to make sure your dog's biological needs are met quickly and easily.

A Foundation Behavior:

Put the Potty Behaviour on Cue:
Most dogs catch on to this quite quickly, if you do it the same way each time.
Take your dog out to "the spot" on leash when you know he has to go. Use his drinking, feeding and physical activity to help you learn when he needs to go. If he is asking to go out, use that time as well.
When you get to the spot, simply stop and anchor yourself so he has a limited area to move about in. Let him sniff around and just when you see him making the decision to potty, give the cue. Wait until he is finished before marking, praising and rewarding him. Avoid praising while he is ring as this may interrupt the stream. We want a complete empty the first time if possible. If you feel he hasn't emptied the first time, walk around for a few minutes and come back and repeat the cue.
After several reps of this, you can give the cue just before you anticipate he will go. as you arrive at the location.
Some dogs need to walk a bit before they will go so make sure to add that into your routine. Others will go almost immediately once you cue the behaviour.

Choosing Cues:
Using a different cue for urination and defecation gives you better control over it. It helps to choose ones that sound very different (start with a different consonant and have a different vowel sound) as well. Some people like to use cues that are not obvious to other people overhearing the cues. "Get Busy" and "Stretch" are commonly used but you can use anything that makes sense to you. You can also teach a hand signal if you want a silent cue.

Different Surfaces:
Every service dog needs to be able to potty on a wide variety of outdoor surfaces. Examples include but are not limited to grass, dirt, sand, gravel, mulch, pavement, asphalt. This is taught after you have the potty cue well-trained on at least one surface like grass, mulch or gravel. Chose a surface that has a slight slope so the urine will drain away or have a plastic bag with you to remove the poop.

Take the dog to a new surface when you know he has to 'go' and give the cue. It helps if the new area has already been 'seeded' by another dog (they have already urinated or defected on it)  You can also use a piece of newspaper with a bit of urine soaked on it. Fade the 'seed' once your dog catches on. If the surface is impermeable, make sure to pour water on the area afterward to dilute the door and assist it in draining away and not leave a stain. As part of your training plan, take him to new surfaces unlit he can reliably go on any surface you ask him to.

Where to Potty:
Your dog should  also be able to be directed where to potty in potty boxes, ditches, on storm drains and smaller grates. This is taught by having a dedicated area where you take your dog. A wood frame made of 2 by 4's and about 4 feet square is suitable for most dogs. Fill it with sand, dirt or grass. Clean up after each time your dog uses it and pour or hose water over the to dilute the smell.
Over time you ca shrink the size of the area where you ask your dog to go. Build smaller squares in other areas of your yard to practice this. 3x3, 2x2 etc. This helps your dog to learn to 'aim'.

Tip 1: Potty your dog at home before you start a local walk. Walking briskly and avoiding areas where other dogs potty will help him to learn that you want him to only potty when and where you ask him to.  If you reinforce him after passing known places where other dogs potty, that will help to cement the concept of not potting on his own for him.

Tip 2: Potty your dog at home before you leave and note good locations to potty him on your regular travels. This potty before you leave also doubles as a clue that he is about to start working (especially if the car or bus ride is not too long).

Tip 3: In new locations, keep an eye open for convenient but out of the way places before you enter a building. That way, you will know where to go in case of an emergency.

Options for Limited Outdoor Access

If you go for periods where you cannot get out with your dog and family or friends are unable to help you, hiring a dog walker to come in will help.

For indoor purposes, there are many options: do be aware that anyone who has immunity issues should not be handling urine or poop. Wear rubber gloves as needed.

  • potty box outdoors on balcony (there are commercial ones available with astro turf or you can buy astroturf by the foot and place it on a raised grate in a large plastic container or boot mat that drains to one side. Click here to see an example:                                                                                          Here's another example:  
  • use a potty box indoors in a walk-in closet or bathroom Here's how to make one. A deeper more sturdy tray that the one shown would prevent spillage. Raise the whole thing on a 3 inch platform and place a bowl under one corner. Lift the opposite corner to drain urine into the bowl.

  • Here is another example: this one is ideal for smaller dogs, is simple to clean and uses kitty litter.
  • teach the dog to go on a potty pad. For large dogs these can be bulky to carry and dispose of, especially for large dogs (they are like a baby diaper).
  • teach your dog to pee on grates in the floor. Carry a collapsible container to wash it down. (Works well for airports when you don't have time to get outdoors between planes)
  • cue the dog to use a walk-in shower. Grips on the bottom prevent dog from slipping. Turn on the shower after use to prevent build up of ammonia smell. Use a cleaner periodically. 
  • if you provide a ramp to get in and out, and grips on the bottom of the tub, teach your dog to go in a bathtub. Keep a bucket nearby to rinse it down after use. Use a cleaner periodically and certainly before human family embers use it. 
  • If you and your dog are experienced with shaping behaviours, teach your dog to use a toilet. (You both need extensive experience with shaping before attempting this). For small dogs, you can purchase a toilet seat that is for children and has a smaller hole.                                                     Start with the 4'x4'potty box as above. Next decrease the size of the box until it is the size of the seat. Generalize the dog potting on hard surfaces like pavement. Then teach the dog to stand on a platform the size of the toilet seat (again shrinking it down). Next cut a hole in the middle of the platform or use a real toilet seat (check second hand stores) and cue the dog to potty there.  Now raise the toilet seat up in few inch increments until it is toilet seat height and the dog can easily get on it and balance on either side. Desensitize the dog to the sound of a stream of water being poured into the toilet (or a bowl of water)  from a height of about 18 inches. Now put it all together, cue the dog to get up on the seat and give the potty cue. Here is a cocker spaniel using the toilet. This is a chained behaviour.