Thursday, April 28, 2016

Training Cora, the seizure assist service dog

Ryan is a husband and the father of two beautiful little girls. Seven years ago he had his first grand mal seizure. The severity of his seizure disorder is best explained by his wife:
"He suffers from numerous types of seizures but the grand-mal seizures are most debilitating. When he suffers from this type of seizure he often ends up in the emergency room because he always seems to be standing. When he falls, as the seizure begins, his head breaks his fall. He has had stitches, staples, concussions, and even a second neck surgery due to the falls."
Since there are dogs who can alert a person prior to a seizure, Ryan decided that if one could provide him with enough notice so he could sit or lay down before a seizure, he wanted in.

When Ryan contacted me to talk about training a puppy, I explained that we start the process by finding a pup with the right temperament. What does that mean? It means we're looking for a pup who has no anxiety, fear or aggression. It means a pup with moderate energy. We don't want a high energy pup who's always in motion or a lackadaisical one. It means a pup who loves people and is cool with other dogs. It means a pup who is curious and with any luck at all, food driven. Great play drive is a bonus. All of this usually translates into a dog who is very trainable, ultimately bulletproof, and with a little luck, an independent thinker and problem solver.

Ryan found his puppy. Her name is Cora. First training session: 4/8/2016.


All puppies, whether future working dogs or family pets, start the same way in their new homes. Week 1 is all about getting to know their new family and learning house manners ("no, you can't eat the rug, jump on people, or pee in the house"). Done right, potty and crate training can be accomplished that first week. Then there's tethering - the magic answer to creating a well mannered puppy, fast. Keeping a puppy on leash (attached to an adult human being) most of the time IN the house prevents things like: eliminating off in a corner somewhere, engaging inappropriately with the cat, cruising the dirty laundry for edibles, trash can diving, etc. Tethering also teaches the puppy about being on leash and collar - something she never experienced before. She learns that you weigh more than her so she's not going far when attached to you. She learns to get out of your way or she'll get stepped on. She learns that when you stop moving, she stops moving. And the human-canine bond gets off to a big, positive start. One last thing. She learns that a simple "sit" makes cool stuff happen. She gets petted, fed, played with - all kinds of positive attention. All she has to do is sit.

Ryan is doing all this and more. Every day he works with Cora. Every day the bond between them strengthens. Every day Cora provides the kind of comfort only a dog can. The first seizure Ryan had after he got the puppy was the week of April 18. She'd been with him a couple of weeks. He was home alone. When he regained consciousness after the grand mol, Cora was laying on him. That's nice, right? Oh but it's way more than that. It means that the puppy wasn't afraid of Ryan's seizure. Many dogs would have been. It's also key that she stayed with him rather than wandering off to play unattended in the house. This response by a very young puppy to a grand mol seizure is just exactly what I want to see in a dog who we hope will grow to understand Ryan's seizures so well, she'll react to them before they happen. You go, little girl!

Public access training at the mall


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Public access training at Home Depot


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Ryan teaching Cora the "under" and "down"


It is with Ryan's permission that I share his story. I hope it will help others understand the process of training one's own service. Stay tuned. We've only just begun!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Keep your dog safe as the weather gets warmer

As the weather warms, get out there with your dog and enjoy yourself. Here are a few reminders to help keep your four-legged friend safe.
  1. Don't leave your dog in the car while you run errands or do anything else. What about if you park your car in the shade? No. Why? Because heat exhaustion, heat stroke, brain damage, and death can happen. Fast. If you see a dog (or a child) in a car alone during warm months, call the police.
  2. Is your dog afraid of thunderstorms? A dog who is anxious about thunderstorms can become afraid of other things, too. How can you help your dog cope? Dr. Karen Becker sums up a variety of possible solutions in this article.  
  3. Working in your yard? Plant food, fertilizer, insecticides and lots of other things can be fatal if your dog ingests them. Some plants are also toxic. Learn more here.
  4. Does your dog have an ID tag on his collar? If he has a microchip, does the microchip provider have your current contact information, especially your cell phone number? If your dog gets lost, you are likely to get him back sooner if he has these two forms of identification.
  5. Check with your veterinarian to see if your dog should be on heartworm preventative. Heartworms - transmitted by mosquitoes - can kill your dog.
  6. Another summertime threat: fleas and ticks. You can use a commercial flea and tick product or go natural. Here are a few options to consider.
  7. Dogs can drown in swimming pools, so make sure your dog doesn't have access to a pool without your supervision.
  8. Protect your dog's paws from hot pavement and sand. If a surface is too hot for you to walk barefoot, then it's likely too hot for your dog as well. Consider booties or a product like Musher's Secret. Puppy's pads are especially susceptible to burns from hot surfaces.
  9. Dogs can get sunburned. Yours may require sunscreen, especially if he has a light colored nose, which can make him vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer. Ask your vet what to use to prevent sunburn.
  10. Hot weather can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Both are dangerous and can kill your dog. Signs of heat-related stress include heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid pulse, unsteadiness, a staggering gait, vomiting, and a deep red or purple tongue. If your dog becomes overheated, you have to start lowering his body temperature. If possible, move him into an air-conditioned car or building or at least into the shade. Apply cool (not cold) water over his body to gradually lower his core body temperature. Apply cold towels or ice packs to his head, neck, and chest only. Encourage him to drink small amounts of water or lick ice cubes. Get him to a veterinarian immediately. Learn more here.
Provide plenty of water and shade for your dog while he's enjoying the great outdoors with you. And this is a great time of year to take a pet first aid class. Also make sure you have a doggy first aid kit that goes with you everywhere you and your dog go.

Woofs, wags and happy trails!