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Bear Speaks!
The BU Working Dog Column

by Jerry Shields & Bear

Service Dog School: The Final Exam

Well, it’s us again. Those hard driving editors have said no more cut and paste and cute themes. Seems they hired us to report on service dog stuff that may interest the boxer community, the boxer being a working dog and not just another pretty face. So this month I would like to tell about what Bear and I had to do to ‘graduate’ from the NEADS program.

First I would like to share a bit of news from the Partners Forum, a news letter for assistance dog partners (http://www.iaadp.org ). As you may know, Great Britain provides for a very strict quarantine for dogs entering the country, and that includes assistance dogs. British authorities place all incoming dogs in a six-month quarantine, no exceptions. British citizens can visit the Channel Islands off the Normandy coast and return to the mainland without suffering the quarantine. However, if a storm comes up when they take the plane back to the mainland, the plane diverts to France to wait out the foul weather. Even if the touchdown is brief and the animal never leaves the plane and has no contact with any other animal the quarantine rule applies upon landing back in Britain. This actually happened to a hearing dog in 1986. Now KLM, which services the route to the Channel Islands, has announced that if a registered assistance dog is on board and a storm comes up, the plane will return to England rather than divert to France. A sign of the growing respect for the special role assistance dogs play in the lives of their owners. They have also announced that assistance dogs fly for free. This is a luxury that Bear and I enjoy with the US Airlines - he flies for free and he flies in the cabin with me!

Now on to the main topic: I explained in past BUs what it takes to be an assistance dog - the selection, the training, and the temperament. I explained about some of the training the animals receive and a little about my own training. So, how do we know we are ready to face the world? Glad you asked. At the completion of training, Bear and I were assigned an instructor and taken to various locations out in public. We were given what is called the ADI Public Access

Certification Test.

"The purpose of the Public Access Test is to insure that dogs who have public access are stable, well-behaved and unobtrusive to the public. It is to insure that the client has control over the dog and the team is not a public hazard...Any dog that displays any aggressive behavior (growling, biting, raising hackles, showing teeth, etc.) will be eliminated from the test. Any dog that eliminates in a building or shows uncontrollable behavior will be eliminated from the test."

Pretty simple stuff on the surface, but imagine sitting in a wheelchair and steering your favorite pup through what follows (Note: The dog may be given verbal and/or hand signals, corrections are allowed.):

Controlled Unload out of vehicle: After wheelchair, walker, crutches, etc. have been unloaded, the dog may be released from a wait command and allowed to exit the vehicle. Once outside it must wait quietly unless instructed by the handler. When the team is together and settled the tester walks by the team with another dog. The assistance dog must remain calm and under control, not pulling and trying to get to the other dog. The emphasis is on the dog remaining unobtrusive and unloading in the safest possible manner for handler, dog and passersby.

Approaching the building: After unloading, the team must maneuver through the parking lot to approach the building. The dog must stay in a relative heel position and may not forge ahead or lag behind. The dog must not display a fear of cars or traffic noises and must display a relaxed attitude. (I think the handler is allowed to sweat a bit!) When the handler stops for any reason the dog must stop.

Controlled entry through a doorway: At the door of the building the handler may enter however he/she chooses to negotiate a safe entry. (Sometimes I will have Bear sit while I go through a door and then call him in, other times I allow him to enter first.) Upon entering the building, the dog may not wander off or solicit attention from the public.

Heeling through the building: Once inside the building, the dog must walk through the area in a controlled manner. The dog should always be within touching distance of its handler or no greater than one foot away, depending on the circumstances. The dog should not solicit public attention or strain against the lead. The dog must readily adjust to speed changes, turn corners promptly and travel through crowed area without interacting with the public. In tight quarters, the dog must be able to get out of the way of obstacles and not destroy merchandise by knocking it over or by playing with it.

Six-foot recall on lead: In an open area of the mall the dog will be required to perform a six- foot recall. The dog should respond quickly and not stop to solicit attention from the public or ignore the command. The dog must return close enough to the handler to be readily touched. The recall should be smooth and deliberate without the dog trudging to the handler or taking any detours along the way.

Sits on Command: The team will be asked to demonstrate the handler’s ability to have the dog sit three different times. The dog must respond promptly each time with no more than two commands. The first sit will be next to a plate of food placed upon the ground. The dog must not attempt to sniff or eat the food. The handler may correct the dog verbally or physically away from the food, but then the dog must sit while ignoring the food. The dog should not be taunted or teased with the food. The situation should be made as realistic as possible. The second sit will be executed and the tester will approach with a shopping cart within three feet of the dog and continue on past. The dog should maintain the sit and not show any fear of the cart. The dog may be corrected to maintain the sit. The last sit will be a sit with a stay as a person walks up behind the team, talks to the handler and then pets the dog. The dog may not break the stay to solicit attention. The handler may repeat the stay command along with a reasonable physical correction.

Downs on Command: The down exercise will be performed in the same sequence as the sits with the same basic stipulations. The first down will be at a table where food will be dropped on the floor. The dog should not break the down to go for the food or sniff at the food. The handler may give verbal and/or physical corrections to maintain the down. The second down will be executed and then an adult and child should approach the dog. The dog should maintain the down and not solicit attention. If the child pets the dog, the dog must behave appropriately and not break the stay. Reasonable correction may be given. The third down will be executed and then either a stranger or the tester will be asked to step over the dog. The dog may not break the stay to solicit attention from the stranger. Again, reasonable corrections are permitted.

Noise distractions: The team will be heeling along and the tester will drop a clipboard to the ground behind the team. The dog may acknowledge the noise but may not show aggression or fear. A normal startle reaction is acceptable, the dog may jump or turn, but not show aggression or begin shaking.

Restaurant: The team and tester should enter a restaurant and be seated at a table. The dog must go under the table or, if size prevents that, stay close by the individual. The dog must sit or lie down and may move a bit for comfort during the meal, but should not be up or down a lot or require a lot of correction.

Off Lead: Sometimes during the test where appropriate, the handler will be instructed to drop the lead while moving so that it is apparent to the dog. The individual must show the ability to maintain control of the dog and get the leash back.

Dog taken by another person: To show that the dog can be handled by another person without aggression or excessive stress or whining, the tester or a stranger will take the lead and passively hold the dog, not giving any commands, while the handler moves 20 feet away.

Controlled exit: The team will leave the building in a similar manner to entering, with safety and control being of prime importance. The dog must be in the appropriate heel position and not display any fear of vehicles or traffic sounds.

Controlled load into vehicle: The handler will load the vehicle, with either entering first. The dog must not wander around the parking lot, but must wait patiently for instructions. Emphasis is on safety and control.

Passing all of the above tests is required for what is known as ADI certification. ADI is Assistance Dogs International Inc., which was formed in 1987 as a non profit coalition group representing various assistance dog training centers and individuals interested in this area of dog training. The purpose of the ADI is to improve training and more or less set standards for member organizations.

You will notice that the above test is rather generic when it comes to dog handling and the specific areas of training for the animal are not really tested. For instance a service dog is not required to demonstrate ‘fetching’ or other commands, a hearing dog is not required to respond to sounds, a guide dog is not required to lead or respond to external stimuli such as traffic lights, etc.

What NEADS does is incorporate the various trained responses into the test. That way both general handling, as well as specific problem solving and dog control is observed. When I took the test with Bear, our tester required me to have Bear fetch items under stressful conditions. While proceeding through the mall, the tester would drop various items, such as a bundle of straws or a set of keys and I would have to have Bear ‘fetch’ these items. One time we were taken to a pet store and I had to bring Bear through the store. You can imagine the distractions. At one intersection of aisles, with rabbits in a cage on one corner and birds in a cage on another and both other corners inhabited by live animals of some sort, I had to drop a dumbbell and require Bear to retrieve. This took some concentration on my part, let alone his, and to the credit of his training, he retrieved the item, came into my lap and held the item until I took it from him. This was one of those Right Guard moments!

We had to do other things while on the accessibility walk, like the elevator ride. We had to call an elevator, load on it, and ride to another floor. Some dogs are trained to punch the buttons on the panel. Of course they punch every floor, as ‘5 please’ does not mean a lot to the dogs. Another great test they devised is the grocery store walk about - going through a grocery store past the goodies in the bakery and that great smelling meat counter, and keeping the dog from sniffing.

And having the dog carry something down the length of an aisle was fun. Public transportation is also used to test the team where appropriate

Every effort was made to insure that both the handler and the dog were really equipped, mentally, physically and emotionally to take on the outside world. The amount of time and effort that goes into a well-trained service animal is tremendous. From the puppy trainer to the school trainer, an investment of time, patience and love are reflected in the final product - a well-trained team functioning in society despite handicaps. Words can not express my appreciation for what was done for Bear and me!

Well gang, I am getting severe finger strain - both of them are tired from pounding this keyboard, so I will close. But before I do I must wish my partner a happy 6th birthday. Bear now has a little bit of gray around the muzzle, but so do I. He is a little slower rising, but so am I. But he is still by my side, and for this I am thankful more and more every day¼

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