Thursday, April 16, 2015

Service Dogs and Monkeys

I have found myself in an interesting situation. Brockle has stepped into the position of my #1 assistant.

He's gone beyond the status of a good companion and protector. He has voluntarily begun to help me manage my Parkinson's.

Parkinson's is a demanding monkey to carry on your back. It hates to be ignored and can get really pissy if it feels it's not being properly treated. I am not a gracious host, especially when my guest is an uninvited, rude monkey that keeps bonking me on the head with a banana. I tend to ignore my monkey's ranting, even though I know I'll be toting it's carcass around for the rest of my life.

My particular monkey likes to make my blood pressure plummet if it feels I should be drinking more water, getting more sleep, or eating better food. I'm not talking feeling a little dizzy. I call it "crashing." I know I've blown it when the room begins to spin, I fall flat on my face and am incapable of even raising my head for up to twenty minutes. Sometimes I pass out, sometimes I don't.

The first week I had Brockle, I crashed at 1:00 a.m. or so. I ended up in the hall. When I came to my new dog was stretched out next to me, with his body pressed against me as close as he could get.

It happened again a few months later. This time, I was outside and it was snowing heavily. It was maybe 3:00 a.m. I came to with Brockle jumping on my head, pulling at my arms and hair and pawing at my body. He stood still and let me use him to stand up, and I balanced off him while we made or way back inside. I hate to think what might have happened if he hadn't been so insistent.

Since then, my meds have been adjusted and I'm doing much better.

Brockle has no faith in modern medicine and has taken it upon himself to manage my care. He can tell before I can when my BP is off kilter. He clings, nuzzles and pesters until I sit down. He hasn't been wrong yet.

Since Brockle has forced me to play nice with my monkey, I decided to start encouraging his natural inclination to help me. It hasn't taken much more than a heartfelt "Good dog," and a few treats.

So far he has learned to help me balance when I'm off kilter, steady me as I go up and down stairs and learned the command "Brace," so I can use him to get up off the ground or out of difficult furniture.  He alerts me when my med alarm goes off -- at five times a day, I'm really good at tuning it out. Well, I used to be, Not so much any more.

I did an awesome face plant in a parking lot last week. It was pure PD vaudeville. One minute I'm walking, then suddenly I'm kissing a puddle of anti-freeze. I was fairly sore and bloody.

The next morning, right in the middle of a detailed and dramatic reenactment of the event, my mother
said, "Would you have fallen if you had Brockle?"

"Probably not. Maybe. But it sure would have been easier to stand back up."

"Don't you think it's time to get a harness?" she asked.

What she means is a service dog harness.

I don't know how many of you are up on the current service dog controversy. I'll start with a brief rundown of the situation and am interested in your thoughts.

First off, here's the legal definition of a service dog:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Then, let's move on to where service dogs are allowed.:

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.

Here's the dilemma:
If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

What is happening is people are claiming their dogs are service dogs and taking them with them wherever they go.

Part of me says, "So?"

Except, from what I understand, if a person is enough of an asshat to fake a disability, they're generally stupid/obnoxious/jerky enough to not bother training the dog.

A professionally trained service dog lays quietly under the table while in a restaurant, doesn't fight with other dogs or pee on the plants in a theater, doesn't bark, scare or threaten other people, you know, has manners. Then, on top of all that, it does whatever it's job is.

Fakers are causing all kinds of crap. It puts those of us without easily recognized issues under constant scrutiny.

I can't help but wonder why there isn't a standardized test to certify a service dog. Not for the disability they assist with, but for basic civilized behavior.

There are strong arguments from the professionals who train service dogs. It's an industry in itself, complete with breeding programs, and very specific training.

If there was a standardized test, then anybody could take it and theoretically, pass it. Would that undermine the work of a professional?

Personally, I think it could and should expand the market. If I could find a class on training my own service dog I'd be all over it. With required certification, the classes would be full. This opens the door to training for the actual service the dog would perform. The inevitable wash-outs would provide customers for an already trained dog.

We had a kennel here in Colorado that sold diabetic alert dogs. These dogs, when properly trained can save the live of their owner. Unfortunately, this particular kennel didn't bother to actually train the dogs to do anything. People were paying $20,000 dollars or so for a happy house pet.

I think regulation makes sense in every direction.

For Brockle and I, it's not going to be that complicated. We'll get our harness and start slowly and easily working our way into a pair that can go everywhere.
We're going to get his CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certification this summer. Then we'll move on to Rally, and the Community Canine, an advanced CGC test (

My fear of being embarrassed will make damn sure he can cope with each step. We'll go as far as we're able, and I think we'll be fine.

As far as continuing to progress at home, we're working on picking things I drop off the floor, and ignoring people and dogs.

Somebody asked me, "Have you thought about getting a real service dog?"

I thought about everything Brockle and I have worked out between us already.
"I've already got one," I said.


  1. I'm currently living in a place where I can't have dogs but my previous dogs all had some aptitude to help mitigate my chronic pain issues. Unfortunately neither had stellar public access skill so they were only useful at home and in areas where anyone could take a dog.

    Due to that experience I've repeatedly said needed or not my next dog will have the foundations laid so if/when needed he can become a working dog and accompany me as needed rather than as allowed.

    Good luck on furthering your work with Brockle.

  2. I think a well trained service dog is a blessing to its disabled owner and to their community, by allowing that person to remain an active member. That said, poorly trained fakers are a PITA!
    I'm happy for you that Brockle stepped up!

  3. I love reading about Brockle! I like your plan too, and I'm sure you two are going to make it work!

  4. Kim aka Tundra QueenApril 16, 2015 at 10:06 AM

    I'm a nurse at my local Veterans Hospital and pretty much have daily contact with service dogs for pretty much any and all disabilities. And they vary in size from small dogs to someone that has a Great Dane. Recently we had a psudo service dog in....Had a vest on but you could tell he wasn't a real service dog just by his behavior. Lady was nice enough but her dog didn't act like all the service dogs I know, love and see freqently. As far as you and Brockle, coudln't you get a statement from your PD doc to help get him certified? I know in the past we have filled out such forms so people could have service pets in public housing that animals were not allowed in...either way I hope you can get him certified as he apparently already thinks he is a service dog :-)

  5. Kim - I wish I could get him certified. But there is no certification process for service dogs in CO.
    It would be such a huge help if there was a required test to pass for interaction and behavior with the public.
    If there was a required list then I could make sure we covered them all.

  6. I should probably add, legally I can use him as a service dog. He can go anywhere I want and all I have to do is say that's what he is.
    I'm just not willing to do so until I can trust him to behave like he should.

  7. I spent most of my life as an incredibly strong person, something that compensated for being big in a world where petite and skinny were seem as assets. I could pick up, haul, and stack 17 flatbed loads of hay from the field in one day, by myself. I rode in NATRC for several years, which also involves lots o conditioning rides. I learned to shoe my own horses, build my own fences and other things. My motto was pretty much, "I can do it MYSELF!"

    Then, when I was just short of 60, I got weak and started falling down. Not just tripping and falling, but ending up smack on my face and unable to just stand back up. I don't suffer from the same malady that you do, but the effects have been the same. Reading your post today really tugged at my heart, I empathize so much.

    I managed to work my way up from a wheelchair to being able to hobble around. I have devised a way to get up when I'm on the ground. But it's really scary to go down when there's no way to cushion the fall. So I waddle around with my eyes constantly to the ground. I walk like an 80 year old. It looks awful, but I don't really give a s--- about things like that anymore.

    I'm envious that you can still handle your horses. I still have two of them, the only reason it works is they are very old and were born in their little pasture, so they don't get into trouble. Also I have horsey neighbors who I can call for help.

    Whatever you come up with to make your life work, DO it. If it puts your brain in a happier place, even for a while, DO it!

  8. Jan- Thank you! I am lucky in a lot of ways. I respond extremely well to the PD meds and look forward to several more riding years.
    You know exactly what I'm talking about when I say it's hard to get up. It's almost impossible. But I can, as long as I have my dog.

  9. I think Brockle is 100% a real service dog, and it's probably something that makes him feel great about. He clearly loves having a job, and taking care of you is a great one.

    The reason people can't ask about certification for a service animal is because of the ADA law. It is not lawful to ask a person what their disability is, and asking about their service dog is basically the same thing. If you really think they are taking advantage, I think you can take them to court ... but that's kind of a pain.

    I personally wouldn't want some guy guy in the store to ask me all about my disability, though I know some people don't care.

    The cool thing about Brockle is that he meets service dog requirements. If you're worried, call your doctor and discuss Brockle and getting something in your chart about a service dog being a help to you. If your doctor is worth anything, they should have no problem writing something up. Boom! You suddenly have documentation in case of any trouble.

    The good citizen stuff is a good idea, too, but not as important as getting your medical need stated.

  10. Also, I suffer from a similar problem with BP related to dehydration and electrolyte levels. It causes summer to be very dicey for me in the "staying upright" category. I wish my dogs were sensitive to this like Brockle.


  11. "The Keeshond explains why he will never set the Shutzhund world on fire. He doesn't bite for fun. He bites when he thinks I'm being threatened. He looks to me before deciding to go at someone and a simple,"Leave it," calms him."

    Service dogs may not bite. They don't get to make the decision of who is a threat or when a person is a threat. If you are incapacitated and on the ground, where you cannot tell him leave it? Then what. If you can get him past that, great. My guess is that he is a bit insecure, which is not a great trait in a service dog. BTW, I also like the Hoffman book very much.


    According to the above website, a service dog has to perform at least two jobs that help it's owner cope with a disability. Brockle already does two. Now you just have to work on his public access manners. I think I would try to find a Therapy dog training class, I have friends who do that and take their dogs to hospitals and schools. The AKC has a certification test for Therapy dogs, I would feel pretty confident about taking a dog that passed it just about anywhere. I think my friends also had a vest that said "In Training for Therapy dog" when they were training, and that would be a good idea for Brockle when you start out.

    The website above has some good ideas about carrying a Dr's statement, having ID, and getting a "service dog" vest, although it's not legally required. Seems like it would be less stressful to have your dog trained properly and have a professional looking vest and equipment.

  13. Anon - He's fine in public.
    When I say he only responds when he thinks I'm being threatened, I'm talking about a decoy running at me screaming with a bat.
    We're working on him allowing other people to hold his leash, his response used to be flight, not fight, now he's just looks miserable.
    He doesn't growl, show his teeth or cower at anyone.
    I'm not worried. I wouldn't suggest you try to punch me in the face though.
    Plus - again, as I stated, there is no current certification for a service dog. My legal responsibilities with Brockle are the same as any other dog owner: If he bites someone, I'll get in trouble.

  14. Redhorse - I just got some great info from a Canine Companions or Independence, complete with a test they use to certify their dogs.
    It's great. I'll post it net time I post about this.

  15. i'm glad you've already got Brockle to play that role for you! and like others said - sounds like he enjoys the role and rises to the occasion too!

    we have a service dog 'faker' at my farm and it kinda makes me sad bc the woman literally can't get the dog to do anything - she's literally dragged it across the parking lot before... it's possible that the dog is helping her with some unseen/unknown disability... but i really question it, which is perhaps exactly the thing you worry about (except i suspect Brockle's got better training than this dog haha)

  16. He is such a blessing!!

    When we got the Pug I considered therapy dog training for him. Then I realized he was just really good at being my own personal therapy dog.

    Good luck, I hope this all works out for you, and I believe it will. You two have come such a long way together!

    Feel free to tell us more about riding with PD. I know you've said it's got a lot to do with muscle memory, but I'm thinking about the fear of falling off the horse when just staying upright on your feet can be a challenge. I'm nervous to put my wobbly body back in the saddle but I really do want to ride again.

    Also - soooo good to hear that the medication is working for you!!!!!

  17. what prompted the note about allowing access to your person, was the fact that you mentioned falling down and waking up sometime later. Would he allow emergency workers to attend you? If so, carry on. If not, better practice that scenario with him in a lot of places with a lot of strangers.

  18. That Brockle is an interesting dog. How fortuitous that he came into your life at the time he did. It's interesting to me how some animals have the capacity for care taking and others don't. I always say my grey tabby cat got me through grad school. He would sit up on the back of the chair with me at night while I studied and right when I felt like I could just cry from feeling overwhelmed, this little paw would stretch out and massage my head. It was uncanny how he always knew. He's never slept on my bed but the few times I've been sick I would wake to find him snuggled under the covers with me.

    What do you think are the biggest concerns or risks with Brockle as a service dog? He seems much more suited to the job than most dogs. I can't imagine that even a proper training center could do better than him, with his natural ability to sense your well being and his intense focus on you. Am interested to hear more about this journey and what you discover.

  19. Anon - You guys are going to love this...after all my "Brockle is fine," and "Brockle never growls or snaps."
    I go to the doc, we're in the waiting room, and in walks a guy who is the identical twin to Brockle's favorite decoy.
    He says,"Oh what a beautiful dog!" and
    comes over to hug him.
    Brockle let loose with a dead serious growl.
    So...back to the conditioning board.

  20. I used to train guide dogs for the blind, and have heard many a story of the problems that "fake" service dogs can create regarding access issues for legitimate service dogs. That said, you are a first class animal trainer and handler. I have every bit of faith that you will be responsible and thorough in preparing Brockle to be a solid representative for the service dog population. It is great to hear what a natural he is! Sounds like he has already saved your life on at least one occasion, Good Boy Brockle!

    Best of luck on this path,


  21. My biggest concerns? His protectiveness.Crowds intimidate him.
    I expose him in small doses to crowded sidewalks, take him to Brockle friendly appointments, etc. He gets better and better, but I'm taking my time.
    My other concern is his high energy. He needs to run hard and play hard.I wonder if it will be hard to keep his focus. He's only two, so I'm not too worried.We'll see how it goes. He's already an enormous help already, I'll be happy with whatever I get.

  22. My frind's father has a head injury and can have seizures, it took years for them to catch on that the family dog, a lab, had been sensing them before they hit. Once they went through the certification process and the the dog could go everywhere with the dad both of their lives improved. The lab had been a wreck trying to watch over the dad and now who could be with him at all times. My friend's father had new confidence to venture out into the community knowing he had a great partner.
    It opened my eyes to the human dog connection. Best of luck in the future. Sounds like you have a great partner.

  23. I'm currently working on getting my cattle dog trained to be my service dog. I have CPTSD (complex PTSD). Just admitting I need a service dog has been huge for me. I'm working with a trainer that trains hearing alert service dogs. We're also going to get her CGC, and we'll also go for the new Urban CGC.

    In my case there are a couple groups in Washington state that will test and certify dogs. It's not something that's legally required, but it's a good way to distinguish my dog from the fakes out there. I can't remember the names of the groups for the life of me right now, but when I do remember I'll post them.

  24. Having had my legitimate service dog attacked by fake or undertrained "service" dogs in stores in the past, THANK YOU for doing this the right way. <3

  25. Long time reader, but haven't posted in a long time. But this post struck a chord!

    My partner is in the process of training her rescue to be her PTSD service dog, and it's been a huge, hard, and very rewarding process. Much like Brockle, Brady automatically started picking up on my partner's needs (waking her up from night terrors, bringing her back into the present, etc), and he is so trainable that we started developing him as her service dog.

    First, we took him through his CGC with a nearby trainer. Then, we started working with a local trainer who helps develop owner-trained service dogs. Brady definitely had potential, but he was really rough at first - occasionally freaking out at cars, being very distracted by other dogs, etc. His high energy was also a concern for us, but actually, working all day is great physical and mental exercise for him. We spent a lot of time in private lessons with the trainer, and then my partner started bringing him to work with her which is when his real education began. Literally thousands of hours of intensive training, eight airplane rides, and tons of hotel stays / work visits, and Brady is almost entirely trained. Our last and final step (which is more for our sake than for his, as this is not a requirement under the ADA) is to take the Public Access Test with him to document that he's good to be out in public.

    This has been an incredibly intensive but deeply rewarding process, and has turned Brady into a fantastic dog. We are so lucky to have him, and be able to do anything with him, regardless of where we go or what we do!

    If you feel like Brockle could do that for you, please do work on going for it!

    There is no official certification process, and dogs are not required to have ID'S or even vests (though we've found vests quite useful both as a signal to others and because Brady has come to see it as his "work outfit" and gets into working mode much more easily when it's on). Although this lack of a universal requirement does make it easier for people to fraudulently pass their dogs off as service dogs, I actually think this is way better than forcing people with disabilities to go through a dozen hoops just to get the help they need.

    Best of luck as you begin exploring the process! If you ever want to chat more, please feel free to respond!


  26. Also, here is a great website which details the rights and responsibilities of service dogs, handlers, and trainers! We use it frequently as we are often traveling out of state. As a matter of fact, we are in CO right now!

  27. Brockle definitely sounds like a self-trained service dog to me. Because of his history, though, I'd only act on it if you're 100% certain you have him under control. If he went after someone or another dog in public it could be a death sentence for him. I know you have done a lot of training with him, so this might not be a concern anymore, but I thought it was worth saying.

  28. I have two friends who have self-trained service dogs, one for epilepsy, and one for... actually, I'm not sure what the other one is for as we've never spoken about her disability, but it involves bracing/balance work, and he's incredibly well behaved and super serious about his job. I will hit them up for resources as well.

    As for the man in the waiting room, touching a service dog (or any dog you don't know) is INCREDIBLY RUDE. I remember being taught in school (as an elementary schooler in Colorado, no less) that those dogs are working, and are too busy for petting or talking to unless the owner invites you to. While they are working, they are a tool. You wouldn't catch someone trying to hug someone's wheelchair or pet an oxygen tank, and this is no different.

    I think one of the "Do not pet me, I am working" vests will be a good investment for him, even while you train.

  29. And the reason Brockle came to you is made clear.

    I can not stand to see entitled older women with their nasty little dogs in shopping carts in the grocery stores. It is all I can do to keep my mouth shut.

    Everyone knows damn well it is not a service animal. Makes me want to go home get my 200 lb cracked out butt head sheep and walk him into the store. Oh it's OK for him to be in the store, he's a Service Animal!

  30. Susannah Charlson is doing some great work with owner training of service dogs (and her book Possibility Dogs is a great read).


  31. We had a student here at school several years back. Her service dog let her know when she was about to have an epileptic seizure. Everyone was notified that if anyone got near her during an attack, the dog could/would bite. It was his job to protect her and he took it very seriously. When she was fine, he was too. From some of the pictures you have posted in the past, the way Brockle watches you, I'm not surprised.

    Emily in NC

  32. My understanding is you can ask a service dog handler 2 questions;
    1) is that a service dog?
    2) what task does he perform to help you?

    That much is permitted by ADA.

    I would strenuously encourage you (and other people who use service dogs) if registration/certification is not yet required do NOT use some registration company to do so. Train your dog. Proof your dog (obedience school/titles, CGC, therapy dog classes etc). And keep a log of your training, titles achieved, documentation from doc etc.

    That way if/when needed you can prove your dogs training and usefulness. But to register with one of the many fake organizations just gives the fake dogs more credibility and makes it harder on SD users who may not have the funds or desire to register with such angencies.

    PS - I'm anti-federal/state certification for service dogs. Reason biggest, that which makes Brockle a great SD for Mugs would do no good in a SD for me. How do you test for all possible skill sets?

  33. Sarah Bishop-- I don't think there needs to be testing for specific skill sets. I think ALL dogs allowed to be anywhere people are need to be safe. They can't be disruptive.
    I'm talking about a generalized test for public safety and behavior.

  34. :) I agree, you already have a real service dog.

  35. I'm quite fond of Wolfpacks for dog packs and vests. They offer service dog patches, too.

    Here's another resource to add to your list. They may not have training help, but I'll be they can point you to resources:

    Brockle is already better trained and behaved than a number of legitimate service dogs I've met. Most of those have been like Brockle - owner trained, and self-selected as service dogs. I'm not even remotely suggesting you stop filling in the gaps you've identified, just offering it as acknowledgment of the work the two you've already done.

  36. "I don't think there needs to be testing for specific skill sets. I think ALL dogs allowed to be anywhere people are need to be safe. They can't be disruptive.
    I'm talking about a generalized test for public safety and behavior."

    In that case AKC's CGC test would be a good minimum start. A TDI title might be another. But the flip side is if someone is on a limited income and can train the dog to be a decent memeber of society with stellar skills are we going to then force them to skimp and save to get a piece of paper to prove it? That's the other part that I cringe at.

    Also a great dog on a bad day can blow a test. Example during my corgi girls first attempt at a CGC she was doing the supervised owner away step and in the next ring her brother was doing obedience. During the brother's recall he ran barking back to the handler. My dog (who during this stage is being handled by a stranger that does nothing other than hold the leash) lept up barking and bouncing around to join her sibling. End result, failed test.

    Did we discover a training hole, possibly. But it's an expensive way to learn the lesson. Had I needed that piece of paper to prove her manners before we could get public access I would have been doubly irritated.

  37. How odd. I have followed your blog for years, and now this overlap. My daughter has a self-trained service dog. She could not go out in public without him. Brockle definitely has the need and ability to assist you in need. And you have the ability to train him so he can do this with you no matter where you are. It is a win-win.

  38. Grimm's Hairy TailsMay 2, 2015 at 2:18 AM

    I was in a bookstore a few days ago. There was a middle aged woman with a husky who was wearing an assistance dog vest. While the woman browsed thru the books, her husky sprawled out, fidgeted and whined. When another Customer tried to go by the husky jumped up on her. The owner said "You must have diabetes." While she was trying to push the dog off, the woman said no, she wasn't diabetic. The dog owner then told this complete stranger that she should see her doctor and be tested because the service dog was trained to jump on diabetics. And that is why service dogs get a bad reputation.