Saturday, April 30, 2011

Finishing Up April

Today we received Eli's AKC Canine Partners certificate, as well as a letter from my neurologist stating his approval and support of me having a service animal to assist with my disabilities.
Eli and I spent about two hours working on some skills today. He wore his training vest on leash with me outside this morning. One of the neighborhood children startled both of us by running from around the corner of our building. Eli listened immediately when I told him he'd barked "enough" and, though shaking and a bit worked up, he sat and enjoyed a friendly petting from the boy.
We practiced "come" and "sit", which Eli's mastering, and began adding "stay" and "down". I had to use a Victoria Stillwell trick to get Eli "down". I had to coax him with a treat to crawl under my leg. Once he was in the "down" position, I used the clicker, praise, and the treat to let him know that he did what I wanted him to do.
I've begun using cues during playtime that may help with executing commands in the future. I ask him to let go of his toys by telling him "drop", and when he becomes overly excited and grabs hold of me he gets a quick "uh-uh" and a look of disapproval from me. He seems to be recognizing that. I'm doing my best to keep consistent with that approach when he gets into things he shouldn't. Eli has no idea what I'm talking about, but I do tell him "bring it" when we play with toys to let him know I would like the toy back, too.
One great point from our first weeks together is that Eli is doing a remarkable job with good behavior while inside his carrier. I am very pleased with his progress in the carrier, as this is the main way he accompanies me.
Eli had a bath. He was not happy about it. The more baths he gets, hopefully he will start to warm up to the idea of getting clean. On Monday he will be meeting our veterinarian for the first time. I can't wait to bring him because I have been trying to weigh him using my food scale. It's not working out too well.
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Friday, April 29, 2011

Onward to Stay

Eli's progress this week has been very good. He has definitely gotten used to the "sit" command. He has even executed "sit" with distractions. We're going to move on to practicing "sit" with the addition of "stay".
Eli and I have also been working on "come", both on and off leash. He certainly seems as though he's eager to perform what I am requesting of him. Being on leash is an area we need to do some work on, though.
In order to graduate from "in training", Eli must master the basic obedience skills: "Sit, Stay, Come, Down, Heel" and a dropped leash recall in a store in response to verbal commands and/or hand signals. Of course, there are also standards for manners he must display.
An assistance dog should be given a minimum of one hundred twenty hours of schooling over a period of six months or more. At least thirty hours should be devoted to outings that will prepare the dog to work obediently and unobtrusively in public places. The one hundred twenty hours of schooling includes the time invested in homework training sessions between obedience classes or lessons from an experienced dog trainer. I have researched and contacted professional trainers and am hoping to begin "basic training" on a professional level mid-May.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Official Training Vest and Badge Received

Eli and I are very excited! We received Eli's official royal blue training vest and service dog in training badge today. 8)
The training vest is lightly padded to be comfortable for Eli to wear, but it's not so cumbersome that he'll overheat.
The badge is a courtesy item, as it is against the Americans with Disabilities laws for anyone to require identification or proof for the animal, nor can the handler's disability be questioned. Presenting the badge is voluntary and is NOT required by Federal Law.
The U.S. Justice Department issued new regulations effective March 15, 2011 limiting the types of animals that qualify as service animals under the ADA and clarifies the definitions and legal entitlements between service dogs and emotional support dogs. Under these new regulations, service dogs' tasks include assisting sight-impaired persons with navigation or other tasks; alerting hearing impaired persons to the presence of people or sounds; providing non-violent protection or rescue work; pulling a wheelchair; assisting an individual during a seizure; alerting an individual to the presence of allergens; retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone; providing physical support/assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility impairments; and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.
The public is only allowed by law to make two inquiries to determine whether the animal qualifies as a service animal. 1. Is the animal required because of a disability? and 2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? However, the public may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Nor may a public accommodation require a person with a disability to pay a surcharge for a service animal, even if it applies such a surcharge for pets.
The acceptable identification for a service dog is the wearing of specially marked harnesses. There are also high behavior and training standards for all service dogs, set by the ADA. For more information, go to's-about-service-dogs
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

People Training

I must say that the very first step in puppy training is the person's commitment to it. Without determination in meeting goals, consistency with a training routine and schedule, and learning appropriate techniques and procedures, the entire training process will result in a frustrating waste of time.
As much as I am able to, I am doing as much research as possible to ensure Eli's training success. Because I have to struggle through my disabling condition, the process requires a huge amount of effort from me. Our family has always been responsible with our non-human members. Being responsible pet people requires an amount of people training. Toss in the responsibility of handling a service dog and now you have a major commitment.
Service animals deserve the same amount of love and care as family pets do, but an animal who is expected to work must maintain certain abilities and merits a different level of respect from their handlers. All animals should receive stimulation to keep their minds sharp. Stimulation and skills refinement is essential for the working dogs. Remember ~ the handler relies on their service dog and trusts that the dog will keep them safe. If we depend on a vehicle, we do inspections and routine maintenance. We must continually make sure that we can rely on that vehicle. The same is true with a service dog. Often, the handler's life is entrusted to their service dog. This means it is of tremendous importance that the service dog is in tip-top shape physically and mentally.
People training is the most difficult part of the dog training process. However, it's the most essential. All dogs look to their people for leadership and direction and a service dog absolutely must have these from their handler in order to perform effectively.
I strive to do my best with my training and I am hopeful that Eli feeds off my determination and commitment to him and is just as eager to work for me.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Elisio Bearez del Comeau

Eli's registration with AKC Canine Partners is complete!
His registered name is Elisio Bearez del Comeau with his call name being, of course, Eli. Elisio means "my God is salvation", which is why I love the name. Bearez is spanish for indicating that he is the son of Bear. Del Comeau is spanish for saying "of Comeau", or stating that he is from the Comeau family.
Being a registered AKC Canine Partner provides us the benefit of having lifetime enrollment in the AKC CAR Lost & Found Recovery Service, he will be given an AKC CAR collar tag engraved with his unique AKC number and the number for the AKC Companion Animal Recovery Lost and Found recovery service, it makes him eligible to participate in Agility, AKC Rally® and Obedience Events (such as the Canine Good Citizen program), and he'll receive a certificate and Canine Partner decal, plus many other benefits under the program.

First Week

Eli and I are getting acquainted. We're also getting settled into what we expect from each other. Eli is looking for lots of love, attention, and direction. Check! He knows I'm asking him to do things and seems to want to please.
Eli has done superbly with puppy pad training. One thing I never knew about service dogs is that they are not supposed to relieve themselves until their handler gives them the okay. Eli lets me know that he has to go and is learning that I should be with him at the puppy pad. This coming week we're going to begin going outside.
We started clicker training with the command to sit. As part of the AKC Canine Good Citizen program, Eli should be able to sit on command at my side while a friendly stranger approaches and pets him, without showing any shyness or resentment. Chihuahua's learn best when they're taught as early as possible, so while it seems premature to make these requests of a 9 week old puppy, it is extremely important that our training is underway. Eli has recognized that I am asking him to sit, but we do need to keep working on it consistently so that he will only need to be asked one time.
As far as socialization, Eli seems to have no issues. I definitely feel that he will have no problems with friendly strangers. He hasn't exhibited any signs of aggression and actually enjoys the attention he is getting. He is also welcoming to other animals.
Eli has been doing well in his carry bag. Not that he loves it, but he is beginning to accept the idea of being in it when we leave the house. I take him out of it when I am able to have him out. For example, we went to Petco and tried walking on a leash in the store. Eli didn't know what to do on a leash, so I carried him. Walking on a leash is another area we will be working on next week. Leash-walking will go hand-in-hand with outside "potty" training. However, being a Medical Alert Service Dog, Eli may not be walking on leash often. Probably only to relieve himself. The majority of the time we spend in public Eli will most likely be carried in a backpack...or frontpack. It will be easier for me to carry him than to try to hold a leash while using my cane or even my wheelchair, plus carrying my tote bag. Nonetheless, leash-walking is essential to Eli's training and an important skill for him.
The upcoming week will find us continuing to work on "sit" and beginning to work on going outside for Eli to relieve himself and introducing the leash. He seems to love getting dressed, but we are expecting his training vest to arrive this week and that will be another new experience for Eli. It won't have the pockets that his official service vest will have, but it will allow him to get used to wearing the vest and understanding that the vest means we are going out and he needs to be on his best behavior.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Service Dog In Training

Apparently, the first 16 weeks of a dog's life, who is to be a Medical Alert Service Dog, are crucial in the dog becoming in tuned to their person. As part of Eli's training, he is to be held close to my chest as much as possible. This is rather pleasant training ~ for both of us. However, it can be difficult. I would like to get one of those baby slings.
It is also a little tough to have to take Eli everywhere. This is like having an infant. He needs to get dressed in his special "Service Dog In Training" sweater, which I crocheted for him and applied the patch I was given. He gets packed into his carrier with the blanket I crocheted for him, and I have to pack up my tote bag with my purse, his leash, clicker, treats, and doggy "mess" bags (just incase). Nevermind that I need to carry these things while using my cane for balance. I was hesitant to leave the house before! Having all this in tow makes outings extra hard, but it's important in Eli's training to make sure he's with me and gets socialization.
When I say "with me", I mean WITH ME. Service dogs must be trained to never leave their handler's side. Eli's doing pretty well with this. He shows that he wants to be near me and definitely looks for me if I leave the room without him. When I take a shower, he's in the bathroom with me and he does not like that he can't see me behind the curtain. His whimpering will hopefully subside once he gets used to the idea. This is a very positive note for his training, though. And showers are not positive experiences for me. My symptoms become exacerbated by the heat.
My decision to create a blog about training Eli came about because his achievement milestones and areas that need strengthening should be journaled. Blogging is the easiest way for me to do that. I also hope this may help someone else who has the need for mighty-but-tiny helper.

So I Heard About Medical Alert Dogs...

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2008. I was thirty years old.
When I was at the care center for one of my former treatments, I heard another lady talking with the nurse about getting a canine assistant. I never really gave a service dog much thought. In fact, I had always thought that service dogs were only for the blind or deaf. This lady's symptoms were very similar to mine. She was telling the nurse that she is alone much of the time because her husband works long hours, so she was looking into getting a service dog in the event that she needed help when no one was around.
I suppose the conversation I overheard that day sparked an interest in me. Still, a service dog to me was a Golden Retriever.
In the fall of 2009, our family went together to a local clinic to get our H1N1 vaccinations. There, I saw a lady who had a Pit Bull for a service dog. I don't know what her disability is, but I immediately became intrigued by having a Pit Bull as a service dog. I am a big fan of Pit Bulls and Parolees and Pit Boss. I did some research on the matter. Still, I was unable to wrap my head around justifying my need for a canine assistant.
My husband suffered traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident in the summer of 2010, which I blogged about. My husband, my caregiver, seemed like he would never be my caregiver again. I also began thinking that perhaps he would be the one needing a service dog, or maybe we would both have to have one. Thankfully his recovery has been tremendous. It was this incident that pushed my research into having a service dog into full swing, though.
One afternoon I was crocheting and watching Dogs 101 on Animal Planet. Admittedly, I wasn't paying close attention to the show. Until I heard the narrator talking about Gunnar the Chihuahua who is a service dog to his owner who has a neurological condition. Gunnar is able to detect his owner's symptoms and alert her before something happens! Well, that seemed really handy. But, a chihuahua??
It turns out that chihuahuas are the best dogs for the type of service dog known as Medical Alert dogs. Chihuahuas are extremely smart and trainable, when the training is done early, and become very attached to their person. As such, they become sensitive to changes in their person's behavior and are very in tuned to something going wrong. A Medical Alert Service Dog is specifically trained to help mitigate an individual's medical disability. These dogs "alert" their handlers to conditions before they occur. For example, service dogs partnered with diabetic persons may be trained to detect when the handler's blood sugar becomes too high or low. In addition to this training, medical alert dogs are also often trained skills to help in their handlers' symptoms, such as bringing medications or a telephone, providing bracing and other mobility assistance, or any other number of tasks.
Interesting, huh?
So when my aunt shared pictures of her dog's litter of chihuahua puppies, I jumped at the chance to get one. I picked the runt of the litter of four boys, simply because I have a soft spot for the runts, and gave him the name "Eli". I began gathering information on service dog laws and training, and ordered some of the necessary materials I would need to start with.
On April 14, 2011, Eli came home. An eight-week old tiny bundle of loveableness, pretty hard to imagine as a "service dog".