Friday, January 29, 2010
These can be stories about service dogs, fire or police dogs, or even a family pet. All dogs have the ability to change someone's life.
You'll be able to submit your true story throughout February. Starting in March, you'll be able to vote for your favorite story. The story with the most votes will win $1,000!
Visit www.dogschangelives.org to submit your story.
(Note: Please protect your privacy in these stories. If you want to use people's names, please use first names only, especially if they're a minor. You may also change names within the story to protect privacy.)
Who can submit a story?
Anyone can submit a story, but you must be at least 18 years of age and an American citizen to be eligible to win a prize.
How do you win?
Audience Choice Award
The story with the most votes by midnight on March 28 EDT will receive the $1,000 Audience Choice Award. You'll be able to vote once a day for your favorite story from March 1 through 28.
The entry with the most compelling story about a dog's impact on a person's life will receive the $500 Life-Changer Award. A panel of expert judges will determine the winner.
We will announce the winners on March 29.
Visit www.dogschangelives.org for the complete rules and to submit your story.
Spread the word! We can't wait to read your stories!
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
We would love to read your stories about how your dog has changed your life! We’re holding a contest called Dogs Change Lives, where you can share your story of how a dog has changed your life, or the life of someone you know. You could win $1000!
From February 1 to 28, you’ll be able to submit your story. Then, throughout March, you’ll be able to vote for your favorite story. The story with the most votes by midnight on March 28 will win the $1000 Audience Choice Award! There will also be a $500 Life-Changer Award for the most compelling story about how a dog has changed lives, which will be determined by a panel of expert judges.
Look for a post on Monday, February 1 with the link so you can start sharing your stories about how dogs change lives!
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
You probably noticed from his photo that Aladdin is not a little puppy. He’s actually in advanced training, although he is currently on medical leave. Aladdin and his brothers Phillip and Caspian are recovering from surgery to correct Cauda Equina Syndrome (see our Help the SSD Princes blog post to read more about these dogs and Cauda Equina Syndrome). The good news is, they’ll all be back in advanced training by March!
Aladdin is currently at home with his puppy raiser family. Cindy remembers the day SSD placed the little black lab in her arms. He looked up at her with his heart in his eyes, as if to say “I’m yours, for a little while.” He seemed to know he was on a path toward something bigger.
Over a year ago, Cindy and her family answered an ad for puppy raisers. While they were waiting for a puppy, they puppy-sat for SSD Burke and SSD Sadie. Then the Royal litter was born, and Cindy and her family were weeks away from holding little Aladdin! During those weeks, they attended a few puppy classes, where they worked with SSD Gretel and Terra. They also went on several puppy outings to learn more about clicker training and loose leash walking before the big day at the kennel when they finally held the little black lab they would be raising for the next 15-18 months.
Even though Cindy and her family were excited to raise a puppy, there were times during the early days when she wondered what she was doing. It was sometimes difficult to juggle all the classes, puppy outings, vet appointments and the daily effort to raise a puppy, on top of a large family. But it was worth it! “I’d just see those huge brown eyes looking up at me, saying ‘What will you teach me today!’” says Cindy. “I kept working harder with Aladdin, and if we missed a class or an outing because our lives got so busy, you couldn’t tell because Aladdin caught on so quickly. He never let me down.”
Aladdin seemed to like everything. Well, except for their one outing to the Bass Pro Shop. The first time Cindy and her family took him there, he pooped on the floor. It was as if he were saying, “I’m not gonna be a hunting dog!”
He seems to be meant to serve people. “Everything he does, even if I don’t ask him to do something, he does for me,” says Cindy. “He does it for love.”
Aladdin does have a playful side, though. When he was playing outside with Cindy’s daughters, he would grab them by the seat of their pants and drag them through the yard! He also has a protective side. Every time they went to the park, Aladdin would stick close to Cindy’s three-year-old daughter, watching.
When Aladdin entered advanced training at the kennel, it was both exciting and heart-breaking for Cindy and her family. Exciting because he was moving on to the next step in his training, but heart-breaking because it meant he was no longer going to spend every day with them.
Even though the dogs go to the kennel for advanced training, they still return to their puppy raiser families for the weekends. Cindy’s three-year-old daughter loves to pick up Aladdin at the kennel, but Sunday night or Monday morning inevitably bring some tears when he goes back to continue his training.
It was during one of his weekend stays that one of our trainers had to tell Cindy that Aladdin had Cauda Equina Syndrome. The nerves in his lower spine were compressed, which was very painful for him, and he needed surgery. Cindy was devastated for Aladdin. If the surgery to correct it didn’t work, he would not be able to continue training to be a service dog.
After the surgery, Cindy brought him home to recover. She tried to explain about the surgery to her three-year-old, so her daughter wouldn’t think he was back for good. Her daughter responded by calling him “Aladdin with a tear” because of the “tear in his back,” as her daughter called the stitches. Aladdin has been healing nicely, although he did have to have his stitches put back in. We’re all so glad he will be returning to advanced training in March!
While Aladdin was still in advanced training, Cindy and her family received another puppy to raise – SSD Shamrock from the Crayon litter! Shamrock is much more free-spirited than Aladdin, but the two dogs got along great right from the start. Now that Aladdin is well on his way to recovery, meal time is a challenge. Cindy has quite a time making sure that each dog gets the right food dish with the right pills! (Aladdin gets three pills to help with his recovery, and Shamrock takes vitamin C.) She labeled their bowls so that she wouldn’t accidentally mix up their food and give the dogs the wrong pills. But labeling the bowls only helped prevent human error. It didn’t take Shamrock into account!
One morning, Cindy had just finished getting the dogs’ breakfast and pills ready when Shamrock jumped up and knocked both bowls out of her hands! She dove to the ground and tried to cover up all the pills and food so that Shamrock and Aladdin wouldn’t scarf down the wrong pills! Luckily, her kids were home to help out.
Look for more of Aladdin’s adventures as he continues to recover and reenters advanced training!
Monday, January 25, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Walking around Chocolatefest can be a challenge for a service dog-in-training, especially with all sorts of treats on the tables and dropped on the floor. Despite the temptations, SSD Star gave great attention to her handler.
If you didn't have the chance to go to Chocolatefest this year, we hope you'll join us next year! Mark your calendars for chocolate on January 16, 2011.
And don't forget about the next big event - PawsAbilities! This family event for dogs and people alike is coming up on March 13-14. Look for posts about PawsAbilities each week.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Our puppy raisers are responsible for teaching the dogs many of these skills and behaviors. We have several videos of dogs-in-training demonstrating the types of skills and behaviors we require in our service dogs.
We use shaping to train our dogs to do many of the behaviors they'll use as service dogs. The goal of this particular session was to get SSD Sunshine to put her foot on the upside-down food dish. Her handler starts by clicking her for looking at the food dish, then stepping toward it, touching it with her paw, and finally, placing her foot on the food dish. If you'd like to read more about the basics of shaping, read Clicker Training: Shaping a Behavior.
Many times, service dogs will need to pick up objects that their partners may have dropped. In this video of the Take It game, the dog receives a click and a treat for going to pick up one of the objects.
Self control is extremely important in a service dog. We don't want our service dogs to give in to their every whim, sniffing and chasing after everything they find interesting. If a service dog gets distracted by everything in their environment, they won't be able to assist their partner.
One area where we train self control is at meal time with the food bowl. Watch SSD Thunder demonstrate his self control. His handler waits until he sits calmly before putting the food bowl down. Then Thunder must wait to eat until he receives the "okay" cue. We usually wait until the dogs makes eye contact with us before releasing them to eat. Even though Thunder's head is bent toward his food dish, notice how his eyes flick upward just before he gets the "okay."
These are just a few examples of the skills of a service dog. Coming next week, we'll share a post about balance dogs.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
It has been a fun and busy two weeks for SSD Nubble! He went to the SSD Northeast Division holiday party, where he made all sorts of new SSD friends! Just like most puppies, he wanted to play with the bigger dogs. He seemed a bit intimidated by SSD Slate, a puppy that's about a month older than Nubble. It may be a good balance for Nubble, however, because he tends to dominate Gizzy, his puppy raiser's family dog. But even though he was intimidated by Slate, that didn't stop him from making friends. Donna and Lindsey, his puppy raisers, think he has a crush on SSD Sky, a pretty, black, 13-month-old female. All in all, he held his own, even though he was the youngest puppy there.
This past Saturday, Nubble went with Lindsey to her winter track meet at Lebanon Valley Community College. What a well-behaved boy he was! Donna took the opportunity to work on going in and out of doors. All SSD dogs are trained to wait patiently at the door, only allowed to go through once they get the "go on through" cue. Donna found that even though he was in an unfamiliar place, Nubble had a much easier time waiting patiently at doors during the track meet than he does at home, possibly because there were no other dogs or cats around to distract him.
Monday, January 11, 2010
On Friday, we held our 12-month evaluations for the dogs that are between 11 and 13 months old. This testing allows us to see the progress the dogs have made and discover skills and behaviors the dogs still need to work on. This is also the time when we start to make decisions on whether a dog will continue in the service dog program. Some dogs' skills may be better suited to other lines or work. For example, SSD Honeycrisp (renamed Chloe) and SSD Penny (now called Jade) are now working for the UN, sniffing out explosive devices. Both of these dogs were too focused on their sense of smell to be successful service dogs; however, that same sense of smell makes them perfect for their present position with the UN.
During the 12-month temperament test, we evaluate the dogs in cued and un-cued attention, self control, recall, shaping skills, basic obedience and interactions with other dogs, animals and people. We will compare their results with their results from their 8-week evaluations, so we can see their progress.
Our dogs get evaluated throughout their lives. We test their temperament when they're eight weeks old. Our puppy raisers also complete the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire), which is a standardized evaluation of dog temperament and behavior. Puppy raisers answer questions about how the dogs typically respond to common events, situations and stimuli in the environment. The C-BARQ compares each dog's scores to the scores of other SSD dogs, as well as other dogs in a similar category. This questionnaire is especially helpful because it flags any scores that are untypical, so we know what areas a dog needs to work on. (Note: The C-BARQ is not limited to service dogs. Pet owners can take the questionnaire for their own dogs.)
On Friday, we evaluated 12 dogs from the Old West and Hill Top litters - Oakley, Cimarron, Stetson, Denver, Zane, Journey, Thunder, Star, Sky, Sunshine, Hawk and Misty Morning. We also retested one dog that had already been placed with a partner but needed a reevaluation. We will be comparing their results with the results from their 8-week tests, so we can see how they have improved. Usually, we see great improvement, thanks to our wonderful puppy raisers!
In one of our next posts this week, we will share some of the highlights of the dogs during the test.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
While puppy-in-a-box might not be a typical service dog skill, the method used to teach it is an important part of our service dogs' training. Rossi's handlers used shaping to train her to put all four feet in an ice cream carton.
When you're shaping a behavior, you're reinforcing small steps toward the behavior until you achieve the actual behavior. For example, to shape puppy-in-a-box, you would start by clicking your dog for looking at the box, then build up to touching the box with his nose, touching it with a paw, putting a paw in the box, putting two feet in the box, etc.
We generally don't talk or communicate with the dog while we're shaping a behavior. We want the dog to experiment, move around and offer different behaviors. When the dog gives a behavior that is a step toward the final behavior we're looking for, we click and treat. Often, we'll toss the treat away from the dog to reset him, so that he has to move around and offer a slightly different behavior.
When the dog is giving a behavior 80% of the time, we'll raise our standards for which behaviors get clicks. For example, instead of clicking for touching the box with a paw, we'll wait for the dog to leave his paw in the box for a few seconds, then click and treat.
We took video of Rossi demonstrating shaping at one of our puppy classes. Her handler wanted her to pick up a piece of garden hose and place it on the wooden podium. To train her to do that, he clicked and treated her for small steps along the way - looking at the hose, picking it up, walking with it, walking toward the podium and finally, putting the hose on the podium. Notice how he keeps raising his standards, making Rossi experiment until she finds a behavior that gets her a click. Also note that when Rossi seems stuck, her handler moves around to both reset her and give her hints about what he wants her to do.
Mary Hunter, a clicker trainer and blogger, has a very nice video on her Stale Cheerios blog that illustrates shaping. You can see how the dog continually experiments with behaviors until he discovers the one that earns him a click and treat.
As we refine a behavior, we add the verbal cue just before the behavior is given. Over time, we will only click for behaviors that we specifically asked for using the verbal cue.
Shaping is a very positive method of training dogs (and almost any animal), and we use it in our service dog training. It teaches the dogs to experiment with different behaviors, and it's fun for both our service dogs-in-training and our trainers and puppy raisers.