The Training of MY Service Dog

People always ask me how long it took to train my service dog. Before answering that question I always be sure to let them know that I was NOT the one to train him. Freedom Service Dogs (FSD) did all the hard work to get him ready for me and I am always sure to tell people that first.

Training of a service dog is tricky, how long it takes depends on the dog (their learning ability) and the person (the tasks required). From my understanding, FSD adopted my dog from New Mexico when he was about 8 months old. He was the only dog for one trainer so she worked with him every day, 5 days a week. He then went home with his foster mom on the weekends who reinforced his tasks before going back to work the next Monday.

Training requires consistency, really exciting treats and minimal distraction when learning a new task. Once the task is understood through action and command, distractions can be brought in to ensure commands can be followed under different circumstances.

My service dog came ready with a lot of commands, easy as sit or as complicated as helping me off of the floor. People are most excited when he picks his leash up off the floor and brings it to me, every dog should come with that one it’s very handy.

He practices all of his tasks every few weeks if they are not ones I use daily or frequently to make sure he practices them. He also has to learn one new task a year. This keeps him busy, learning and not bored. The new task he learns can be a useful command or a fun one, as long as it is something new.

I am the one that teaches him the new commands each year so it helps us both, connecting and using our brains. The first year I taught him “kisses” because his foster mom, whom I am now friends with, said he never gave kisses. I started teaching him this by using his “touch” command and touching my cheek so he would touch his nose to my cheek. Sometimes he still only gives kisses with his nose instead of a lick but I respect that, I would not want to be forced to give a kiss every time someone told me to. Once he touched his nose to my cheek I would press the button on the clicker and give him a treat. Once he had that down then I used the command “kisses” while pointing to my cheek and repeating that with the clicker and treats. Eventually the command alone was all that was needed and he knew what to do.

Some tasks are a bit more complicated to teach, for me anyhow. “Scooch” was something we say when we want him to move his butt a little but not actually get up and move his whole body (this is mostly used at bedtime because he sleeps next to me in case I need him). Since I am frequently asked if he can shake that was the task he learned this year. For us it was putting his paw in my palm, saying the command and pressing the clicker, followed by a treat. Eventually we both figured it out. He likes the easy tasks because it’s a quick way to get a treat.

For more complicated things, like some PTSD tasks, we get to work with a trainer at FSD who helps walk us through what it looks like. At the start, she took Oak and was working with him so I could just see, she was less stressed out about the situation then I was so he was able to focus completely on her. Since I live locally to Freedom it makes it really easy for me to get the extra help I need when it. (I am not getting anything from FSD for writing this blog.) I love Freedom Service Dogs, what they do and their ability and desire to help the service dog/client teams to succeed in life. They are amazing and I can never say enough good things about them.

Access to Public Places – We get left out.

Second post on access for people who need mobility assistance. The first post was more about parking and grocery stores or places like Target with access for people who require aid. This post will go over places we go where accessibility isn’t really considered.

Malls: The lack of good accessibility is troublesome for me in particular because the mall by us has an elevator in the 3 department stores and one in the middle of the mall. The elevators in the department stores are usually quite a distance from the main entrance. When I went to the mall a while back with my family they took the escalator while I searched out an elevator because I know that being with me trying to find access is a pain in the ass. Service dogs, walkers, scooters and wheelchairs cannot go up escalators or stairs (well service dogs can take stairs, but I can’t and usually I regret it if I try because I fall a lot). For me, extended periods of walking make my internal temp increase significantly and then I start to lose all feeling in my legs like they’re Jell-O. No matter where I ended up in the mall I had to walk out of my way to find an elevator.

Restaurants: Think about a place you may frequent, do they have wide isles or are the tables very close together with narrow walkways? Most of the places I go for date night have narrow walkways to accommodate more tables which makes walking in with Oak a challenge. For the most part they also have tables where the legs are not easily used for wheelchairs and service dogs. Oak has to go under the table when we eat but if the legs are too close together or have wide bases it’s hard for him to go under so he ends up closer to the isles where people walk. When were went to Ouray in June we ate a restaurant where the seating was on the roof, with no elevator, only stairs. I did it, but my body did not appreciate it one bit.

Amusement parks: I have only been to the one in Denver since being diagnosed and I know from research the bigger places like Universal and Disneyland have more things for people with mobility issues. Over all access is not a problem around the park, it becomes an issue with the rides though. Roller coasters and anything that spins are an issue for me due to my extreme vertigo from my meniere’s disease. You cannot take a service dog on rides so you have someone your with to hold them while it’s your turn so you cannot be on a ride with everyone at the same time, ever. I used a walker when we went because it was so hot that I was pretty sure Oak would be miserable trying to walk on the very hot cement. Heat poses an issue for my MS too, so I have to go with a cooling vest, cooling cloth and a portable fan. There isn’t much in the way of shady spots though so after a couple of hours when those cooling things are no longer cool and you cant have a cooler with you its just a matter of time before the heat takes a serious tole.

For those who are in wheelchairs, if they can transfer themselves or walk short distances it would probably work, but wouldn’t it be amazing if they made a cart on the roller coasters that wheelchairs can lock into? Can you imagine how much better that person would feel not having to depend on someone every time they want to go on a ride?

As a person with mobility issues I can tell you that access sucks. It’s not inclusive for most places, it’s depressing when you feel left out because of something you cannot control. No one chooses to require mobility aids, and we all want to do the same things we could do before or do the things that our friends and family can do.

I challenge you to look at the places you go with a new view of the way it’s laid out. Imagine you are in a wheelchair, would you be able to maneuver around easily or would it take other people to help you?

 

 

Wheelchairs, walkers and canes oh my…

Scooters and service dogs too to be fair. Personally I’ve used canes and walkers and obviously my service dog Oak. Let’s talk accessibility!

Ideally every building, parking lot and public space should be decked out for us mobility challenged people. That unfortunately is not the case, some places try but for the most part only the bare minimum of the law is achieved.

My previous office building, where I worked for 10 years before my MS and other health issues decided my body and brain just couldn’t do it anymore, had quite a few disability parking spots. That was great, the down side to that is that you have to get there early because those spots are shared with three buildings. The building also had buttons that open the doors for you in case you can’t. Most cases this is if you’re in a wheelchair or walker or scooter, but opening heavy doors with or without a service dog is challenging for me due to muscle atrophy and a tore biceps tendon. Going into the building the buttons worked, going out of the building it did not. I advised the maintenance workers of the problem and it worked for a week before it stopped working again.

I don’t believe that people who work in buildings or maintain them think about those of us who are forced to use other methods of transportation for our bodies.

When I go to the store I can walk with my service dog and that is great, he keeps me from falling down. As a short person I see the issues that people in wheelchairs or scooters face. What happens if the thing needed is on the top two shelves? When it happens to me I have to wait for a tall person to walk by and beg the for help. Now, imagine that you cannot reach above chest or abdomen level every time you have to go shopping.

Both schools my children attend only have FOUR disability spots for parking. I can guarantee there are more than 4 people who need those spots because when my son was in kindergarten and most of first grade I had to arrive an hour early in order to have a parking spot so I could go fetch him from line. When there is a back to school night or even at either school I have to arrive more than 30 minutes before a normal person would to ensure that I can have a spot.

The current law in the USA for ADA parking is based on how many parking spaces you have in the lot. The other law for accessibility depends on the setup of buildings, an outdoor mall requires a certain amount of spaces based on access to different outdoor buildings. An indoor mall only has to have handicap spots next to an entrance. Now, if you enter an indoor mall for example there are escalators and regular stairs but elevators are less frequent. People in wheelchairs, scooters, walkers or service dogs cannot take anything but an elevator.

Next time I will talk about some places that people don’t often think about access unless they require it or are with someone who does.