Tag Archives: leash

New Experiences

Hi Friends –

I wasn’t planning on following up Mom’s PSA Monday post but there seems to be popular demand. There is also a point of view that I’d like to acknowledge.

There seems to be some concern on both sides of the argument over where I spend my time with my family. I am here to say first, Thank You. The mere fact that any of you have taken time to either agree or disagree with us in writing means that we are reaching readers and causing them to feel strongly one way or another and this is wonderful. You’ve heard Mom and Dad say how narcissistic this blog feels at times. Often one reason it feels that way because many of the responses we get to posts are positive and one sided. Don’t get me wrong I love to hear how wonderful I’m doing with Dad and how much everyone loves me, but there are times Mom and Dad need to know that people do not agree with them. We all appreciate opposing viewpoints, so don’t be afraid to speak up. I like to hear everyone.  Mom and Dad may not agree with me here for their own reasons, and that’s OK too.

Some of you may know that many still consider me TOO young to be a service dog. I appreciate that point of view. What some may not know is that my experience is different than many.  You see, I was not raised the same as many service dogs. Several service groups, especially the ones we’re used to in the Northeast, use what is known as “puppy raisers.” These volunteers take home pups that are about eight weeks old and raise them until they are 14 to 16 months old. During that time they do participate in training and socialization activities, but their formal training does not begin until that 14 to 16 month old milestone. In my case I was born, raised and trained on the same farm. My training started as soon as I began weening from my birth mother. It is a very intense program. Dad says it’s much like how he received his early education, at a technical high school, where you are held to a very high standard and essentially must learn your job alongside the standard growth and socialization of a “normal” high school. It is very intense but for some of us that is what we need to allow us to thrive. Others may chose a more traditional route of high school then college and that isn’t wrong either, just a different path. So, when you say I’m not ready I thank you, but respectfully disagree. I have, in fact, graduated my program and do have my service dog registration numbers and diploma to prove it. This does not mean that I don’t have room to grow; I do.  Does this mean that when you get your first job you don’t continue to learn and grow, or are you expected to know all the intricacies of your environment? My guess would be you are given the freedom to learn as you go. That being said, let’s move on to this past weekend and my perspective.

Many of our dear readers know that we love Salem, Massachusetts. We love the small New England town feel of it (even if you have to look for it at times) and we love Halloween so this is “one stop shopping” for Dad. Dad has been there in October several times and he loves the craziness that descends on the town.  You may not be aware that my Dad is the king of OK, (…it’s a rubbish title) and he has decided that failure is not something to be afraid of. He says he tried that in the past and it brought too much fear along with it. I don’t know if that makes me fortunate or not, but it is now a fact of my life. Mom and Dad knew what we were in for when we made the plan to go there. We did not count on the number of people present, but we think it’s great that either the economy is getting better or more people need to escape for awhile. What this did was provide training opportunities for all of us. There is no way for us to know that drums, bagpipes, rushing crowds, barking dogs or kids with balls throws me off my game a bit if I never experience them. Learning this would never happen if we just went to Dad’s office and stayed home all the time on the weekend. If this is all we did I’d be bored and so would Dad. History has taught us that the more opportunities I have to learn the better I am the next time in a similar situation. Dad may not be a perfect trainer but he is willing to try and fail, so that we can succeed in the future. As long as he is willing to take me out I am proud to stand by his side.

There will likely always be people who say that I’m not trained well enough to be in a certain place at a certain time (Editor’s Note: As a mom I feel I am allowed to say this, but most children are not trained well enough to be at certain places either, including our own sometimes, but that doesn’t stop parents from taking them!!) but Dad says it’s like learning to ride a bike, or drive a car, success may not come the first time or the fiftieth, but it will come. Please remember: if you believe you can’t, then you’re right. What happened the first time you thought you couldn’t and you did? I hope you learned that maybe you need to change your mind and decide that instead, you can say: “I haven’t yet” rather than “I can’t.”  I am as determined as my family to be a role model and if this means your first impression is that I’m not perfect then I invite you to see where I am this time next time next year. I challenge you all to be better next year than you are today. I will be.


written by DFS

PSA Monday: Do you have what it takes?

We had a few very INTENSE training opportunities this weekend for us and for Casper. I am sure later this week Casper will give you his own input about how things went down. We had a couple of successes and a lot of failures. It’s fine… those failures are learning experiences for us all and worth a LOT more than any success is. However, it is exhausting and frustrating for all those involved. For my part I have decided to write about what it really takes to be a service dog because I don’t think people have any clue, even people who know a lot about these dogs. I want to put us all in their place and imagine working under the same circumstances these dogs do. First I will let you know about our greatest issue this weekend so that you understand what is prompting this post.

We went to Salem, MA this weekend. We LOVE Salem! Casper has been there before during the off-season. We go a few times a year. Usually the first 2 weekends in October are busy, but manageable so we thought we would give it a shot. Of course, the gorgeous weather turned to drizzle by the time we got there and there was traffic so we were already in kind of poor spirits, but we soldiered on. As I think about the things we encountered I think it might be best to just make a list, so here we go:

1. Due to the government shut down the Visitor’s Center was closed which is where the best public bathrooms are. This means that the place was full-out port-o-johns instead. Try imagining getting a Dane in one of those. Most shops do not have restrooms for patrons and restaurants require you to purchase to use one. AND…those places are TINY and hard to navigate. We know of a large and very convenient bathroom in a cafe we frequent. The patio was full of yipping dogs that made Casper pull Dan down and then he was turned away from the restroom for not being a patron. (One a side note…as we left that day the Salem Fire Department, right next to where we were parked, let Dan and Casper use their restroom.)

2. The place always has lots of dogs. At least half of the dogs there this day were very poorly behaved and should not have been allowed in a crowd like this.

3. Kids are everywhere. You know Casper loves human puppies!

4. People are wearing weird costumes and masks.

5. Shops are TINY and hard to navigate and no one wants to step aside and let Casper get by. Yet, he is a pro in these tiny spaces and manuevers so amazingly. Never knocks something over. (Tiny hallways are different. They make him nervous and usually we can’t go down them. For example, to go to the bathroom at the back of some places.)

6. He apparently does NOT like voodoo dolls. You know, Salem in October. We found some at a shop and he would NOT move forward. Honestly, I can’t blame him.

7. Big booming drums and “here ye, here ye” makes him shake as badly as bagpipes.

8. No one seems to know (especially adults) that you DO NOT just pet someone’s dog. Service dog aside, you don’t just pet a person’s dog without asking. And you DO NOT go at their face squealing. Again, adults were doing this. Some were asked more than once as they approached to please not pet because he was working and they still advanced. One squealed and rushed at Casper (who was already nervous, see number 7) and I almost clocked him with the bag in my hand. This was the first time I actually yelled at someone for trying to pet him. We try so hard to be polite, but give me a freaking break!!!!

9. If you see a dog who is excited about another dog (service dog or not) and his owners are trying to hold him back that does not mean “he needs to learn how to do his job better.” That means that he was already beyond distracted and doing his job was next to impossible at that exact moment. You try doing you job in the same circumstances, lady!

10. All of this happened within about 40 minutes. Dan was only pulled down once and Casper was immediately back in his control. Every incident that was less than acceptable on Casper’s part was 100% brought on by people who do not think at all about anyone but themselves.

Ok, so there you go. Again, Casper will tell you more detail, but you really needed to know this for what I have to say. And remember that this was just in 40 minutes of one day. We encounter some of these things and others daily. (For example grocery story freezers and fridges make a hum that makes him nervous, but we get past that. Or he sees a squirrel or something. You never know what might happen.)

Now bear with me while we explore most of these issues from a human stand point.

We will start with the bathrooms. Size is a huge issue. Dan has to use the handicapped bathroom with Casper. And even individual bathrooms might be too small, have a narrow hallway or even have a very strong air freshener that really bothers him and he won’t go in. Imagine you are with a friend. Maybe the friend needs you help because they sprained an ankle or something, who knows. That friend wants you to squeeze in a tiny bathroom, or worse, an outhouse. Would you be happy, or even willing, to go in there? Imagine if it smelled just HORRIBLE to you. Is if fair that you be forced to go in, especially if you could just go to a better bathroom down the street or on another floor? Not really. We don’t consider this to be a training issue. It is just not fair to require him to go in a tiny smelly space when it is just a little extra work to go elsewhere. (Another thing to keep in mind when you are wishing you could take your dog everywhere with you.)

Now imagine you are working, whatever you do whether it is in an office, a school, driving a truck, and throughout the day (or even just once) someone brings a dog in. Do you stay focused on your job? I know I wouldn’t. I would be pretty excited about playing with that dog!!! Or maybe it is a mean dog. This barking nasty dog comes in and is nipping at you. Do you stay calm? Probably not. So, then why would we assume a service dog should? (But you know, so many of them learn to work despite this and Casper is better everyday. I would never learn to not get excited about a dog!!!)

So, you are concentrating on your work and a parade of screaming, giggling, running kids surrounds you. Can you concentrate?

Is there something that scares you? Clowns? Chucky? Honey BooBoo? Try working with that popping in and out unexpectedly.

You are focused, really hyper into your work because you know someone is depending on you. Maybe your job, like mine, means you are trying to troubleshoot over the phone with someone. Or maybe you are giving a presentation. Suddenly a HUGE booming starts just by your head. How well are you concentrating now? Maybe its bagpipes. In fact, let’s think about this one. A dog has super hearing. I tried to imagine what these super loud to me noises sound like to him. My best comparison is my smoke detector. I HATE that sound. Imagine it is going off and it is RIGHT NEXT TO your ear. Do you jump? Does it hurt? Can you work effectively?

What would you do if a random stranger came up and started stroking your hair or just got right in your face? Working or not you probably would not react well. Or maybe it is someone you know well and it is a wonderful shoulder massage. Are you concentrating well during that? What if that stranger in your face seems threatening to you because of their approach? Yeah. Probably not doing your work ethic a lot of good.

Now let’s add another angle to this. You chose your job. Whether you like it or not you chose to do it. A service dog did not. He is born into it. And he does it because he loves his handler.When they are working they are happy. This is what they are made to do and they love their job and their handler. If they don’t feel well they still work. If they don’t want to be somewhere they still work. They work 24-7. It is like being a mom. You just don’t get to take vacation.

Almost everything I mentioned above is eventually overcome by a service dog after they reach a certain point in training. There is usually one or two issues they will always struggle with (often seeing other dogs or getting pet) but they are still doing better than I ever would. So when someone says he needs to learn how to do his job I get mad. Really mad. He is amazing for how young he is. He still has some room to grow and so do Dan and I, but how do we learn if we stay at home and worry about whether he will be perfect. If I was worried about perfect behavior we would never take the kids anywhere. Or me for that matter!!!

And here is out boy drinking from the water fountain in the middle of Salem. He was a photo op for a LOT of tourists!

I bet we could have trained him to step on the pedal himself if given time!!!

written by LJS