I’m a forty-something, attachment parenting, positive reinforcement dog training, violin playing, ballet dancing wiseass.
When I’m not doing one of the aforementioned things, I can be found drinking coffee and knitting.
Linus is a two and a half year old Golden Retriever who likes to steal remote controls and drink out of the bathroom sink. He resides with his family in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah.
Frequently Asked Questions about us…
One of the things you might not think about when you acquire a service dog is the fact that you are going to be in places where dogs usually aren’t allowed. Okay, you’ve probably thought about this happening but the reality of being in public with a dog can be pretty different than what you imagined.
In the past, you probably walked around a store in anonymity. People who didn’t already know you probably didn’t have a reason to approach you with questions. That changes when are walking around with a dog, especially a young dog in training (note: they’re extremely cute and very distracting for people).
I’ll write further posts about how we cope with Linus’ celebrity status 🙂 but I’ve decided at this point to answer some of the questions that we commonly get asked. These aren’t listed in any particular order, just as I remember them.
Frequently Asked Questions About Linus
- Is that a Golden Retriever? Yes, Linus is a golden retriever.
- Is that a boy or a girl? Linus is a male.
- Linus like Charlie Brown? Yes. Linus’ full name is Good Tidings of Great Joy. His call name (the name he answers to) is Linus.
- Does he carry around a blanket (I actually get asked this frequently)? Not a blanket specifically, although it has happened. It’s usually a toy or ball. It’s mostly a combination of age and the fact that he is a retriever, rather than any association with the Charlie Brown character of the same name. 🙂
- Wow, he has big paws! How large will Linus get? Linus will probably be between 60 and 70 pounds at adulthood. I’m betting closer to 70.
- Are you training him for a school? Are you a puppy raiser? No. Linus is my dog, purchased by me. He will stay with me forever as my service dog. Linus is what is commonly referred to as a “handler trained service dog” or “owner trained service dog.” My reasons for going this route were myriad and I’ll cover them in a more detailed post in the future. Essentially it boiled down to this: Wait lists for fully trained adult dogs are incredibly long. I have had many years of experience training my own companion dogs. I have access to a wonderful dog training facility that includes staff that have years of experience working in service dog schools. It made sense for me to train my own dog. We currently do a great deal of training at home but we do our formal classes at Calling All Dogs in Salt Lake City, Utah. You can find more information about them here: www.callingalldogsutah.com.
- Have you done this before? Yes, I have trained a service dog before. On occasion, as my disability allows, I assist in classes at a local training facility. I’ve also worked with my own companion animals since about 1983 or so. I once trained a cat to use a human toilet and flush it. Cool, huh?
- Am I allowed to pet a service dog? Nearly all dog handlers DO NOT want their service dog to be greeted or pet by a stranger. There are many of reasons. Most dogs are extremely focused when they are “in vest” and working. Many dogs don’t like the distraction of meeting a stranger when they are trying to pay attention to their handler. Some dogs just don’t like strangers. Most handlers don’t want to talk about their dog because the conversation inevitably turns to the disability itself and that’s quite uncomfortable for the handler. Distracting a working dog can be dangerous for the handler. And truly, most of the time service dog handlers just want to finish their errand and go home.
- So if I’m not supposed to greet a service dog, why are you letting me meet Linus? I am a firm believer in making sure my service dog is HIGHLY SOCIALIZED. Service dogs are required to work in public around tons of distractions and around all kinds of people. People of different heights, builds, ethnicities, etc. Dogs are naturally suspicious of things like hats, sunglasses, wheelchairs, crutches, unusual walking gaits, etc. I believe that the more people I expose Linus to as a puppy, the lower the chance of him becoming uncomfortable around people later. I plan to continue to socialize Linus until he is at least a year old. I’ll be using a variety of leash wraps and patches to help people know immediately if it is okay to ask to meet Linus at a given time. I’ll cover them in more detail on a “Products” page. This is not typical in service dog training. There is only one school I know of that continues to socialize dogs past puppyhood, Canine Assistants in Georgia (www.canineassistants.org). Usually, once a dog is working in vest, interacting with strangers is discouraged or prohibited. So, just because we’re talking about it here, please please please don’t assume that any service or working dog you meet is okay to greet or pet.
- Is he always working or does he get to be a dog? Linus always possesses the ability to alert, even when he is not in vest or officially on the job. He’s been alerting since he was 14 weeks old and is really good at it. However, we use verbal cues to let him know when he’s going to work (“suit up”) or when he’s off the clock (“go be a dog”). At home, he’s a normal, fun loving, absolutely nutty with the 9 o’clock zoomies, 19 month old puppy. He plays with our companion dogs, plays with and often annoys the crap out of my husband and daughter. He is a member of the family, when he’s working and when he’s not.
- Wow, he’s so soft, how do I get my dog that soft? We wash him weekly with Yes to Carrots shampoo, Earthbath brand shampoo (Mango Tango is my favorite), or PalDog brand Oatmeal and Honey shampoo. To freshen up when he’s out and about, we’ll use Earthbath brand puppy wipes. I also use a boar’s hair brush from Sally’s Beauty Supply, an Ion brand anti-static comb from Sally’s Beauty Supply, and a Chris Christensen pin brush for grooming. I’m also very careful about what my dogs eat, subscribing to the garbage in/garbage out philosophy. We feed Orijen Six Fish brand of dry food, mix in Nature’s Kitchen for variety and taste, and supplement with probiotics and unscented salmon oil. I switched to this feeding routine about three years ago and it has made a huge difference in the health and beauty of all my dogs. Details on these products will appear on the Products page at some point.
- Wow, he’s really well behaved. How do I get my dog to do that? Lots of practice. And believe me, when he’s at home, he’s not always that well behaved. After all, he is still a juvenile dog at 19 months and they are pretty crazy at times. The vest cues a dog that they are working and need to behave a certain way. It creates an association for them of “my vest is on, I can feel it, I’m working, when I do what mom asks I get yummy treats and praise which makes me feel happy.” As your pet’s parent or guardian, there are lots of things you can do to help teach your dog to be well behaved. See the next question for more information.
- What kind of training do you use? I use a training method called Positive Reinforcement. It is a science-based method that works extremely well to create dogs that can think on their feet, analyze situations, and make good decisions that will keep them safe and keep their people happy. A good definition: “in operant conditioning, positive reinforcement involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favorable outcome, event, or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened.” (psychology.about.com) In simplest terms, I teach a behavior, reward for the behavior, the dog wants to repeat the behavior. Positive Reinforcement is absolutely the most successful training method for any dog but especially a working dog. It is used by the world’s leading dog trainers and by the top service dog schools in the country. Fantastic resources about positive reinforcement training can be found on www.clickertraining.com. We do our classes at Calling All Dogs in Salt Lake City, the only truly positive reinforcement training center in the area. To learn more about them, check out www.callingalldogsutah.com.
- Have you heard of Cesar Millan? Yes, I have and no, I don’t like him. His methods are archaic, based on outdated and flawed theories that have been disproven multiple times in the last several decades. I DO NOT use any dominance based training methods and I do not recommend their use in any situation. They are dangerous. I use training methods based on the work of animal behaviorists (ethologists) such as Karen Pryor, Patricia McConnell, Ian Dunbar, Kathy Sdao, Suzanne Clothier, Nicholas Dodman, Emma Parsons, John Bradshaw, and others. One of these days I’ll add a recommended reading list/video list page.
- How long will Linus be in training? Most service dogs spend two to three years in training. There are several stages of service dog training. First was general socialization, which included being out in public and meeting as many people as possible. Typically this starts as soon as the puppy is born and continues for several months. The most critical socialization period is between birth and about 12 weeks of age. As of his 4 month birthday, Linus had met over 500 different individuals. The number is currently over 1000. We continued fairly intense socialization until he was 12 months old with Social Days (days he’ll be wearing some kind of “I’m friendly, please ask to pet me” patch) continuing periodically for the rest of his life. There’s a phase of general obedience training. This is the usual puppy classes that all dogs should be taking to teach them manners and basic life skills. These classes are especially important for service dogs because they teach impulse control, which is an incredibly important skill for a dog working in public. Basic obedience training can take anywhere from six months to two years, depending on the dog, frequency of classes, how much practice happens at home, etc. The third phase is disability specific training. This training that is particular to the handler’s disability. Some dogs need to learn to turn on and off the lights, some learn to pull wheelchairs. I’m currently building a list of disability specific tasks for Linus but it’s a work in progress and far from finished. The last phase of training is what I like to call continuing education. These are skills that the dog will need to keep polished. For Linus, because he alerts to things he smells, his continuing education will include lots of nosework classes to keep his sniffer in tip-top shape. Usually sometime between the second and third stages of training, the “in training” patches come off the vest and the dog is considered a trained service dog.
- What kind of tests or certification does Linus have to get? We’re using the standards set by IAADP, the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. In addition, Linus has earned his AKC STAR certificate and is working on AKC Canine Good Citizen certification.
- Where can I get a vest or patches for my pet so he/she can come with me everywhere? Wow. Just wow. I hate being asked this question because it really gets me angry. Impersonating a service dog is illegal and is punishable by a huge fine. Not only that, but a dog out in public who is not properly trained to be a service dog can be dangerous. Finally, every untrained, illegally vested pet dog in public makes it ten times harder for a properly trained, vested dog and his handler to be taken seriously. If you are considering doing this, please don’t.
- What’s the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog? Coming soon…
- Where did you get Linus? I worked with Forever Goldens in Wisconsin. They are fantastic with careful bloodline selection and early socialization. They produce dogs primarily for the conformation ring and service dog schools in the eastern U.S.
- How do I get a service dog for my daughter (aunt, brother, self, etc.)? Coming soon…
- What is your disability? I’ll be adding information about this, only because I think that some of the coping mechanisms I’ve come up with for daily life might be helpful to others. That being said, I greatly dislike being asked this question by strangers. Really, would you want to discuss your medical conditions with a stranger? Please don’t ask someone this.
- That’s a beautiful (collar, lead, tags, etc.). Where did you get them? We use tags from RedDingo. His lead and collar are Auburn Leathers products, and his vest is from WireDog. At some point I’ll add a Products page with reviews and links to our favorite products.