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. http://www.thisiswhyimbroke.com/the-best-cat-litter-box-ever-made?utm_source=fbpage&utm_medium=referral
  • 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. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Donna Hill is "Hero to the Animals Award! 2016" recipient

I was nominated for and won a "Hero to the Animals Award! 2016"
The award is a "Pet Tutor" food delivery system from Smart Animals Training Systems LLC.
Now I can make videos showing different ways to use a Pet Tutor to train assistance dogs as well as other animals. Check out their Facebook page here:

Friday, January 1, 2016

Impulse Control for Service Dogs

Impulse Control for Service Dogs

Impulse Control is the life skill that most affects every dog, not just service dogs. One of the most easily done techniques to help a dog learn impulse control is also the one most people don't use!

Choose a behaviour you want to get under control.
Then set the situation up so the dog will do the behaviour.
Add a cue to it. Practice pairing the cue until the dog can do the behaviour at the start of a new training session on a new day. This gives you an indication the dog is starting to understand what behaviour the cue initiates.

At this point is where the technique comes in.
Now start reinforcing the periods between when you aren't cuing the behaviour. The dog needs to be reinforced for NOT doing the behaviour as well as for doing the behaviour.
At first, mark and reinforce before the dog has a chance to do the behaviour. That interrupts the pattern of just giving you the behaviour whether you cue it or not.
Next, add tiny increments of time between when you cue the previous behaviour and when you reinforce the dog for not doing the behaviour you are cuing.

Then as the dog starts catching on, mix up the order of how often you cue and reinforce the uncured behaviour between.

Videotape the training sessions so you can see when you are missing opportunities to reinforce between the cued behaviours. You have to be quick in the beginning. If you know exactly what you are looking for, then you will b better prepared to catch it.

Additional Information:
Most people assume that if they only reinforce the behaviours they want, that is what they will get.
That is true for many behaviours and in general for dogs that are not that creative, pushy or eager to be shaped. In dogs that lack impulse control this approach alone doesn't work.

If the absence of the behaviour (when the dog is not doing the behaviour) is reinforced, the absence of it will also become stronger. Think about that for a second. Both the cued behaviour and time between the cues need to be reinforced so the dog understands that it's not just the behaviour that is being reinforced like in a shaping session. This approach will stop the dog from offering the behaviour fast and furious and give you control over when and where it is done.

This approach is especially important when an unwanted behaviour has been heavily reinforced in the past (inadvertently or otherwise) or is a self-reinforcing behaviour. A self-reinforcing behaviour is one that feels good for the dog to do. Some examples, jumping up, barking, spinning, demanding attention etc.

Here is one example. Lucy used to jump up whenever I carried her food dish to where she eats. Even after I put it on cue, she continued to jump up unpredictably. It wasn't until I added the last piece of reinforcing her for not doing the behaviour as we moved along that she finally caught on to the full picture.

Here is Part 2 of my video on stimulus control showing how I use this.

This approach an be used to teach your service dog not to greet other people while working: as a person approaches, interrupt the behavior with rewarding the dog for facing you. (no eye contact is necessary.) Overtime add duration before you reinforcing for not greeting. Then use your cue (Go say Hi" cue to allow the dog to greet them.

The same can be used for greeting other dogs.

What behaviours does your service dog do she you don't want him to? Share your ideas below.
Try this approach and report back how it works for you.