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.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bailey Update

So I know I haven’t been blogging for a while now. And I feel it it time to tell you all why. I hate to have to write this but I have noticed Bailey is not happy when he’s working outside of the home. He seems very nervous in public, even though I stopped working Bailey for six weeks and just focused on fun socializing outings. This made a huge improvement with his growling but when in public his eyes are constantly darting around on alert and he backs away from people when they get close. Also he still growls at people randomly. Although I have consulted professionals regarding this behavior, his growling is so inconsistent that we have not been able to pinpoint it to a specific trigger other than him just being generally uncomfortable around strangers.

He is able to relax and fall asleep when he is on a "down" for a long period of time, but if a person walks near to him he pops up and is on nervous alert again. At home he is great with me but not everybody else. He's incredibly smart and loves doing tasks for me, but he is still not comfortable with my two part time aides. One of which he has seen twice a week for the past four months. I haven't even been able to take him out when those aides are working. Of course we could physically get the leash on him but because I can see he is too nervous I was not working him when accompanied by those aides.

I know this is not a fear stage because looking back at his behavior and our training I realize now that he has been randomly uncomfortable with strangers since I first started working with him (ugh! Hindsight is always 20/20). Of course all dogs have “behaviors” that can be worked on. For example Bailey sometimes gets really excited when he sees other dogs. This is a behavior that with some work he can overcome. In comparison him being nervous and shy around strangers  (and even some people who aren’t strangers) and generally just unhappy while out with me in public is not a “behavior” that can be trained out of him. At this point it is a part of his personality. Just like with some people he is a shy and sensitive little guy. Training cannot change him into an outgoing, stranger loving dog.

 The most important task I want my SD to do is be a social facilitator by performing trained interactions with people (like taking stuff out of there hands when someone tries to give me something that I can't grab). And to just be friendly which encourages strangers to talk to me (everyone loves a friendly dog). I talked some more with my current trainer and the trainer Bailey lived with for 5 months. Both of them support my decision to retire Bailey as a Service Dog and are encouraging me to pursue a program dog.
One consistent thing that everybody notices about Bailey is that when he is around other dogs his confidence sky rockets. Obviously I can’t have a Service Dog that needs an additional emotional support animal (haha). But this is really comforting because I know if I get another dog in the future Bailey will be ecstatic about having a friend in the house with him.
 So you might be wondering what this means for Bailey now. Well for one thing he’s getting to do more fun activities and can now go to the dog park and just be a playful pet. He is absolutely no longer going to be my Service Dog so my family and I have been transitioning him into getting used to be a family pet and not going everywhere with me. So far he is really enjoying his new status. Of course this doesn’t mean that he will no longer be receiving any training.  All dogs regardless of working status should be stimulated with basic behavior and play training. Bailey loves his speak command and gets so excited to show off. And I will continue to work on his “dog distraction” because even as a pet he still needs to be well behaved when we’re out on walks. Once I get a program dog I will still do ”Bailey and Me” time, such as dog parks and walks just the two of us and Bailey will continue to get tons of love and attention.

Of course I really wanted Bailey to work out as my SD so this really sucks but I have always said if Bailey's not happy working then I won't make him work. He’s telling me he doesn’t want to work and I am listening. Thanks for reading.