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. 

Source: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/human-rights/guide-and-service-dog

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 http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/human-rights/guide-and-service-dog 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).