Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Puppy Sitter Class

We talk about our puppy raisers a lot, but they aren’t the only ones who play an important role in shaping a young puppy into a successful service dog. Our puppy sitters also help prepare the dogs for life as working service dogs.

Puppy sitters are volunteers who take care of our dogs in training when their puppy raisers are unable to do so. A dog may go to a sitter while his raiser is on vacation or has a family emergency. Sometimes, our dogs go to sitters just so they can gain exposure to new routines and experiences.

Once our dogs become working service dogs, they will go home with their partner and have to adjust to a whole new daily routine. If you’ve ever had to change up your own routine, you know that it can be a little stressful at first, and it’s the same for dogs. However, we train our dogs to adapt to new situations, and spending time at a sitter’s home, where they’ll have a brand new routine, helps the dogs transition to their lives with their new partners.

The dogs’ training doesn’t stop when they go to a sitter’s home. Yesterday, we held one of our puppy sitter classes, where our sitters can learn how to work with the dogs in public. Nine sitters joined us at Bass Pro Shops in Harrisburg, PA, and each one was matched with a dog and a puppy raiser. Together, they traversed Bass Pro and the Harrisburg Mall.

Since we only had one hour, we focused on six tasks and behaviors: loose leash walking, getting in and out of the car, pottying, greetings, leave it, and entering and exiting the elevator. All of our sitters did a wonderful job working with their dog!

Loose Leash Walking
Loose leash walking is perhaps one of the most important and most difficult behaviors to teach the dogs. The dog must walk on the left side of the handler with the leash in a loose “J” shape. The handler clicks and treats the dog for attention and for being in the correct position beside them.

The dog is never allowed to pull. If they pull, the handler walks backward to give the dog “penalty yards” until the dog is in the correct position again. Then they walk forward again, clicking and treating for a loose leash.

Sometimes it can be very frustrating to work on loose leash walking, especially if the dog is excited about being with a new person or in a new place. But it’s so important to always reinforce the loose leash and never let the dog pull. Once the dog is placed with their partner, pulling on the leash could potentially injure their partner. The dog must have the self-control to walk calmly next to their partner.  

Like loose leash walking, getting in and out of the car is an exercise in self-control for the dogs.  The dog must enter the car on the cue “car” and wait to exit until given the “okay.” Why is this important? The safety of the dog may depend on having the self-control to wait for the “okay” to exit the car. The dogs will be going almost everywhere with their partners, which means they’ll be getting in and out of the car a lot. So, for example, if they’re getting out of the car at the grocery store, the dog must be able to wait for their partner to make sure it’s safe for them to get out of the car in parking lot.

Get Busy
All of our dogs potty on the cue “get busy.” (We don’t recommend saying this cue inside, even if you’re not saying it as a cue for the dog. Some of our dogs are very good at responding to these words!) Before they enter any building or public space, our dogs must be given a chance to potty, even if you know they’ve just gone half an hour ago. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all working service dogs be house trained, and service dogs can be legally asked to leave if they are not house trained. It just makes good sense to give the dog a chance to take care of business before entering a public space.

Service dogs must also be under control while out in public. However, this can be very challenging for puppies in training, especially when people want to pet the puppy. During greetings, the dog must have all four paws on the floor, and their attention should be on their handler. It may help to put the dog in a “sit” or a “down.” Feeding the dog treats (no clicks) while someone is petting the dog will also keep the dog focused on their handler instead of the person petting them.

In these situations, the handler can say no to people who want to interact with the puppy. If they just need to take care of errands and leave or if they don’t think the puppy can handle the greeting successfully, it’s perfectly fine to tell people they cannot pet the dog.

Leave It
Our dogs should be able to ignore food or other items on the floor. Even if a treat meant for the dog falls on the floor, the dog is not allowed to eat it off the floor. They get a new treat (or two) from the treat pouch.

Why is it important for the dogs to ignore food or other items on the floor? For one, if the dog is chasing down food on the floor, it means they’re not paying attention to their handler, which means the dog isn’t doing their job. Two, the dog may pull to get to the food, which could potentially harm their partner. Also, what the dog thinks is food might actually be harmful to the dog. For example, if a person’s medication fell on the floor, the dog must have the self-control to “leave it” until those meds can be picked up. So the cue “leave it” means the dog must ignore the object and never gets to go over and eat it.

“Leave it” can also be used to tell the dog to ignore people or other animals.

Many of our dogs will be riding in elevators with their handlers, so it’s important for the dog and handler to be able to enter and exit the elevator safely. You don’t want the doors to close with the dog on one side and the handler on the other! The dog must wait while the handler blocks the door with their body. Then the handler tells the dog to “go on through,” which cues the dog to enter (or exit) the elevator, turn around, and look at their handler.

Thank you to all of the sitters who joined us for class, and thank you to the puppy raisers who shared their knowledge with our sitters!

If you’d like to sign up to become a puppy sitter for Susquehanna Service Dogs, just visit our website and fill out an application. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Living Legacy of Major Wesley J. Hinkley

“Loyalty. Service. Commitment.” These are the words stamped on SSD Major Wes’s new dog tags.

SSD Major Wes (“Wes”) is named after Major Wesley J. Hinkley, who died on April 4, 2011 while serving in the U.S. Army in Baghdad, Iraq. He was a faithful husband, father, son, brother, soldier, and friend. Yesterday at Fort Indiantown Gap, we joined a group of friends, family, and fellow soldiers to recognize and celebrate Major Hinkley’s life and the future of the service dog puppy who now bears his name.

After losing her son, Karen Mojecki wanted some way to honor him. “Wes was the kind of person who, when he made a friend, he made a friend for life. He was always there. And he was always there for his men,” said Karen.

A soldier takes care of others, and because of that, Karen decided that naming a service dog after her son would be perfect. With the help of others who knew Major Hinkley, she raised money to name a puppy.

Then on Memorial Day weekend, a little black ball of fur arrived from Canine Partners for Life. It was immediately clear that SSD Major Wes had a calm, steady temperament, as if he knew what he was supposed to do and would do it.

“It was right that it was Memorial Day weekend, and that the puppy is a black lab,” said Karen. “We had a black lab when Wes was growing up.”

SSD Major Wes is now ten weeks old and is being raised in our Northeast Puppy Raising Program. He will stay with his puppy raiser until he’s 18 months old, learning the basic skills he will need as a working service dog.

“Wes is a wonderful dog,” said Pam Foreman, director of Susquehanna Service Dogs. “We’re honored to be a part of this.”

When SSD Major Wes completes his formal training, he could assist someone who uses a wheelchair, he could respond to someone having a seizure, he could alert to sounds for someone who is hearing impaired, or he could assist a child or adult with autism. He may even assist a veteran.

“We have worked with many veterans,” said Pam, “and they have told us that their life after getting their service dog is totally different.” The service dog makes a huge impact on their life.

“Wes always wanted to be in the military,” said Karen. “Not everyone gets to live their dream.”

Now, SSD Major Wes is a living legacy to Major Hinkley’s loyalty, service, and commitment. One day, SSD Major Wes may help someone else reach their dreams.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Service Dog, Emotional Support Dog, Therapy Dog: What’s the Difference?

There is often a lot of confusion about the difference between a service dog, an emotional support dog, and a therapy dog. What are the differences?

Service Dogs

A service dog is individually trained to perform tasks that are directly related to their human partner’s disability.

Service dogs (and miniature horses) are the only ones covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By law, service dogs must be allowed to accompany their partner into any establishment open to the public.

In addition to the ADA, service dogs are also covered under the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.

On Tuesday, we posted a detailed discussion about the ADAand service dogs. Please check it out for more information about service dogs and the law.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are comfort animals. They are not service dogs. Unlike service dogs that must be trained in specific tasks, emotional support animals do not need any special training. Their mere existence provides comfort and emotional support for someone with a disability.

People who have emotional support animals do not have public access and are not covered by the ADA. Their animals cannot accompany them to public places such as restaurants, movie theaters, etc., unless those establishments allow pets.

However, emotional support animals can go some places where other pet animals cannot. Both the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act include emotional support animals. Documentation from a doctor or mental health professional may be required to prove the animal is necessary.

Therapy Dogs

A therapy dog is a well-trained pet that provides comfort to others. They visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, and other places with their owners.

 However, even though they go to some public places that don’t usually allow dogs, therapy dogs and their owners do not have public access and are not covered under the ADA. They must be invited to these establishments.

Therapy dogs are not trained in specific tasks, although they usually need to meet certain behavior requirements, such as basic obedience and tolerance for sudden noises, medical or assistance equipment, and being handled by strangers, among other things.

Therapy Dogs International has lots of information about therapy dogs and certification.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

ADA: What Is a Service Dog?

For the past two days, we have been really focusing on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the rights of people who use service dogs. Kristin Hartness, the executive director of Canines for Disabled Kids, has been visiting us and sharing her expertise to help us learn more effective ways to work with schools, children with service dogs, and their families.

During our discussions with Kristin, one point that kept cropping up is the need to clearly differentiate a service dog from an emotional support dog. One can accompany their human partner anywhere the public is allowed to go. The other cannot. In this blog post, we’ll talk about what a service dog is.

So what is a service animal?

There has been a lot of media about fake service dogs and businesses denying access to people with service dogs. Let’s take a look at what the ADA says about service animals.

According to the ADA’s 2010 revised requirements, service animals are “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” (Miniature horses are also covered under the ADA, although they need to meet slightly different requirements than service dogs do.)

The tasks that the dog performs must be directly related to the person’s disability. For example, a service dog could provide deep pressure to calm someone with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or retrieve items for someone in a wheelchair or with mobility issues. Both of these examples are tasks that are directly related to a person’s disability.

However, retrieving items for someone with full mobility would not be considered a task under the ADA because it doesn’t directly relate to that person’s disability.

Note that the definition of service animals just says “dogs.” It doesn’t specify breed. Although we use Labrador retrievers and some golden retrievers in our program, other breeds can certainly be trained to be service dogs.

What other requirements are there?

Service dogs must always be under the control of their partner. Typically, service dogs are connected to their partner with a leash, although some dogs may be tethered to their partner. On the rare occasions when the dog must work off leash, the dog must still be controlled through voice or hand signals.

Where can a service dog go?

A person with a service dog has public access, which means the dog can accompany that person anywhere where the public is normally allowed to go. So can they go into restaurants, even though health codes exclude animals from the premises? Absolutely. Can service dogs go into grocery stores? Yes, they can. Movie theaters? Of course. An examination room at the hospital? Definitely.

The important thing, though, is that when service dogs are in these public places, they are working. So if they accompany their partner to a beach that normally doesn’t allow dogs, they must be working, just as if they were accompanying their partner to the bank or grocery store.

There are a few places where service dogs are not allowed to go without an invitation. For example, service dogs could be excluded from hospital operating rooms, churches, and some government buildings. Now, some of our service dogs in training do accompany their puppy raisers to church, but the raisers needed to get permission from that church first.

Can businesses ask questions about a service dog?

Not all public places understand the ADA as it pertains to service dogs, and people with service dogs are often questioned when they enter.

There are only two questions that staff at businesses or other establishments can ask:

Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
What work or task was the dog trained to do?

They can’t ask questions about the person’s disability, nor can they ask for a demonstration of the task. They also can’t require someone to produce documentation to certify that the dog is a service animal.

Can a service dog be asked to leave?

A person with a service dog must be allowed access, but the person can be asked to remove their service dog if the dog is out of control and the person doesn’t do anything to control their dog and/or if the dog is not housebroken. For example, if a person is in a restaurant with their service dog and the dog continuously barks or growls, the person can be asked to remove their dog. Of course, the person must be allowed back in without their service dog.

Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons to exclude a person with a service dog. In a restaurant, for example, a service dog team cannot be seated way in the back, far away from the other diners, because one of the patrons has a fear of dogs or is allergic.

Can businesses charge fees for service dogs?

No, a person with a service dog cannot be charged an extra fee just because they use a service dog. If a fee, such as an admission fee for a zoo, is required, the person with a service dog must be charged the same amount as other patrons without service animals.

Since service dogs are not pets, businesses such as hotels and taxi services also cannot charge any pet fees or deny service because the dog will shed. Basically, the person cannot be charged extra fees because their service dog exists.

A person with a service dog may choose to carry a lint roller or bring a blanket to cover the bed (if the dog sleeps in bed with them) or the seat of a taxi or rental car. But they are not required to do this.

However, if the service dog causes any damage, the person can be charged for it. The dog is the person’s responsibility.

Who is responsible for a service dog?

Like we just said, a service dog is the responsibility of their human partner. The staff at a business are not required to provide any sort of care for a service dog. Even if staff offer to bring your dog a bowl of water, they’re not required to and it may be best for the person to take care of getting their own dog’s water. And of course, no one but the service dog’s human partner should feed the dog.

Where can you find the service dog laws?

We highly recommend reading the Department of Justice’s document about the ADA’s revised requirements for service animals. If you have a service dog, you may want to even print it and carry it with you. Although you’re not required to do this by law, it can make things much easier if someone questions your right to enter a business with your service dog.