Saturday, March 2, 2013

One year later

Wow, in twenty-three days, Coral and I have been together for one year! What a year! After her surgery, we kind of had to relearn each other. My service dog friends told me that it takes one year to get to a point where you are a well-oiled team and boy were they right. In the beginning,  when we were out in public, Coral was good but her focus was all over the place. I had to keep reminding her not to sniff, eat dropped food, etc. Now when we go out in public, she sticks right by me and when I stop she either stands still or lies down. I have recently added a Halti which seems to really help her focus. We have gotten compliments about how serious and well-behaved she is. Early on, when we would go to a restaurant she would "under" but periodically pop up. Now she goes under and stays for the entire meal! She's way more connected to me! She hangs out on her own accord with me. For a while, when I was changing aides I kinda slacked on training and exercise but now we do training sessions every day and two walks! We're honing our tasks. If I had one piece of advice for new service dog handlers, I would say Don't give up. The first year will be exceedingly difficult. You will probably want to return your dog at some point but if you stick with it, it will be worth it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Coral 8 weeks!

Hey everyone,

So yesterday was Coral's 8 weeks appointment to see if her leg is all healed. The doctor took x-rays of both legs and said she looks great. She can slowly start working. She unfortunately can't have free range of the house or yard or play with Bailey for another 8 weeks. But she can walk on the treadmill! Which will be awesome considering she has put on a few pounds during her recovery. She was so happy when I let her off leash at my apartment for the first time. Anyway, all in all a very good vet visit! Here's a photo of the happy girl. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Coral's Forced Vacation

In my last post I mentioned she ha d a sprained knee. Well, unfortunately that "sprained knee" turned out to be a completely torn ACL.  She had to have surgery on June 14th, and is now two weeks into an eight week strict bed rest regime, followed by another weeks of limited movement.  Considering all that, she has been an awesome patient.  Because she's so hyper, I was worried that she would not accept her bed rest and complain nonstop about her sudden inactivity.  She actually hasn't complained at all.  She's more than happy just chilling with me.  Unfortunately, I'm pretty much housebound because I have to keep a constant eye on her to ensure that she doesn't do anything to jeopardize her recovery.

That being said, she's already walking on her leg and her limp gets better everyday.  Today we had her stitches  removed, and in a few days she'll get to have her cone removed (one of her stitches got a slight infection that should be cleared up within a couple days).  She's still her happy-go-lucky self.  She definitely wants to work though.  Anyways, just wanted to give you all an update.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bailey and Coral Update

Hey All,

Whew!  It has been a very busy six weeks since I got back from camp.  Bailey is doing great and having zero jealousy issues with Coral.  In fact, he loves having another dog in the house.  He's actually somewhat better when guests come over.  He sees Coral being all friendly and thinks, "If she likes them, they can't be so bad."  He'll never be one to go up to strangers on his own, but there is definite improvement.

Coral has been a dream to work with in public.  She's as cool as a cucumber.  We can go anywhere and her general reaction is, "Eh, cool."  When I worked Bailey in public, I was constantly looking around for stuff/people that might stress him out.  I was always somewhat on edge.  With Coral, since I know she's "bomb proof", I'm completely relaxed in public with her.  Besides the every day stuff, we've been to a Dodger game, the zoo, and the second screening of my documentary.  All those busy places she took completely in stride.

We're still working on tasks.  For some reason, I had to completely re-train "get it" (her cue for picking things up and putting them in my lap).  She was doing it regularly when we were at camp, but when we got back to the west coast, she left that skill in Georgia.  Now she's a pro.  We practice door every day (her opening the door for me), and soon I think I'll just be able to roll up to the door and she'll open it.  Her brand new task is learning to push my emergency response button.  She's doing well learning that too.

Coral was on activity restriction for three weeks.  As professional as she is in public, she's a wild woman when it comes time to play.  So we think she sprained her knee sometime and never let it heal properly.  She had a slight limp every now and then, but it never went away totally.  So I took her to the vet and he said that she just sprained her knee and needed rest.  So for three weeks she was not happy because she could not run and play with Bailey.  Now she's all better.  Unfortunately, I've decided to sideline her ball playing until she's a bit older and calmer (if that ever happens), she just gets too crazy trying to get the ball.  Now she jogs on her treadmill for 15 minutes a day and is back to playing with Bailey.  She actually lost weight and is looking in tip-top shape.

One of Coral's weaknesses is food.  She has stolen berries and grapes (yes, I know grapes are poisonous for dogs and I called her vet right away).  So we quickly learned to put all food well out of reach.

Here are some videos of Coral and Bailey.  I'm so lucky to have two awesome dogs.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Introducing Coral

Hey All,

So as you might know, I applied to various organizations when Bailey washed out.  In mid-March, I went to Atlanta to a training camp to receive a service dog.  Here's my log of what happened:

First Day of camp...Jennifer (the founder of Canine Assistants) tells me that she has a specific dog in mind for me. But warns me that Coral has been crated for the whole weekend so she’s going to be a bit hyper. So I’m thinking “okay, I can handle that”. And then holy shit here comes Coral the blonde tornado of energy. She was ALL OVER THE PLACE!!! Pulling, wiggling, trying to get to other dogs and with no hesitation jumped on me within seconds. However, I was not like, “OMG this is my dog.” Instead I was like, “OMG there is no way I want this crazy dog!”
 So then they let me work with a golden retriever named Hooch who was very sweet and mellow.  I was like, “Awesome, this is exactly what I want.” But Jennifer had other plans. I was given Coral again for some one on one time in our own room. Coral had calmed down quite a bit and I noticed how much she kept “checking in” with me by looking towards me and making eye contact. However, I was still nervous about choosing her and decided to work with Hooch one more time. This time, in comparison to Coral, I noticed that he wasn’t looking at me at all. And he wasn’t very motivated to interact with me. So I decided to trust Jennifer and was paired up with what I thought was a hyper dog. During the pairing announcements they called my name and I went up to the front of the room. They put Corals leash around the handle of my chair and everyone began clapping for us. When her trainer walked away Coral lunged after her and my chair started to tip backwards. The room went from clapping and smiles to thirty people collectiveley gasping in horror all at the same time. Luckily Coral immediately sat back down and my chair fell forward to its correct place instead of tipping on my ass.
   On Wednesday when I rolled into the room she immediately started barking from her crate. And I was like, lovely, I got a barker too! But then I realized that she was barking because she was focused on me and wanted to get out to me. She was much calmer and we worked on heel and how she needed to walk along side me and proper doorway etiquette. When Jennifer was lecturing, Coral didn’t lay down next to me, but she wasn’t hyper either. However at one point she did the trained movement of “go under the table “ without me even asking her to. Awesome! At one point while  I was listening to the lecture Coral got up from under the table and kept jumping up on me. Nichole (my aide) kept redirecting her until one of the trainers came up. She asked if Coral had been out to potty lately and said she might be trying to tell me that she needed to go outside. Sure enough when I took her outside she immediately went to the bathroom. I’ve got to remember to listen to my dog.
 On Thursday we started with class lectures and then after a couple of hours we were able to get our dogs out of the crates. I took her out to go potty but she didn’t go. So we went back inside and we worked on rewarding Coral for making eye contact and looking up at me. We also worked on the “leave it” command. She picked up on it super fast. At lunch time she made a few lunges on the table for treats. but she was quickly redirected.
  After a very looooooong safety lecture it was time to go. Before we got on the bus I took her over to the grass again and she went to the bathroom. Since it was the first time she had done this leashed to me we made a big deal about it and she got tons of praise and treats. When we got back to the hotel we took her into our room and just let her sniff and explore for a few minutes. She jumped up on the bed but immediately got off when my Mom told her to. I then went to the bathroom and I thought Coral would just keep exploring, but no. She came into the bathroom and laid down until I was done. Then I went to the computer and checked my email. She again, just laid down next to me. Besides that she also automatically did “under” and went under my desk without even being asked to.
  At dinner she was pretty good but she did steal some food off my plate. But when the other dogs barked at each arriving team she always kept quiet. Awesome! After dinner I took her outside and she pooped. I then did some more work on the computer and she laid down next to me quietly.
  After that I took her out to potty one more time. Then went back to my hotel room to shower. Coral stayed in the bathroom with me and my Mom giving me her attention the whole time. Since she seems to like being under the table I decided to tie her leash to the table leg instead of the chair, for our first night together. Honestly I was nervous about how many times she might wake me up and need to go out. But despite me waking up many times to listen for her she slept through the entire night.  All the other dogs woke up during the night and needed to go to the bathroom.
    Friday morning Nichole came over at 7:30  to take Coral out to use the bathroom.  She didn’t make a peep when Nichole came in and they quickly went outside and she peed. Nichole brought her back and again tied her leash to the table leg. Coral was quiet until I got out of bed. At breakfast she didn’t do “under” but she did lay down quietly behind me. And this time she never tried to jump up and steal food.
    When we got to the farm my trainer mounted the new set up for Corals leash on my chair. It has a set of rings so that I can leash her to me easily at different lengths. I love it! Then we separated into groups with our trainers and I began working  on “heel”. Then my trainer showed me another (and much easier) way to teach “leave it”. After working on that for a while the trainer showed me “go get it” and “drop”. Basically she held out a large pill bottle and Coral took it from her hands and dropped it into my lap. Pretty cool!
   After the training session it was play time. All the dogs got to go run in the yard and play ball. My sweet girl is a total ball hog! She kept stealing the ball from everyone. She was so reluctant to give up the ball that when she went to take a drink of water she still had the ball in her mouth. Therefore she was shoving her ball filled mouth into the water. Finally realizing she was not going to be able to drink and hold the ball at the same time, she put the ball in one water bowl and drank out of the other.  When play time was over and I was taking her back inside the classroom we stopped at the water bowl. She drank violently and then did something hysterical. While drinking she began to make a digging motion in the water bowl at the same time, splashing water everywhere. Her paws were soaked and then she decided to roll around in the water on the ground, soaking her belly too. Lovely!
      At lunch she just crashed out next to me. After that I took her outside to go potty and then it was time to get on the bus and head over to my most favorite place in the world, Wal-Mart. She was a rock star! And other than having to do a few “leave its” she was amazing. This really shows me what having a happy service dog is like.
   When we got back to the hotel parking lot Coral peed. I took her up to my room and gave her a new toy, a nylabone. She LOVED it! I then checked my email and she crashed out hard. At dinner she was excellent and immediately went under the table when we sat down to eat. She never asked for food once. After dinner I did some work on my computer and she crashed out again. That night she slept all night long and I slept way better too.
   Saturday was mall day. We went to breakfast and Coral went under the table immediately. She seems to know the routine pretty well now. After breakfast we got on the bus and headed towards the mall. Only Nichole went with me for this outing. She and Coral were in the seats in front of me. Usually Coral sits with her and my mom pretty patiently. But today she had all eyes on me. She kept walking away from Nichole and trying to get back to where I was sitting. Nichole was able to coax her back to the seat with treats. But even then she was sitting upright looking over the seat at me. She wasn’t being bad she just wanted to sit by me. Eventually she settled down for the ride and watched me from under the seat instead.
    At the mall she was yet again, a rock star. Erica (her trainer) and I were working on the elevator with Coral because I want her to get on/off more quickly. Then we went out on our own. First, we went into a clothing store. She did great navigating the tightly packed aisles of clothes. Then we moved on to a larger department store where we practiced the elevator some more. She did better now that we were using some of Erica’s tips. We then went into an extremely small and narrow tea shop. There were lots of breakable things around the store but Coral was very careful navigating among them. After that I took Coral into the public restroom to practice what it will be like for when I use one in the future.
  After that we just walked around the mall. We passed by the easter bunny who was waving at us and Coral was just like “meh.” Then a kids train ride passed us by. It was pretty loud and played a conducters whistle. She again just looked at it like “eh whatever”. Then it was lunch time and we took another elevator up to the food court on the second floor. We got some lunch and then sat down to eat. Coral quickly did another “under” without being directed to. After lunch it was time to go. So we loaded up the bus and headed back to the hotel. When we got there I wanted to take her out to potty. Nichole had forgotten her back pack on the bus so she ran after the driver. While she was gone I took Coral over to the grass and she pottied without anyone there to say “better hurry” (her cue for potty). She’s so damn smart!
   I was very wiped out and all I wanted to do was chill. So I went back to my hotel room and took Coral off the leash. She chewed on her nylabone for a minute and then passed out. My mom and I took Coral out to pee when the cleaning lady came by our room. There was a fair close by and she seemed concerned about the kids riding down the huge slide. After that we chilled some more until it was time for dinner.
  Earlier in the day I had received my trainer’s permission to take Coral to one of the restaurants across the street for dinner. We walked to the restaurant, sat down inside, and although not automatic, she did go under the table with Nichole’s prompts. She did not move all through dinner. When we returned back to the hotel she went potty on the lawn outside before we headed back up stairs. She again, slept through the night.
   Sunday we had a free day. Nichole came over to my room again at 7:30 in the morning and took Coral out to pee. We then went down to breakfast but I wanted real coffee so we ate quickly and then headed over to Starbucks. We spent a little over an hour hanging out at Starbucks and chatting. Coral “undered” and stayed there for the entire time. We then walked back to the hotel. Once there we began practicing eye contact, down and picking up items and dropping them into my lap. She did well. We then took her down into one of the conference rooms and shut the doors. We took all of Coral’s gear off and then played fetch with the kong toy. OMG she loved it! And within fifteen minutes she was tired. We then met up with my Mom out on the patio for lunch. Coral went under the table and crashed out.
   After that I went back to my hotel room and watched “Being Elmo”. Coral was crashed out for most of it. We then skyped with my dad for a bit. Then I fed coral before we all headed downstairs for an early dinner. Coral slept well all night.
   Monday it was time for class again. Breakfast was good and Coral undered. When we got to the farm we split up into groups with our trainers and worked one on one. Erica showed me how Coral and I would do the light switch, the door, the handicap push button,  and go get help. We practiced tug for quite a while. Coral got so good at it that all I had to do was roll up to the door and she would open it without any verbal commands. We also learned how to teach our dogs “freeze”. This is an emergency command for a situation where Coral has gotten off leash and I want to prevent her from running after something.
  We ate lunch and then had one more practice session. And then we just hung out on the porch for a while enjoying the shade. Everyone, dogs and humans, were tired from all the work that was accomplished today. When we got back to the Hotel, Coral just crashed out. When she woke up from her nap I noticed she was slightly limping in her front left leg. It’s not horrible and she’s her happy self but tomorrow I’m having her checked out. At dinner she again went under the table automatically.
    Tuesday we had breakfast as usual and then loaded up to head over to the farm. As soon as we got there I asked the Vet Kent, Jennifer’s husband, what he thought about Coral’s limp. he checked out her left leg and everything seemed normal. Since she wasn’t limping today he felt it was just a minor ball playing injury. He prescribed some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine as a just in case. And if she is in any discomfort it will make her feel better. Unfortunately  he also said that Coral cannot play in the yard with the other dogs right now or play fetch with her Kong toy. Once class started we went straight into a long vet lecture. Coral just layed by my side through the whole thing.
    During lunch we listened to another lecture about what to expect and things to do in the first two weeks after bringing our dogs home. After that we had yet another lecture on the rules of fundraising and asking for donations. Through all of these lectures Coral was awesome! After that we met up with our trainers and they showed us proper grooming techniques for our dogs. During one of the lectures  Coral began to quietly play with her neighbor Ernie, a big fluffy white labradoodle. It was so cute. Ernie was pawing at her face and they began to play tug with the handle of his leash.
    Even though Coral didn’t ‘do much” today, I could tell she was tired. When we got back to the hotel I took her for a “naked” walk and just let her be a dog for a bit. When I was checking my email she chilled next to me while chewing on her nylabone and soon crashed out. At dinner she again went under the table and just layed there the whole time.  
    On Wednesday, most of the class went to Hardee’s and Target, but I and a few other people stayed back at the hotel for some one on one time with Jennifer.  We worked on Coral following my eye commands and working on picking what paper cup I was looking at.  She did well.  Although she didn’t potty, and in the middle of training she gave me an “Oh fuck” look and squatted and peed.  I think she was concentrating so hard on doing the right thing, that she forgot to tell me.  After that I went back to my room and worked on my computer.  Suddenly I had a can of shaving cream on my lap.  Apparently Coral thought I needed to shave.  I took her out before dinner, and then she crashed out at dinner.  
    Thursday we had a long day of last day lectures.  Coral was excellent and just stayed by me.  After lunch we played some games like “musical sit” and “fastest re-call”.  The funniest thing happened during “fastest re-call”.  It was my turn, and Jennifer took Coral to the middle of the room.  She let her go, and me and my aide started calling her.  I fully expected her to come bolting to me, but she stood there with the most confused expression, “but Jennifer wants me here.”  It was pretty funny and eventually she came.  Then we went back to the hotel to get ready for graduation.  At graduation, I got to meet her puppy raiser and got a photo album of puppy pictures of Coral.  Her raiser is a teacher, and she took Coral to her class for all her students to read to her.  Her students wrote letters to Coral, and they’re so cute.  When Coral and my name were called, we went up and received our graduation certificate.  It was awesome and powerful.  
    On Friday, Coral was not a happy camper.  Because we were flying home, I didn’t feed her breakfast and omg she was cranky.  I took her for a long walk before it was time to go to the airport.  She breezed through security, and liked being checked.  Before the flight, I used the airport relief area for SD’s.  I was a bit nervous flying five hours with a new dog, but Coral was awesome.  She mainly just slept.  As soon as we landed, we raced outside to let her potty.  She’s a remarkable dog and I’m so excited to start working with her.

Here are two videos of her:

Bailey is adjusting nicely.  He likes to play with her, but I think he's ready for her to "go home".  We're giving Bailey special attention so that he doesn't feel like he's being replaced.  He's such a sweet and good boy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bailey Update

Hey all,

I thought I would give you an update on Bailey.  He's loving not being a SD.  He's much more relaxed and joyful.  Going to the dog park is one of his favorite things ever!  He loves playing with all the other dogs.

Around people he doesn't know, he's still nervous.  He leaves the room when one of my aides comes.  Since he's not my SD, this behavior is ok.  If people leave him alone, he's ok.  He now loves my dad (remember how he used to growl?) and he will stick his head on my dad's lap and look up like, "Please pet me."  He's a very happy and spoiled dog.

Here's an album of pictures.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

Hey All,
 So I have been getting several emails asking me questions regarding Bailey and his retirement. So here’s a list of frequently asked questions that I would like to answer for all of my readers.

Why are you retiring Bailey?

I’ve decided to retire Bailey because he’s been telling me (through his body language) that he is unhappy when working in public. In addition he is uncomfortable around strangers and will sometimes growl at them in public. Also Bailey has shown me that he is generally just a shy dog. I have two aides and a physical therapist whom Bailey has seen 2-3 times a week for the past five months. He still will not go up to them and anxiously keeps a distance from them. These people are no longer strangers and he still has issues with them. At fifteen months old this is not something that Bailey will just grow out of. This is a part of his personality. Just like with humans, some dogs are just more social than others.

He seems so well behaved, why does it matter if he’s not comfortable in public?
Bailey is an incredibly smart dog and a super good boy. But lots of dogs are smart, that doesn’t make them a good candidate for service work alone. Service dogs must LOVE to work for you, not just in the home but in public where there are many strangers, distractions and surprises. If he’s not comfortable working in public it means he is stressed. Stressed out dogs, if pushed too far can be dangerous.

How can you tell that he doesn’t like working in public?
I can tell by Bailey’s body language. His eyes are constantly darting around anxiously. He never wags his tail. He never opens his mouth in the natural dog behavior of panting (aka smiling).  This is especially apparent when strangers come near to him (even if they are ignoring him). He immediately pulls away in fear  (and Bailey does not usually pull away from me) and basically tries to hide and kind of just “shuts down”. Another way he is telling me he is uncomfortable is he will sometimes growl at a person nearby ,but never in an aggressive way so I know it’s not a “protective” type thing.

What if Bailey stopped growling at strangers? Would you work him then?
No. Even if Bailey were to stop growling at strangers that wouldn’t mean that he was comfortable with them or happy working in public. It would simply mean he was “trained” not to growl. That would actually be dangerous because then he wouldn't be able to communicate his fear which could lead to him communicating by eventually snapping at someone.

If Bailey became more comfortable with your aides and people visiting your home, would you try to work him then?
It would be awesome if Bailey was more comfortable with the people in my home. In fact since I’ve stopped working him he has become way more relaxed with people in my home. I think this is because he is less stressed in general and now just gets be a happy pet. I know if I started working him again his stress would come back and might appear in the form of anxiety in the home or something new.
I owe it to Bailey to listen to what he’s telling me and not try to force him to do something he is just not comfortable doing.

Is Bailey unhappy now that he’s fully retired and no longer a SD?
Actually the opposite, he thinks he’s just won the lottery! He now gets to go to the dogpark and play with other dogs which is one of his favorite activities. We’ve also been mixing little treats like left over chicken into his food now that I don’t have to worry about him not paying attention to yummy smelling food at restaurants. Also he gets the same love and attention and now has a stronger bond with my parents since he is not “my” SD but the family pet.

What’s happened with bailey, is it uncommon?
Service Dogs in training are carefully screened and chosen based on their temperament, breeding and family health history. Even after this strict process the success rate for a dog to become a SD is about 40%. I knew these statistics when I began owner training so I’ve always known they’re was the possibility that Bailey wouldn’t want to work or wouldn’t turn out to be the right candidate for service work.

What does a “happy service dog” look like?
This is a happy service dog...

As you can see this SD has no problem with people and/or objects getting close to him. He looks around but it is not with anxiety more curiosity. When people approach him, he  is comfortable and inviting not shy or pulling away. I know this service dog’s owner and I know for a fact that he is very happy when working.