Kal turns four this month and I am happy to report that he has truly come into his own. He is a confident, well trained dog, joyful and playful, and everything we could have asked for. He has settled into his job as my Service Dog perfectly, having no problem sitting quietly under tables at restaurants, through long movies or church services, and squeezing himself under our seat for long plane rides so quietly that most of the people on the plane never know he is there. I want to thank everyone who gave so much to help make this possible. He has given me more freedom in my life than I have enjoyed in many years and I am blessed beyond words to have him. He is as loyal and loving as they come. He is my angle and my dear partner and friend.
Kal has gotten lots of attention the past few weeks.
(We altered his "Service Dog In Training" patch to have the words "Service Dog" crossed out and "Reindeer" written in above.)
Kal decided he needed to explore other possible career paths before fully committing his life to being a Service Dog. At this point, he has ruled out Pilot as an option.
The Story Behind the Picture: Yes, we photoshopped in the smoke, but he rest was real. We were staying outside of Chicago for a few days during our Epic Road Trip, when Nic came rushing in at nine o'clock at night all excited because he had found a crashed plane in a corn field a few miles away. (It was very old and had clearly been left there on purpose - its not like there were injured people laying about or anything.) He then insisted on dragging me and Kaladin out there in the dark and rain, to get the pictures he wanted and stayed up all night photoshopping in the smoke. Nic has a very German commitment to going all out to do a project just right and Kal kept looking at me like, "Mom? Is this really okay, mom? He knows its raining, right? Is this man crazy, mom?"
Kal has learned to swim! Took him to Holland Lake last week and he helped me walk a short way along the trail, providing stability and bracing as needed. When I got too tired, we found a spot where the lake was shallow for a good ways out and I discovered that my fatigue and pain are noticeably reduced when I am in the water. Took off his vest and let him play around and he learned to swim quite well. Knowing that shepherds are often not strong swimmers, I had brought a dog life-vest to help him stay afloat and get comfortable int he water. Though he was doing well without it, after a while I put it on him just to give him an edge up. I don't know if he interpreted the life-vest as a working vest and thus thought he was working now, or if he would have done this anyway, but after I put the vest on him, I ventured a little deeper out into the lake for some swimming. He would let me get about 20 feet away and then he would swim straight to me. As soon as he got to me he would herd me around and push me towards the shore, clearly trying to lead me back to land. A couple times I grabbed the handle on his vest to see what he would do, and he hauled me back to shore under his own power.
Kal has been home and working with me for two months now and he is doing great. He still wears his "In Training" stickers and a lot of people ask me how long he has to go before he is fully trained. It is my opinion that most of our first working year together will still involve training which we will need to get through before I consider him "fully trained." He is working and making a big difference in my life already, but there are still rough edges. Once in a while he still gets board and wants to be entertained during long waits and there are still a few commands we need to get figured out. We will spend the rest of the summer shaking down the training he already has, in the hopes that we can identify any holes that we need to fill. (For instance, we are discovering that we need a "back yourself under the table" command to help get him out of the isle in crowded restaurants.) And some of the commands we have planned on from the beginning need more work to be use-ready (For instance, we began the Go Get Help command, but have only had a few sessions with the trainer in perfecting that one.) By the end of the summer, we should have a good idea of exactly what still needs to be taught and improved upon, and we will send him to the trainer for some additional, intensive training. This also gives us the rest of the summer to do some more fundraising for this last part of his training.
In the mean time, Kal is working when I need him and playing when I don't, and it is wonderful to see how clearly he can switch between the two. Even at home when our other dogs are chasing balls and jumping in the pond, if I pull out his vest, he stays by my side. If I don't pull out his vest, he is the first one in the pond and the last one to tire of chasing the ball all over the ranch. And whenever I leave the ranch, he is right by my side, providing stability support for walking, help getting up and down, and an early warning system when my energy is going to crash.
Here are some pics of him from this summer - he has grown into such a handsome boy and a great partner.
As my health has perked up a bit in the past month, Kal and I have been able to get out and about some. As one of my favorite things to do is take pictures, he is always a rewarding target...
Everyone knows you aren't suppose to talk to a Service Dog, but not everyone understands why. Here's a basic primer on Service Dog Etiquette, and some of there reasons behind it all.
Most of us are aware that it is bad manners to talk to a Service Dog. But not everyone understands why.
I mean, for those of us who love dogs, this is a tough rule to follow. There is nothing cooler than a Service Dog, trained and working as a partner to give its person safety, freedom and a better life. The idea of your dog working to its full potential, side by side with you, for a real, meaningful purpose - its exciting! We want to meet that dog! We want to learn about her, talk about her, know her. We want to gush over her. Why can't we?
Many assume this rule comes from a need to respect the handler’s privacy, and, certainly, this is something we should to be sensitive to. How would you feel if strangers came up to you everywhere you went and started asking personal questions about your health? Some of us wouldn't mind, but some people certainly would. Especially if it happened every time you left the house. If nothing else, you'd start to get a little annoyed at the obstacle all that personal attention proved to getting your errands done quickly after a long day. And, especially if your disability reduces your energy - it can be exhausting to have to hold conversations with a stranger every five minutes. So, respect for the disabled person's privacy is certain something you want to be sensitive to. But its not the reason for the rule.
After all, some of us would be happy to talk to you. We are happy for the chance to spread the word about Service Dogs, or expand your understanding of our particular illness. Some of us are so proud of our dogs we would like nothing more than to tell everyone we meet all about them. But the rule about not interacting with a Service Dog is not really about privacy. Its not about the handler at all. Its about making life better for the dog.
A well trained Service Dog makes his job look easy, natural. But it's not. It takes concentration and focus for a dog to do even the most basic of Service Tasks - ignoring the other people and animals around him when he works. For a gregarious, happy, people-loving dog, this is extremely hard to do hour after hour in all different situations. Of course the dog wants to run up to you and greet you, wag her tail at you and bound around your feet. Of course the dog wants to love on you and become your best friend. If she were any normal dog, she'd be doing this. But she isn't. She has a job to do and its the most important job in the world. And for that job, she has to give up some of the things a dog most loves. She has to give up some of the joy and happiness a dog gets from being carefree and loving on everyone she meets. And that is always hard for her to do.
Being a Service Dog is very hard work. It takes extensive, intensive training for a dog to learn the needed skills, and it takes continuous concentration and focus for a dog to practice these skills when working.
Have you ever taken a dog through obedience training? How hard is it to get a young, healthy dog to walk calmly, in exactly the correct Heal position, for 10 minutes at a time, without needing to be reminded or repositioned? How about for hours at a time? Without sniffing people around him or acknowledging other dogs walking past? And how much harder would it be for your dog to succeed at this if someone was talking to it, calling it, or trying to get its attention?
And then there is the need for focus on specific tasks. A Service Dog may be needed to provide mobility support - to let his handler lean on him or brace against him. He may have been trained to provide a solid point of balance if the handler becomes unsteady, or to help the handler sink safely to the ground if she falls. That dog has to be walking in the correct position at all times to provide this support. He can’t lag behind or pull ahead. And he may need to be focused enough to pick up the subtle cues in his handler's body language so that he can anticipate if the handler becomes unsteady or starts to fall. He will need to realize a fall is coming in a split second in order to have time to brace himself under the handler so that he can help to lower her safely to the ground. A dog can't get distracted and still do this job.
A Service Dog might also be acting as a Seizure or a Diabetic Alert dog. This dog has to be able to pick up instantly on subtle changes in her person's physiology which most dogs aren't even capable of noticing. To do this, she has to be focused on her person at all times. A distracted dog might miss the changes she has to alert against.
A Service Dog doesn’t have the luxury a pet dog has of making friends with everyone she meets. She makes this sacrifice and, hopefully, lives an even richer life because of it. But it isn't an easier life. Service Dogs don't live as long as your average, care-free pet. They have more health problems, and their bodies get worn down more quickly. I think its worth it to them. A dog with a true, working dog's heart, needs a purpose to be truly fulfilled, and there is no greater purpose than that of a Service Dog. But it is a challenging life and a challenging job. Interactions from strangers while she’s working make this ten times harder still.
The prohibition against talking to a Service Dog exists for the good of the dog. It actually isn't about the handler at all. You don’t talk to a working service dog. (And to a dog, intent stares or eye contact are just as distracting as calling the dog's name.) Paying attention to her puts her in a position in which all her hard won training is pulling against her natural instinct to show love and welcome to everyone she meets. It is extremely stressful and she doesn't deserve that.
But this rule applies to the dog - not the handler. There is no reason you shouldn't talk to or interact with the handler of a fully trained Service Dog. Certainly, not everyone welcomes strangers striking up conversations out of no-where, and not everyone wants attention drawn to the most difficult aspects of their lives by someone they don't even know. So be sensitive and be respectful. But don't feel you need to ignore the PERSON with the Service Dog. Smile at them, make eye contact and strike up a conversation, if they seem open to it. No reason you shouldn't talk to them ABOUT the dog, or anything else for that matter. Its only the dog you need to ignore. The exception to this is if the dog is In Training.
You might not know that there are two different categories of Service Dogs: Fully trained Service Dogs and Service Dogs In Training. Both have the same legal access to anywhere their people need to go. Its easy to tell them apart. A fully trained Service Dog does not have to wear a Service Dog vest or any kind of identification, though most do. However, a Service Dog in Training is required by law to be wearing a vest with at least one patch which proclaims him as a Service Dog In Training. If you don't see the In Training patch somewhere on the dog, then assume it is a fully trained Service Dog.
Why does it matter? A Service Dog In Training is not just working as its handler goes about his life. The handler is actually engaged in extensive, difficult work of his own as he helps his dog learn to navigate the world in this new way. This takes as much focus from the handler as it does from the dog, and, in this case, distractions are not welcome. It would be like someone trying to hold a conversation with you while you are in the middle of a new obedience lesson with your dog - only more so, since missing any important reactions at this stage could mean the dog fails to become a successful Service Dog. Even if, to you, it just looks like the person is taking a relaxing walk, or browsing haphazardly through a store, the handler needs all his attention and focus for the training going on.
So, if you see a working Service Dog out and about in the world, look first at its vest and notice if there are any In Training patches visible. If so, leave them both alone - they're in the middle of a training session and distractions wont help. If not, then treat the person just as you would treat any person - talk or don't talk, smile or don't smile. And in either case, make sure you completely ignore the dog.
Kal was one of 8 puppies born to Jana in March of 2015. Three girls and five boys. As he approaches 2 years old, he has grown from the tiny pup I held in one palm as he was being born to a strong, stocky, 90 lb dog. I've been enjoying leafing through some of his puppy pictures and thought I would share some here. Can't believe how far he's come.