Dear Ziesa, *so close*

Dear Ziesa, this morning you were almost (so. damn. close.) interested in going to work with me. Alas, you were completely nekkid (no collar, no harness) so I left you outside while I zipped inside to grab leash & collar. In the minute it took me to return, you had changed your mind and grunt-stomped your stocky butt back into the house.
While you may be on the slower end of becoming a service dog, you are awfully damn cute (and grunty.  and stompy).
*praying for patience*
-FoodLady

Back Dat Azz Up!

Today was a difficult day, but don’t worry ’cause even though there’s a bit of sad and difficult, there’s also some  funny. As you all know, losing Herbert (diabetic alert service dog) was one of the most devastatingly heart-breaking events of my life. I grieved, I was doing okay, one step at a time and all that crap.
Well, now it’s my busy time of year at work and I never really considered how damn memorable he was to everyone – this week alone I have been asked by over 50 well-meaning people many variations of, “where’s Herbert?” And every single time it feels like my heart is being stomped into gravel by a large boot. This morning on my first flight to St. Thomas without him, the memories of so many island-hopping flights with him became pretty overwhelming and tears just sort of rolled down my cheeks. After landing,  work was busy and after a long day where I was only asked about him 5 times, it was time for the flight home. It wasn’t as bad, but this time my friend caught me sniffling and gave me a hug (she loved him too!) and then asked me what music I was listening to, very logically assuming I was listening to a sad song about loss, etc. That question caused me to crack up laughing and I was thrilled to be able to tell her I was listening to a deeply emotional rendition of, “Back Dat Azz Up”. This will never not be funny.
So when the very nice lady who holds the arrival door open at the airport asked me where my Herbert was (thankfully my last boot stomp of the day), I filled her in on the tragedy. She eventually asked if I was going to have another service dog and I explained about Zisa and she is excited to eventually meet her.
Zisa-girl, you have some huge pawprints to fill.
Let’s get to work. ❤

Hugging Dogs

All primates have an intense need for ventral-ventral contact (hug). It is how we reassure and show love, empathy, and support. Primates are hugging machines! It feels good and it is good–for us.
The closest approximation to the biomechanics of a hug that canines do to each other is (and I hate using this word as it is painfully overused, but in this case is accurate) a dominance display.
But your dog LOVES hugs? I’m 1000% sure that your dog has absolutely come to understand that their crazy primate means all of the good and happy love things when they press their chest against them and squeeze and as such, completely accepts it from you. Heck, there are some dogs out there like our Mr. Humphrey who actively puts his head onto anyone’s shoulder and pushes his chest against whoever will let him in a rough approximation of a hug. He does that because he has figured out that people like this weird hugging thing and he *really* likes people.

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Humphrey Being Humphrey

Some dogs will put up with it; but here’s why we don’t allow children to hug dogs, not even their own: 
Teaching tiny humans that something is okay sometimes and not okay other times? That is a recipe for failure. You do not want any child to feel that hugging a dog is okay, because what if the next dog they try to hug hates it? Kids are small and what might have been a painful bruise on an adult could end up being facial disfiguring bite that requires surgery on a child. It’s not necessarily that your child should never ever ever ever ever hug your dog – your dog has been taught to accept such things and your child loves that dog and how do primates (including humans) show love? Hugging. But why would you want your children to think that hugging dogs is the proper way to behave around them? Please actively teach children not to hug dogs.
Has anyone else ever had a bad day? I have, and then someone you love does something that normally doesn’t irritate you too badly, but because your day has been horrible, you just lose it on that loved one who put the empty container back in the fridge AGAIN (or whatever it is you normally tolerate just fine)?
Yeah, dogs have bad days too. And at the end of the bad day you do not want it to be a child to be hugging a dog who has just had enough.
Love your children. Love your dogs. Please teach your children the correct way to interact with all dogs!
Love,
FoodLady

Oddest Service Dog Conversation I’ve Ever Had…

Yesterday I had the strangest conversation about service dogs that I’ve ever experienced. There are currently four dogs in my canine pack, but only one that I’m actively working towards training as a public access service dog – Zisa.

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That’s her earlier this morning, resplendent in her “puppy ugly” age of 5 months. Anyway, this person and I were discussing Zisa and the rather unfortunate fact that she may end up, like many St. Croix dogs, short-legged. She is not anywhere near corgi level of short-leg-ed-ness, but she may be just a wee bit odd looking as an adult–we shall see.
This person asked me,

“well, will she still pass as a service dog then? I think you should use Humphrey, he looks more like a service dog…”

The sad part is, my brain didn’t fully process this question until after she had left, and then I was just flummoxed. First of all, here is a Humphrey:

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And here is a Humphrey next to a 3 month-old Zisa:

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Don’t get me wrong, he is a handsome boy! He is incredibly loving and strong and had the universe been kinder, he would have been mine after spending 12 weeks with his mother and siblings growing and learning some REALLY important things (bite inhibition, appropriate play, belonging to a pack, and a whole bunch more) and then he would have received training, healthcare, good food, and a very important job. Unfortunately, the universe had it planned that he be taken too early as a puppy (I know this because the loving doofus doesn’t understand the difference between a nibble and a crunch) and then, when he grew, “too large”; spend his life chained to a fence for their “security” (wtf?!). Being a dog, he was bored and stressed and to help with that he did the only thing he could – he chewed his chain and seriously damaged his teeth. Four years later the universe realized it was being an asshole, and moved a lovely older couple in next door to Humphrey’s fence. That couple couldn’t believe the deplorable conditions this dog was kept in and went about things the best way they knew how. Even though this was not their dog, they fed him, watered him, built him a doghouse, and even walked him daily….but Humphrey, being a big dog with absolutely ZERO training, was too much for them and he was getting very good at getting off his chain and heading directly to the road to chase cars. The older couple knew it was only a matter of time until he got killed, contacted me, and eventually Humphrey got to move to FoodLady’s house (aka dog shangri-la). So now he is being treated for his horrible heartworm infection, he will be having dental surgery soon, and he has learned the joys of pack, play, and toys. He’s not too fond of baths, but he puts up with it and would really prefer to be with his people 24-7. We are working on basic obedience, but it is incredibly challenging. Dogs are incredibly smart….at being dogs. But they learn by building on what they have learned before–the younger you begin, the easier it is. Humphrey learning that the washing machine was not, in fact, trying to kill him was a HUGE step. Humphrey learning to chase a tennis ball?! Holy Crap! That was a great milestone day! I’m incredibly proud of him and his progress. However, I would never want to attempt to train him as a public access service dog! Could it be done? Yes. With great effort, stress, training, and cost….it could be done. I would never do that to him. Why? Because it wouldn’t be fair to put him through the stress of it; his health would be adversely affected and with heartworms–that stress could kill him. When Zisa learns to alert me to a low and high blood sugar – she then has to be able to do it while walking in traffic, on an airplane, and while I’m attending or even teaching a class. At the same time she has to remain impeccably behaved, confident, clean, and unwavering regardless of surroundings. That’s a hell of a lot of work!
So, what does a service dog look like? To me, it looks like years (literally years) of training. It isn’t something chosen to be done lightly or halfway and it sure as hell isn’t about what the dog “looks like”. If Zisa ends up looking like an English Mastiff set upon 4-inch legs (dear universe, please no.) but alerts like a rock star regardless of surroundings while remaining healthy and happy – then she’s a working public access service dog. If she ends up looking like the most stunningly beautiful dog ever put upon this earth but has absolutely no interest in alerting – well then, she’s a much-loved very pretty dog. 
Okie Dokie, rant over. *hugs*

Emotional Support Dog (ESD) Information

Update: Due to too many people taking under-trained and under-socialized animals on airplanes causing hazards for humans as well as the poor animals themselves, as of July 1, 2018, airlines have become more specific in their requirements for ESDs. Please research each airlines requirements before your trip. Here is where the American Airlines requirements are listed:

https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/special-assistance/service-animals.jsp

And here is a link to the forms themselves:

https://www.aa.com/content/images/travel-info/special-assistance/pets/emotional-psychiatric-service-animal-documentation-packet.pdf

Original Post:

Back in the day I knew so little about service dogs or emotional support dogs – let alone the differences between the two. It took me years, but I am now confident in my understanding of the applicability of the many laws that apply to each type of dog. The first thing I want to get across is that Emotional Support Dogs (ESDs) are NOT service dogs. There are service dogs categorized as psychiatric service dogs – but they are not the same thing.  I will write more about those in a different post. Anywhoodle, here is some stuff I have learned about ESDs – I hope it helps!


  • List of  important stuff to understand about ESDs:
    • ESD laws are only relevant for air travel and, to some extent, housing.
    • Many folks are going to really dislike you and your dog.
      • I am 100% certain that your dog is awesome and if I were traveling near you would joyfully chat about your dog. There will be a few people that will be supportive of your need for an ESD, but the universe doesn’t tend to allow those people to be seated anywhere near you on a plane. I have seen ticket agents actively search for loopholes to try to keep you off the flight. I am not trying to dissuade you, I just want anyone who is preparing to use an ESD to understand all of the requirements and to prepare yourself mentally for a certain level of loathing from people throughout the process such as airline special services, airline ticket agents, airline gate agents, flight attendants, and even other passengers.

  • List of important stuff you have to DO before you fly with an ESD: 
    • Be realistic about your dog’s behavior.
      • Socialize them, train them, take them everywhere. Don’t take a dog who has never been outside of their yard on a plane as an ESD – they will be so stressed that it could really do them harm.
    • Obtain a licensed mental health professional or a medical doctor’s letter that is dated within one year of your scheduled flight.
      • I have a good example letter listed below which includes the required wording. I recommend making it as easy on your doctor as possible and bring a copy of this letter for your doctor to use as a template – remember it must be on the doctors stationary!
    • Call the airline. a lot.
      • special note to anyone calling the airline from a VI 340 phone number – find a friend who still has a stateside number and call the airline using their phone. For some reason, when I call American Airlines using my 340 phone I get sent to a different region’s help center that is just not overly helpful.
      • write down who you spoke with, the date and the time of every contact you make with the airline. Yes, I am serious. This is very helpful information I have often needed.
      • Regardless of when you call, you will have to leave a message and a contact number so that a “special services” representative will call you back. You will then have to provide the letter to them via email or fax. They may tell you that you are “all set”; don’t believe them.
      •  48 hours before your flight – CALL THE AIRLINE. Ensure they  have a reservation for you and your ESD.
    • Take dog to the vet:
      • obtain a health certificate within 10 days of your departure flight
      • obtain a copy of your vaccination records – most especially your rabies vaccination information.

  • Travel Day
    • have your paperwork handy! This includes:
      • human travel ID
      • human ESD doctor letter
      • ESD health certificate
      • ESD vaccination records
    • comfy towel/blanket/dog bed – something that will keep him warm on the floor of the plane. It can get down to 40 degrees F on that floor for flights that are very high up. An uncomfortable dog is a dog that can’t settle down and rest.
    • you should lightly limit food/water the night before a flight – I have never had any issues not limiting food or water, but to be safe make sure they don’t get any new/strange foods that could cause gastrointestinal upset.
    • bring a “puppy pad” just in case. You know those “family bathrooms” at the airport. Those are the BEST when you are working with a SD or an ESD. You go in, lock the door, put a puppy pee pad on the floor and if they have to go – they’ll go. Don’t be shocked if your dog doesn’t go to the bathroom in a strange place, but go ahead and give them the option as well as offer them some water.
    • a harness that says “working dog” or “emotional support dog” isn’t technically necessary – however it does seem to help people understand that the dog is there to work.
    • If you have an ESD or SD, you are not allowed to sit in the emergency exit row. When you arrive at the airport, you want to ask the agent (if special services hasn’t already done this) to move you to the bulkhead. That is something that is considered normal when traveling with an animal. Additionally, you want to request pre-boarding; this is also considered normal by the airline when traveling with an animal.

ESD Medical Doctor Sample Letter

(on professional’s office letterhead)
DATE

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

(Patient’s name) is currently under my professional care for treatment for a mental illness defined by the DSM-IV. His/her mental impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities. I have prescribed an emotional support animal as part of the treatment program developed for (patient’s first name). The presence of this emotional support animal is necessary for (patient’s first name)’s mental health during air travel.

I am licensed by the state of (state) to practice (medicine/psychiatry/therapy–choose applicable). My license number is (license number).

Please allow (patient’s full name) to be accompanied by his/her emotional support animal in the cabin of the aircraft, in accordance with the Air Carrier Access Act (49 U.S.C. 41705 and 14 C.F.R. 382).

Sincerely,
(doctor’s name and title)

 

What Not To Do. :(

Okay, this was posted by a friend of a friend of a friend and for all I know this was written by Kevin Bacon–doesn’t matter, it is valid. I have seen some stupid in my time as a SD handler. Please, please, please teach your children to be respectful of working dogs.

Potentially Failed Foster

FoodLady Chronicles – Sleeping Ain’t Happening, So I Wroted edition:
Alright, so Herbert is super ill and had to be left at the doggie hospital. Unsurprisingly, I’m deeply affected and incredibly sad and by the time I got home after that I felt like a prickly ball of angry-sad. Words rather fail me to describe the emotion, but prickly ball of angry-sad is pretty close. When I have all the feels, I tend to want to be on the ground, I could try to explain this physiologically by discussing blood pressure changes, fainting, and the body protecting itself or I could try to explain it as a mystical need to ground myself; but for the purposes of this story it really doesn’t matter. I was sad, I lay down on the ground. Boyfriend, having seen the prickly angry-sad before, made sure to get the other dogs before coming over to help me up. SamSam the WünderAss did his normal “Hi lady! Hi hi hi!” before running off to sniff and pee on things (thankfully not me). Poor FosterPiper! There was a NewScaryLump in the yard! This poor dog loves to bark. She loves to bark at people walking down the road, cars going down the road, leaves falling from trees, stiff breezes, loud farts…..the poor little peanut will let! her! pack! know! should anything happen. Even SamSam the WünderAss who lives to bark at wandering people has begun to look at Piper with a “seriously? again?” expression. So, “there is a NewScaryLump! Bark!” SamSam does his HiLady! run-by, Piper gets closer, “Bark…bark?” Lady? Lump is Lady? “bark…?” FOODLUMPYLADY?!? and Piper turns into the most hilarious wiggle puppy ever, slides her derpy snoot under my face and wiggle-flips onto her side and pushes herself into a wiggle-snuggle until she successfully turns my tears into laughter.
I have never had a “failed” foster; from the challenging fosters (Betty) to the fosters I deeply adore (Petey) and all the ones in the middle of the Betty-Petey Doggie Foster Scale System I just made up right now–I found them all good homes.
Today, after giving me the gift of deep belly laughter after too many months of stress and tears, Ms. Piper Fuzzy-Britches Pantaloons (her show name, obviously) will either get the most perfect home, or she will “fail” and be mine.
[and before anyone suggests training her as my next diabetic alert service dog, her temperament is not quite right for public access work; although once we finish basic obedience I will start her on basic scent training using birch oil just for fun. If she then shows great aptitude for scenting I will scent train her for home-use diabetic alerting and maybe find her a forever home who wants/needs a home-use diabetic alert dog]
Love, Lumpy FoodLady ❤

The Best Dog Training Advice I’ve Never Read

So, I enjoy dog training. To me, it combines the fun of a hobby with the love and companionship of a dog, so it’s awesome. I don’t know that if I had to do it everyday and if I had to deal with the exhaustion of dealing with the people that came along with their dogs if I would love it as much, but that is why I don’t do it professionally. I wrote a while ago in this post about general dog training advice that my frustration with “The Dog Whisperer” is that a lot of his advice *is* good, but some of his other advice is *really* bad. I wouldn’t even have much of a problem with that if the man continued trying to learn, or at least learned new things and admitted once in a while that he has (as we all have) made mistakes.

While working with Miss Mia and attempting to introduce her into the household I made about 19 mistakes – but by golly, I learned from each and every one of them. She is now fully enmeshed in “the pack” and the current love interest of a SamSam. They spend approximately 19 hours of each day licking each other (ick!) and if they aren’t licking (ick!), they are sharing a stolen hanger with each of them chewing a side in a very “Lady & the Tramp” sort of way (awww!) or sleeping canoodled together (it really is disgustingly cute).

I said all of that to basically say – 99.5% of everything I do in regards to dog training has been learned by attending dog training classes or reading dog training books, blogs, websites, chat rooms, etc.; in other words – everything I know has been learned from others. The only thing that I do that I have never seen written before (although I am sure I didn’t invent it – just haven’t found anyone who wrote it down) is a wipe down. It’s one of the ways I bond with sick and/or injured rescues, comfort puppies, and reinforce that happylovepack feeling to all my dogs and it is just as simple as it sounds – wipe down the dog.

It doesn’t have to be overly special, I have wiped down dogs by using a post-shower damp towel, baby wipes, wet washclothes, dampened paper towels, t-shirts, pretty much anything handy. If you are dealing with a nervous dog don’t wipe their head or face, just gently wipe down their body. Over time (weeks), they will become more comfortable and you will be able to wipe them from nose to tail. A couple of reasons I think this wipe down technique helps form a bond and soothe a dog is because dogs naturally groom each other when they are comfortable together and a mama dog licks pups to keep them clean and soothe them. Am I 100% certain that those are the reasons it works? Nope. Does it work for me and for dogs in my house? Yep. Do I recommend this for everyone with a dog? Yep.

So, spend two minutes everyday gently wiping down a loved dog in your life. It will make you closer, happier, and will help pave the way for further training.

Love, FoodLady

FoodLady Dog Training Stuffs

Alrighty, this post is a tough one for me to write. If you’ve ever spoken to me about dog training or dog nutrition in real life you will notice I rarely say much about my own choices unless specifically asked. Why? Because everyone has their own opinion about what is right and what is wrong in regards to dog training and dog nutrition. Does that mean everything I think, write, or yammer on about is the one and only right way? hell no. I learn more (and more) every year of my life and things I think/write/yammer on about in 2015 may be completely contrary to things I think/write/yammer on about in the future; to me the only right way is to continue questioning the things you are doing to see 1. if they are good for the dog and good for you, and 2. working. It is important (to me) to accept that there isn’t only one way to work with dogs.

That said, here are some of my dog training thoughts:

  • Don’t Anthropomorphize your Dog

I can feel brains saying….but, but, but, FoodLady, you anthropomorphize CONSTANTLY!?! Ah, young pups, ’tis true. I completely and joyously write funny things attributing human characteristics to my pets – mainly because it cracks me up. That said, I never never never think of a dog as a smaller, fuzzier, funny-looking human. They are not people and despite many jokes to the contrary – they do not think like people. They are a carnivorous pack animal with their own (body)language and drives.

  • Don’t Compare Dogs to Wolves

This irritates the living crapola out of me. Don’t get me wrong, a lot can be learned from studying wolf behavior because they are another type of carnivorous pack animal. Yes, certain behaviors can be extrapolated between the two types of fuzzy-butts but they are NOT the same. Dogs have had a few millenia to evolve alongside humans.

  • The Myth of “Finished Dog Training”

There is a wise and wonderful woman I used to work with in dog rescue who once told me,”all dogs will be trained to the minimum their humans can live with.” In other words, if it is truly important to you that your dog should open the refrigerator to get you a beer – you will find a way to train your dog to get you the beer. If the only thing that really matters to you is that your dog doesn’t poop on the floor – that’s pretty much all you will have focused on. But guess what? Every time you are with your dog, whether it be while you are slacking on the couch watching TV or if you are working with them on an agility course – you are training your dog (and/or your dog is training you). If you have an older beloved pet and there is something you don’t like that they are doing – it is time to adjust your on-going training.

  • They Need More Than Love

I *really* wish that the only thing you had to do to have a wonderfully behaved dog is to love them. Sadly, this doesn’t usually work. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few naturally calm happy dogs out there with incredibly lucky owners who don’t really need more than love; but for the other 99% of us there is so much more required. And it is right about here that I feel the need to give a shout out/head slap to the Dog Whisperer dude – there is a man who needs to spend some more time learning and to admit to himself that he. doesn’t. know. everything. and accept that learning new stuff is okay. See, those basic tenants of his – dogs need exercise/activity and structure before love? yeah – those are great and important for every dog. That whole forcing a dog to accept something during one training session (a/k/a flooding) and proclaiming it a success right before handing that bundle of exhausted stress back to his/her owner who will just make a larger mess of the whole situation? yeah – that is a nightmare.

…there is much more to write, alas I have real world stuffs to accomplish.

*smooches* – FoodLady