Friday, December 24, 2010

The Dog Van

The Dog Van

All the dogs like my van. Or, to be more specific, all of my dogs and my friends' dogs like my van.

My van is a custom Ford E-150, about eight years old now, and she was built to be comfortable for road trips. And we've taken a number of road trips in her. (Ships are panes are refered to as female so I figured my van deserves the same respect.)

On one camping trip to Big Sur in north/central California, the van carried four people and I think six dogs along with all our camping gear and food for nine days. The dogs didn't care that the van was crowded; they just loved going camping in the big woods.

On a trip to Arizona, we started at the Grand Canyon and made a big circle through the moutains of Arizona, staying in Williams, Flagstaff, Seona, Payson, and more. Dogs and people had a wonderful time.

I think the dogs like the van because she's comfortable traveling, even for them, and it only takes one road trip for a dog to learn that riding in the van equals excitement. "Ah ha! We get to go somewhere!"

When the back door of my van is open at the Kindred Spirits' dog training yard, I'm never surprised to find a dog in the back who doesn't belong to me. Kind of like, "Well, the van is here? Where are we going?" Petra's seven year old Aussie, Kona, is completely blind but he's been on roadtrips in the van and more than once he's found his way to the van and inside - all by himself. And once there, he just lies down to wait. Kona is very patient.

I have to admit, though, I like the van, too. She is eight years old now although she still looks great. There's something about an older vehicle that's comfortable and soothing - kind of like an old dog. Old dogs have been through life with you and know you, your habits, your strengths and your flaws. The van knows me, too, but in different ways. The leather cover on the steering wheel is worn and smooth in the places where my hands normally rest. The seat is molded well to me. I know where all the gadgets and buttons and switches are and can reach them without even looking. I know the sound of the engine and can instantly tell when something is wrong, or even just off a little.

I keep the van well tuned, put the best tires on her that I can, and in return, I think she shows me loyalty, too. She's never let me down and at times, I've worked her hard. My friends who travel with my laugh but when she's heavily loaded and we're going up a mountain, I don't hesitate to pat the van on her dashboard and tell her what a good van she is. After all, we all - people, dogs, and old vans - work better with praise, right?

By the way, her name is Fancy Van.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs

At Kindred Spirits Canine Education Center in Vista, CA, along with family pet training, we also provide training for both therapy dogs and for service dogs. When we get calls from dog owners seeking assitance with their dog's training, we find that many people are confused as to which is which.

An easy to remember definition is: a therapy dog is a privately owned pet who, with his owner, provides warmth and affection to other people. A service dog provides assitance to his owner.

Therapy dogs and their owners may visit nursing homes, senior centers, assisted living facilities, day care centers for seniors or for children, schools, and even libraries. On these visits, the dog's owner will be a part of the visit, initiating conversations and introducing the dog, while the dog may solicit petting, may perform tricks, or may just snuggle close to provide some affection.

Therapy dogs must be well trained, with a good understanding of the basic obedience commands. They also need to be well socialized to people of all ages, sizes, and ethnic backgrounds, as well to and of the sights, sounds and smells that they may encounter on a visit. Therapy dogs cannot jump on people, paw or scratch, or put their mouth on people. They should also be introduced to wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.

Therapy dogs should be provided access to any buildings or public transportation while going to, from and during a therapy dog visit. Therapy dogs do not, however, have unlimited access as do service dogs.

Service dogs provide assistance to their owners, but that service can vary tremendously according to the owner's individual needs. Dogs can now notify their owners of immending seizures, or of low or high blood sugar. Dogs can pick up dropped items, can provide balance assistance, can open or close doors, cupboards and drawers, and can even turn levers on the faucet. Dogs also provide assistance to those people suffering from emotional or mental disabilities, including Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Service dogs can be thought of a medical tool that must accompany the user at all times. These dogs may go anywhere their owner goes and the dog and owner may not be discriminated against because of the dog's presence.

For more on service dogs and therapy dogs. check out our podcast on the subject!


Friday, January 4, 2008

Losing Dax

My husband and I will be losing our old dog soon. Sometime this coming week, she will cross the Rainbow Bridge to be with our other dogs who have passed before her and she will then, finally, be free of the disease that has made her life uncomfortable for so long.

Dax is an Australian Shepherd. She has, in her 13 ½ years, earned obedience titles, herded sheep and geese, played in agility and was an awesome therapy dog. She was honored by the AKC's ACE program with an honorable mention for her therapy dog work.

Dax’s name comes from a Star Trek character, Jadzia Dax, who has a part of her that has lived many lives. When we first saw Dax as a baby puppy, we said she had wise eyes – she was an old soul who had been here many times before.

Dax is descended from the Australian Shepherd Club of America's first Supreme Versatility Champion and she took that to heart. She approached everything she did as a job and a job was always to be done as best it could be done. She worked hard and played hard. When she competed in obedience, she always gave 110 percent, usually won, and often won High in Trials. Dax felt that one didn’t just play ball or Frisbee, but you played it to win. Therefore she always got the ball or Frisbee first.

She also taught me a lot about dog training. She was easy to teach; she's very, very bright. But she was also easily bored - I couldn't repeat exercises for her as I had for some other dogs. So training had to new and fresh and interesting all the time so that I could keep her attention. If she got bored; I would pay for it! I like to say that smart dogs add ruffles and flourishes to their training; Dax is the one who taught me that!

With Dax, I also had to think more about my training; especially my timing. Dax’s mind was also going ninety miles an hour and if I reinforced a behavior late, she wasn’t learning what I wanted her to learn. And let me tell you, it only took one positive reinforcement for her to learn something new! Dax kept me on my toes. Dax also had a very strong sense of fairness. If she thought something was unfair, she would vocalize it – loudly!

Throughout her life, Dax challenged me. She was never an easy dog to live with; she made me think, she made me question myself, and often she made me angry. But, I love her, she loves me, and I learned a lot from her.

That said, I cannot write about Dax without mentioning her therapy dog work. I have had many certified therapy dogs and all have been wonderful in their own way. But Dax, the hard charging, difficult, intelligent dog that she is, was the best. She looked upon her therapy dog work as a job, as she looked upon everything, and as always, she gave 110 percent. She was amazingly emphathic and knew who needed her on any given day. She was calm and quiet with people who needed that from her and she was bouncing and playful from people who needed to laugh. I have written about Dax’s therapy dog experiences many times and they don’t need to be repeated here except to say, she gave her all to the people she visited and she meant it.

At the age of 6 years, Dax was diagnosed with liver disease (copper toxicosis). It is not common in Aussies but she had it. There is no cure and most Bedlington Terriers who have it die much too young. At that point, Dax's vet gave her six months to a year to live. With the co-operation of my vet and with second opinions from Dr Deb Eldredge, I changed Dax's food, reduced her stress, and began a supplement routine, including herbal remedies and anti-oxidants.

Now, seven years later at the age of 13, my husband, Paul, and I are losing Dax. Her liver has finally given up, she has severe arthritis, is incontinent, is deaf, and just plain doesn't feel good. Our warrior woman is tired of fighting - which I never thought I would say about her as she has fought so long to remain strong and healthy.

It's always hard to lose an old dog; they have been a part of our lives for a long time. But every year we had with Dax was a bonus; when she was originally diagnosed with liver disease, we knew we could lose her at any time. Although we sometimes felt bad for her because there were times during the last seven years when she didn't feel good, she wasn't ready to give up and fought long and hard to remain healthy enough to take the ball away from the younger dogs. And as long as she was still fighting, we would back her up. But now the battle has been won, she’s made her place in this world, and she's tired of fighting so it's time to let her go.

But she will leave a legacy behind her. She gave hundreds of people love and affection during her therapy dog work, especially during the time when she did hospice work. Although she never had a puppy, she has taught many puppies the rules of civilized canine life with people. In addition, she taught me much more. I’ve got to warn everyone who has crossed the Rainbow Bridge before her, though, Dax is coming! Things will never be the same!

Thanks for everything, Dax.

Welcome to the new "It's A Doggy Dog World" Blog!