Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival: Lessons from Others

This post is written for the 13th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, hosted by Brooke Sillaby at Ruled by Paws.  Please check back at her blog in the next few days for more posts on the topic "lessons." Archives of previous carnivals may be found at the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival webpage.

As a first-time service dog handler and first-time owner-trainer, I've struggled at times to determine how to break down complex tasks and how to teach tasks that seem impossible to teach. For adding new concepts to challenge my dog (and me!), I frequently turn to Youtube videos offered by a number of trainers and teams.

One Youtube poster whom I particularly love is Donna Hill, who subtitles and narrates the action in her videos beautifully. She is extraordinarily good at breaking down tasks creatively and giving positive reinforcement via clicker. Because what she does is fun and often challenges her dogs to solve a problem, they love to work. One of her recent videos shows that some common habits of dogs, like leash pulling, are reflexes from being pulled in the opposite direction, kind of like Newton's law. For every leash pull in one direction, it seems there is a an equal pull from the dog or owner in the other direction. Donna demonstrates some ways to work with the opposition reflex to shape the behavior you would like from the dog:

So that you don't miss any, be aware that Donna has several different categories of videos; one grouping is specific to assistance dogs. Don't forget to click "Load More" at the bottom of each page, as I initially did--she has a lot of videos. (Update: here's a helpful index to her blog:

Recently, noticing that my dog doesn't alert as often to my dysautonomia, I wondered what specifically he alerts to, and if he alerted to my scent rather than slight changes in my demeanor, as I'd assumed. I knew that diabetes alert dogs use scent boxes to train but was unable to find more information until I turned to Youtube and saw that all you do to begin is put a small morsel or target item in a tiny container. I use little bitty tupperwares similar to what's shown in the video below, MultiAnimalCrackers' "Fun Nose Work Ideas." You click the dog for finding the targeted item using the command "find it," "scent," or another command of your own designation. I use a placebo container as well--and my dog is 100% accurate at targeting the correct container. So now I've wiped a tissue across pulse points or areas that perspire (yuck, I know) when my blood pressure and heart rate are normal and placed that in a container for my dog to find. Next I need to capture my scent when my dysautonomia is extreme--targeting when my heart rate is on the cusp of tachycardia or low blood pressure will only confuse him. I'll encourage him to find that scent box rather than the one with my normal scent. This may work to increase his sensitivity, or it may not work at all. It's good to experiment.

In the video, the trainer first places treats around the room for her dogs to scent and find. She hides them in cups and under containers. She then uses the small containers with one scent inside just one of the containers for the dog to find. She also works with a teabag, asking the dog to target/nose it, and then hiding it under a cloth, clicking when the dog correctly targets the item. She then rubs her own scent on a cloth for finding, working up to having the dog out of the room while she hides the cloth.

Next in our training, I'll start challenging my dog with some of the techniques Donna Hill uses, such as diluting scent and setting up a scent wheel.  

It's also nice to observe teams who have very generously videoed themselves. One service team I've particularly enjoyed watching is Veronica Morris and her dog Olivander, a standard poodle who moves gracefully and ignores distractions so very well.

Olivander walks smoothly through the aisles, keeping close at Veronica's side as she walks through the aisles. Veronica gives Olivander commands to leave the Pyrex alone, and to sit and stay while she examines merchandise. The tester gives Veronica periodic instructions, such as to try walking alongside Olivander with a grocery cart. Veronica gives him lots of "good boys."

Olivander also does a "down stay" in front of the escalator.  The tester applies very light pressure to Olivander's tail with her foot and steps over him--challenges a service dog may encounter in public regularly. I didn't know some Targets have escalators, but Veronica's does, and she and Olivander descend it together.

Hope for Christy is another good resource, especially for people interested in dogs for mobility work and to assist with TBI needs. Kikopup, while not a service dog trainer per se, is a dog trainer with an extensive collection of videos demonstrating an astonishing variety of tasks.

I hope you enjoyed some of these trainers and teams. Please feel free to share others you like in comments.  If you have difficulty commenting, please email me your comment, and I will post it on the blog (more about recent blogger spam difficulties on my last blog post, "Maintaining Accessibility While Managing Spam").

Blog Comments--Maintaining Accessibility While Managing Spam

Today I noticed had 20 new comments on my last post. These were all spam that made it through even though my setting is for every comment to be manually approved by me, a setting that is still unchanged. I then saw there were about 50 more spam posts on old posts. Since a lot of spam is inappropriate, I'm alarmed that it was there for months without notification to me.

Not all spam is going through, however--185 were still in my spam folder, though I delete those regularly; daily there's a stack of them. It's enough to make me not want to look at my blog.

The only solution I can find to be fairest both to me and to as many people as possible is to go back to Open ID/manual approval of comments so that anonymous comments never go through. That excludes most spam, but it will prevent some commenters who don't have or want a google ID or OpenID from commenting. If you are one of those people, please email me your comment at fridawrites @ gmail, as I want to hear what you say.  I will be glad to copy it and post it for you and put your name on it.

I don't want to add word verification back in--that excludes people with visual and some mobility issues. The word verification text is often hard for me to read even without being limited in those ways.

My apologies for the inconvenience to anyone! I love hearing what people think and don't want to miss your ideas/feedback, so again, please email.

And now I go back to finishing my ADBC post.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Blog Carnival Drawing Winners!

Using the Random Number generator at, I assigned each entry a number in the order that they were posted.  The number generator came up with #2 and then #3; I am excluding myself since I already have both of these items.

So Carrie and khills, you are the winners of the contest!  Carrie gets first choice of the item she would like, and then khills.  There's the Partner Link leash or a treat bag from Cody's Creations or a collar with tag changer from Terri; see the original call for posts for the links.

Please let me know which item you select in comments here, and then when you get a chance to further decide, please email me at fridawrites at gmail com with your color/design and size for the collar, if applicable, as well as your address.

Congratulations, and thanks for participating!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Eleventh Assistance Dog Blog Carnival: Resources and Tools

Welcome, readers!  Please enjoy this tour of service dog blogs and explore some of the resources and ideas mentioned. Please give some feedback to the writers if your energies permit; you may wish to visit past ADBC collections if you haven't had the chance to do so.

Thank you to each writer for your blog post--they are all thoughtful, wonderful, and detailed. I for one will be using them; I know others will as well.    

I've categorized the posts by topic; this means some posts are listed in more than one place if they cover multiple topics. Sharon has graced us with two posts, so make sure you don't miss one of them.

I want to make sure I haven't missed anyone before I do the drawing--I plan to do that tomorrow evening!

Friendship and Community

In "If It Weren't for the Internet," Brooke of Ruled by Paws tells us how meeting other guide and service dog teams online has helped benefit her training of Cessna and Rogue.  Whether we self-train or reinforce an organization's work with our dog, the encouragement and tips provided by others help build our confidence and help us feel connected.  Indeed, community may be the most important building block for what we do.

Carrie, awaiting her first service dog, tells us in "Diane Sawyer Arranged for My Service Dog" how an ABC program helped her find Canine Partners for Life (CPL). CPL provides medical alert dogs among other kinds of service dogs. In the meantime, Carrie's family goldendoodle has begun alerting at home. Her story reminds us of the importance of public awareness of service dogs, so that someone who can benefit knows to apply; there's a link to the ABC video so you can watch.

Flo of A Mutt and His Pack has recently had the difficult experience of having to return Strider to his breeder since he was protective in public.  She shows that breeders who care about the needs of service dog owners are important both in selecting a good puppy candidate and for help and placement of the dog if the match doesn't work for public access.

We all know how what enthusiastic workers our dogs can be--sometimes we may feel like a human treat dispenser!  Dogs can start manipulating us for rewards, and we wonder who is training whom.  In "Yes, he can," Patti B of Plays with Puppies describes how another dog trainer helped her to reward at the right time, making public access much easier.   

Nothing is better than seeing our dogs romp and play.  Sometimes we may have the energy to join them, but at other times we need some toys to occupy them while we have more difficulty being active. In "A Spoonie's Guide to Dog Toys," Sharon shows us some food-based toys that will help engage our dogs and also writes about meaty bones and antlers, giving us safety tips. She also provides good information about kibble and what works well in the toys. 

Flo covers additional toys, such as bully sticks, Air Kongs, Chuck Its, and hunting bumpers (great idea!).

Those of us with atypical breed service dogs often experience some grooming challenges complicated by our physical disabilities. Our bloggers give some suggestions that cover basic grooming, doggy stress management, and more complex grooming such as dematting and getting paws trimmed closely.

Khills shares photographs of her beautiful creme golden retriever, Shai, in her impressive post "Grooming My Service Dog Without the Groomer: Using Choice Grooming."  Shai has long, wavy curls requiring attentiveness to keep her looking sharp for public access, especially as she likes to go mud-splashing.  Khills includes videos that show us how to keep your dog calm and stress-free during grooming. If you have someone else help with grooming, you will want to have him or her read this post as well--it's definitely one to revisit for instructions. Her photos are quite a treat!  

Sharon wrote "A Spoonie's Guide to Dog Grooming Tools and Tips," which describes shears, clippers, blades, and de-matters that you will want to know about if you have a heavy-coated or curly-coated dog. Her instructions for these tools are invaluable. She also has a not-to-be- missed video showing many of the tools and what they do, including the Andis Pro-Clipper and TDQ blade. And she gives more tips to help keep your dog relaxed and unstressed.   

In my post, "A Few of My Favorite Things," I've described the Andis Pro and the TDQ blade and how, thanks to Sharon's advice, they have saved us all many hours of misery, stress, and pain.  If you have a dog you need to clip, these are for you!  (You can use a different blade with the Andis if you want your dog's coat longer.)

Flo recommends the Furminator, as does Khills--apparently that is a must-have to look into!

Working Equipment
Karyn of Through a Guide's Eyes has a border collie rather than a golden retriever or a lab.  Border collies' smaller frames make finding equipment that really fits difficult, so she has altered some equipment and made her own. "Essential Creativity" gives us some favorite finds from various companies, including a clicker leash she modified (what a great idea!). Karyn lists a number of sellers whose supplies work well for multiple chemical sensitivity.  If you can dream it, you can make it, or get help making it.

Flo lists a lot of vests, backpacks, and harnesses--there are some cool ones that I've never seen before (I'd like that Combi if I go back to teaching).  Like Karyn, she has had to modify some of the equipment because of her dog's stature. She's also found handles that will work with other brands of backpacks.

In my blog post, I write about a number of leashes that are useful for different purposes.  I also found out about a new one just a few days ago, the Just Ducky leash.  It's a bungee-style leash that also absorbs energy and is water resistant. I didn't notice any strong off-gassing from it--and I am bothered a lot by stronger plastics. Wheelchair users will need a huge carabiner for the ergonomic handle.


These are definitely posts to revisit over time!  Thanks again to Sharon for the opportunity to host; ADBC has helped me start writing again after several years of being unable to.

Please let me know if I've accidentally left out your post or anyone else's or if you have one to include; any oversights are unintentional. Feel free to add other ideas/links to other blog posts in the comments section over time. There are more resources/tools we could cover over time--dog foods, trainers (books and web video), more ideas for challenging behaviors or unusual situations.

ADBC makes Mondays fun! I'm already looking forward to the next one, hosted by Karyn at Through a Guide's Eyes in July.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Blogging Against Disablism Day 2013: Noli Me Tangere

This blog post written for Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1.  See Diary of a Goldfish for some great writing; more will be added throughout May 1.  You can also check out previous BADD entries in her archives.

"Noli me tangere": the words mean "don't touch me." While the phrase has a religious history to it, I wish here to discuss the disabled body and public space, the ways our bodies may enter a space and seemingly invite touching or conversely, intrude upon the sacredness of public space.  In the un-nuanced public eye, our bodies are both sacred and profane.  We are untouchables yet enlightened sages.  We experience others' fear of contamination or contagion; on occasion we are reviled or cursed at or forced to leave.  Our British friends, in the midst of contentious public disability reforms, are physically and verbally attacked in public thanks to news media depicting them as scroungers.  In the U. S., some are killed over whose space it is and who belongs in it--recently, Robert Saylor, by security guards; others are almost daily prevented from entering specific spaces because of their service dogs, even this week.  While some able-bodied people look to us to dispense wisdom or inspiration, in the midst of daily navigations and negotiations of public space, we may have none.  Rarely may we just blend in.

In March, our family was banned from an art museum, first because of our service dog, then because of my power wheelchair.  We were forced to leave the museum, and at one point, I thought one of the security guards was going to knock me out of my chair.  Another wheelchair user thought he was going to hit her.  She was also forced to leave.  We were both bullied, shouted at, and shamed in front of a large crowd of families.  While it would never surprise me to be banned because of my service dog, though the ADA and state law both protect me, it did surprise me to be banned because of my wheelchair.  I felt stunned.

Really, I had no idea what being excluded like that feels like.  I expected to feel perhaps inner outrage in that kind of situation along with a stubborn American "fix it" attitude.  I did not expect to feel humiliated or less than.  But I did, for weeks.  When I'm in public, I now feel acutely different from others--it's a feeling, not a decision, and I wish I could overcome it.  I feel vulnerable and afraid and anxious, that the people who should protect me and include me won't.  After all, I was in a museum that prides itself on its accessibility.  This was no mistake. It was a new policy, and it was emailed to the security firm.

Certainly, the other wheelchair user and I worked immediately to effect change--and a number of disability scholars and activists came to my aid.  So did the NEA and the museum's corporate sponsors, as well as friends.  But how many more were affected in the six weeks prior?  And since the demands come from a museum curator in Los Angeles, how many other people has she excluded at various museums?

There are class issues at stake as well.  The museum curator sees wheelchair users as the great unwashed--homeless, careless vagrants, probably dirty, who cannot value priceless art, art that matters more than they.  She would rather exclude an Alison Lapper or a Sue Austin or a Frida Kahlo than have her art broken into shards by careless, gleeful power wheelchair users.  Should Stephen Hawking, who does still travel, visit a museum while her exhibit is there? Not good enough.  After all, it is now hers, not the public's since the public includes disabled people.  Public spaces become narrowed to private spaces, to sacred space unsullied by our kind.  While there are a lot of homeless people and poor people with wheelchairs, especially near downtown, certainly they weren't going to be allowed in.

We need to realize how easily people slip into the Nuremberg defense when it comes to disability--"I was only obeying my superiors."  Security guards and police officers, medical professionals, administrators.  Just as with racial segregation, they can physically harm you or exclude you because they are told to do it.  And our bodies are particularly vulnerable to harm.  I had real reason to worry--the security guard pressed himself into my husband's body aggressively and simply could not get to me because of my service dog, my husband, and the glass stairwell next to me (which he was pushing me into).  It never occurred to him or the other three security guards to question what they were told, nor the administrators I talked to immediately after.  And they were willing to do this in front of children, my own and others'.

People touch us, our equipment, or our dogs just because they can, because, as with pregnant women, our bodies are seen as public property.  Those of us using wheelchairs often experience damage to them from others, unnecessarily.  Those with osteogenesis imperfecta whose bones break easily, those who have autism or a developmental disorder, those who have been harmed or raped before, those who have medical procedure after medical procedure, those who like more space than others, may not want to be touched.  Our bodies are our own.  The police saw it as so important to touch Robert Saylor, to prevent him from continuing to occupy a movie theater, that they killed him, even as his caregiver pleaded for a different way.

To that I say, noli me tangere.

Sexual Assault and Disability: Medical Settings

Trigger/flashback warning, sexual assault and medical abuse discussion.

This piece written as a guest piece for E. S. Henry's Disability and Sexual Assault series at Feminist Sonar and is cross-posted at:

People with disabilities and chronic illness are particularly vulnerable to assault in medical settings, where there is plenty of privacy but not a lot of internal security.  Hospitals have done little to address this, seeing instances as isolated incidents.  Patients assault other patients, strangers and visitors walk in from the streets into hospital rooms and assault patients, medical professionals and technologists assault patients. After-the-fact justice is no substitute for prevention, measures that could ensure no patient be harmed.

Part of the problem is a lack of watchfulness.  Once as I waited in the ER with my husband, I saw how a recent sexual assault took place in another nearby ER.  Patients in adjoining rooms were left alone for long stretches of time--stretches of time that must have seemed short to busy nurses.  If there were security cameras, probably no one ever looked at them.  Another patient or a visitor could easily have access to vulnerable patients--many were left alone or family had not arrived yet--and could have easily gotten away it.  No one came into the hallway we were in for 30 minutes at a time, and a sexual assault or groping only takes minutes or less.

Such assaults happen regularly--google many variations of search terms and watch the news stories over time.  These are the ones we know about.  Most we don't.  They don't make it to the news, or like most assaults, they're not reported.  The privacy, lack of security, sedation or nonverbal status, the embarrassment of patients, shock / trauma, cultural assumptions that victims wants attention or money, one person's word against another--it all creates the perfect opportunity and the victim knows she may not be believed or cannot bring herself to speak.

One of my doctors has said it's medicine's dark secret, much as with the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts and Penn State.  Once I was told I shouldn't report, that it would destroy a whole hospital and people's careers and tear up families.  That's never been the case before.  And what about me, our family?  And all the others?

If you work in medicine, ask questions, develop real security policies--ones meant to protect patients from harm, not organizations from accusations or accountability.  Many of your chronic patients and disabled patients (there is some overlap) have been at least groped, if not sexually assaulted, some more than once.  Up to 80% of the disabled population has been sexually assaulted; 50% MORE THAN 10 TIMES (  Even men with disabilities experience at least double the rate of sexual assault.  Disabled people are also assaulted by professional caregivers, spouses, friends and family who have access, and acquaintances who know their schedules and vulnerability.  Compassion and awareness are essential.

Ferret out your Sandusky's.  Expose them to the light of day.  Ask questions.  Don't look the other way.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Gathering Entries for ADBC through May 4--and Blogging Against Disablism Day

Hi, all, because of the close proximity to Blogging Against Disablism Day, for which many of us write, Sharon and I decided to move the deadline for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival to May 4, with a goal of publishing all the entries together on May 6.

In the meantime, Blogging Against Disablism Day takes place this Wednesday, May 1.  Goldfish hosts this large event annually, and puts in a lot of time to raise awareness about disablism.  This is its eighth year.  There is a wonderful diversity of experiences and voices represented every time, and it's very worthwhile to spend time in the days after reading as many as you can.  You'll find experiences similar to your own as well as possible solutions, advocacy ideas, and encouragement.  Whether or not you are participating, please let others both in and outside the disability community know about it, both now so they can participate and later so they can learn about the forms disablism takes.  This blogging event is a wonderful way to network with other online disability activists and scholars.

For the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, the topic is Resources and Tools.  Let others in the service dog community know of any of your discoveries--organizations, videos, supplies, or ideas--that help make life easier for working teams and potential teams.  Anyone who is interested is welcome to participate.  If you need any help with your blog post or want to bounce an idea off me, feel free to email (fridawrites @ gmail. com).  Catch us the next time if you need to because of your schedule or your health, but if you haven't had a chance to write, feel free to do so.

And again, please provide invitations to anyone else you think would like to join us!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Blog Post for ADBC: A Few of My Favorite Things

For the Eleventh Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, which was started by Sharon Wachsler of After Gadget, I will share a few products that have been helpful to me in working with my service dog.  

Blog carnival banner with purple doggy

The Andis ProClip Ultraedge Shaver and Oster TDQ Blade

My dog has tight poodle curls that look like a fresh salon permanent when he's freshly washed.  I love that as a multigeneration Labradoodle with a hair coat that he's hypoallergenic for both me and others with severe allergies.  He also doesn't shed--his hair grows like human hair.  That helps clothing, carpets, and floors stay clean longer.  The tradeoff is that his coat mats very badly after a few months, and his coat periodically requires a lot of care.  If it reaches a certain length, it will tangle and not dry out after a bath.

Blue Andis UltraEdge Clipper

One of my favorite new tools is my Andis ProClip UltraEdge shaver, used with the Oster Take Down Quick/TDQ blade, an extra wide style that clips very close to the skin.  Sharon Wachsler introduced me to the clipper, and it has been a life saver over our old, supposedly good one--and a back saver as well!  It will also save us lots of money over the years on professional grooming, as we'd have been forced to go to that soon. The special blade cuts through the matting without having to detangle tiny painful snarls first, and because it's so wide and has two rows of teeth with different lengths, the blade also takes less time.
TDQ blade

It used to take us six hours of work over several days to shave down our poor doggy after dematting, valuable hours we needed for other tasks.  Now it takes us one hour for his whole body without dematting first.  We still give extra attention to his ears, tails, face, and paws on a different day. He can go much longer between cuts, and his fur doesn't get tangled.  Happy dog, happy people!

We send Sharon a huge thank you!  

First, a caveat/tip on leashes and elevators.  An elevator almost closed on my dog's leash while he'd exited just as my wheelchair stopped working.  He didn't do anything wrong--I'd told him to exit because I was anticipating to be right next to him.  Instead, he was on one side of the threshold, I was on the other, and I was barely able to kick the door open on time.  I've also tried it off leash and almost got separated because the door closes so fast.  Please be careful if no one is around an elevator to help--some elevator doors close too quickly, and in the first case turning my wheelchair very slightly brought it to a stop.  If you're at an unfamiliar elevator, you may want to open and let it close once so you can see how wide the door is, how fast the door closes, and how deep it is, how you have to maneuver.   Be ready to exit together, make sure your power chair is at the right speed and that you can quickly block the door if needed.  Side-by-side.  Please pass the word to other wheelchair SD teams.

Now for the fun part.

I love leashes, of all different kinds. One of my favorites is a Bamboo brand leash, which comes in a 6-foot length or a 3-foot length that have some additional length adjustability.  The leashes are nylon and have a clip that will fit into a seatbelt holder--to avoid choking, it's better to hook it into a D-ring on your dog's vest or a safety harness (these are available at Foster and Smith).  

Bamboo brand leash in blue, showing seat belt latch and nice pocket

If you remove the leash, you can hook the leash clips around the hole in the seatbelt latch.  And voila, you have a handy door pull to take with you everywhere!  While unfortunately Bamboo stopped making these leashes, they do show up on ebay periodically, and there are some off-brands that you can find there or other places on the web.

Recently I purchased a Partner Link wheelchair leash from Cody's Creations (the one offered in the giveaway).  This leash can be ordered in your choice of color.  Its particular advantage is that its very short length can keep your dog close in crowds and places where you need to be very close together.  Longer leashes can easily get tangled in a wheelchair's wheels when you're working closely, presenting a serious danger!  However, you can make the leash longer if you need it to be or so that your dog can recline easily when you stop and rest.  One caveat: unless you can enter a doorway or another narrow space side-by-side, you will need to remove the leash there, or extend it to its longer length so you don't choke your dog.
Partner Link - A Wheelchair Leash
Young, happy woman with power wheelchair, her Labrador service dog on a Partner Link leash

A different short leash served me well when I was training my puppy.  I have severe nerve pain in my left shoulder, the side on which my dog works.  So when my dog would periodically put some tension in the leash--not even necessarily pulling--I would have a lot of pain after walking with him for a while.  And the occasional strong pulls that a puppy will do before you give him redirection--well, those could injure me for a few days.  I found a shock absorbing, no-pull short leash by EZ Step that works.  Because of the bungee effect, it doesn't tangle in the wheels easily, though it can. It has an ergonomic grip and the shock/energy from any tugs or tension is distributed rather than transferred through to your arm.  Lovely!
Gold EZ Steps shock-absorbing leash

Another leash that I don't have yet but that other people love is the Bold Leash Designs convertible leash available on Etsy.  You can use it eight different ways, including at an 8-foot length, doubled up, or around your torso so it's hands free (important for those who stand with their service dogs).  I'd like one of these or a Buddy Leash--which goes around the waist.  I have got to order one of these soon!  It would make going up and down stairs much safer when I can do so.
Photo of brown leather Bold Design leash with gold hardware, with a diagram of the eight different possibilities
And, one more leash I'm interested in but haven't purchased yet, a Surf's Up! waterproof coil leash that won't ruin in wet weather or at the pool.  The coils prevent tangles.  I would love this leash in a shorter length for service dogs, who have to stay close to us--a 3-foot would be good.  This one extends to 6 feet, but some extend to 10 feet.
Yellow-green neon coil leash

For puppies who are in training and chewing, inexpensive leashes are great--you don't want your expensive leash that you need for outings chewed up while you think he's asleep or because you've become inattentive.  Keep the good leashes put out of reach, and watch him under that restaurant table.

Patches for Service Dog Vests
Creative Clam is a great resource for custom service dog patches.  She has many designs already available, but if you need to modify one, she can do that for you.  She has an amazing selection of patches, leash covers, and other identifiers for service dogs or emergency medical needs.  Very thoughtful products, with a great design.  Her patches have gone a long way to quickly communicating with others that my dog is not one who can be distracted by the public.  That's saved me a lot of energy!  The graphic designs are very clear, easy to read, and durable.
Circular medical alert patch with words "Medical Alert Dog/Do Not Distract" centered around a caduceus  
I hope some of these products are helpful to other people or give them ideas for products they would like to invent, hack, or find.  (If you love another leash, please share it with me!)

I would like to blog about a couple of terrific YouTube dog trainers soon--stay tuned!

Note: I have purchased the products that I mention; I have received no compensation for my reviews.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Overheating: Part II

We were out with my service dog again this weekend.  Temperatures were a bit cooler, and he walked several miles further without any difficulty at all.  We were out a few hours longer, and he napped very little.  But he drank in quantity--which he would not do at first last week, even though we offered very frequently.  You can lead (or give) your dog water, but you can't force him to drink!

I'm thinking snacks with more salt than his usual treats are a good idea on lengthy outings, as they are for people--you can replenish water but remain dehydrated if salts aren't replenished.  And in fact we used some deli turkey for rewards yesterday and gave him some seasoned beef jerky for an additional snack and treat.  My belief is that a dog who's working a long time needs calorie replenishment to avoid hypoglycemia and electrolyte imbalance, as a hiker would.

What happened last week is a good reminder that a dog with a lot of stamina can have problems quickly if they're not drinking enough and/or get overheated.

I'm interested in whether anyone else has trouble getting their service dog to drink enough sometimes.  Is it from excitement and distraction, or is there some physiologic reason?

(Adding: dogs, like babies, can't tell you when they're feeling down.  Watch your dog carefully for signs their energy is flagging--a service dog will contain his excitement more visibly than other dogs--but would keep going long after he should because of it.

I have some birthday money and will be ordering the cooling vest ahead of summer temperatures for my hot doggy--thanks, all!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Overheating and Your Service Dog: A Serious Issue

Yesterday we went to a local Renaissance fair.  We all had lots of fun.  This is a favorite activity for all of us--my husband and I went to fairs when we were dating, and we took our children even as tiny babies.  My dog as so excited, though he restrained himself, as soon as we got there.  He recognizes some of the performers and merchants and even sat up to watch some of the shows and listen to the music.  I even (shhh!) gave him some turkey leg.

But it's already warm--upper 70s and humid, with the air still most of the day.  Though we took frequent breaks and we offered water often, my dog's panting at one point led to a much faster pant.  We removed his vest and poured water over his privates, under his front elbows, on his paws, and on his head.  His panting immediately slowed down and he relaxed and slept.  We watched some shows rather than walking--so that he took a good hour-long break.  We caught the problem within 15 seconds of it starting, but it has me thinking toward much warmer days ahead.

The sun is hot, and if you have a dog who is dark, densely curly-coated, or heavy-coated, they will overheat more easily.  Add a vest to that, and it can be a bit dangerous for your dog.  I like my dog to wear his vest--the bright color keeps people from tripping on him (honestly, he blends in with the dirt and with restaurant floors) and the patches give quick shorthand explanations.  It also signals to my dog that he's on duty, and it looks professional.  If there's an emergency or, God forbid, we got separated, people would know he's a service dog.  And it's easier for drivers to see him when we're in traffic.

Increasingly, though, I wonder if I should leave the vest off in outdoor venues when it's warm.  For a 30-minute walk in the park or a longer excursion to an air-conditioned school event, museum, or mall, we're fine.  For a half- to full-day excursion at the zoo, botanical gardens, art festival, or a Renaissance fair, no.  My dog can't let me know he's overheated, well, until he's overheated.  And a vest can be too much even for a few minutes when it's 106F outside, though all of our outings are planned carefully when it's that hot.  The vest can still be with me--parked on the wheelchair or my lap.

Here are some suggestions I've seen for keeping your dog cool in the heat, along with some of my own.  I'm not a vet, so there may be some additional suggestions I'm missing.
1. Offer drinks of cool water frequently.  (Remember his drink bottle will heat up as yours will--you might need a fresh one.)
2. Pour water on your dog's best cooling spots--tummy/genitals, elbows, and paws.  After a few minutes, I also poured some on the back of my dog's head and a little on his back--I didn't want to send him into shock by cooling him too fast.  Getting some of his curls damp allowed him to stay cool longer.
3. Rubbing alcohol on these hot spots will cool your dog quickly, but make sure he or she doesn't lick!  You can get alcohol prep pads at the drugstore--they're prepacked, light, and take up almost no room.  I have some for my wheelchair joystick.
4. Find a shady spot and/or hop from shady area to shady area.
5. Alternate walking/sitting more than you if you were not accompanied.
6.  Don't push your dog too hard.  Your dog will already be walking at least several miles at a venue like this; handling that and heat may be too much together, particularly if he's not been used to working in the heat.
7. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need.  I'm certain the first aid people would have been glad to help if needed.  A dog that's staying overheated or who is distressed can be transported in the first aid cart with family or a friend so he doesn't have to walk, and he could be moved to a water supply where he could be more easily and completely soaked down.  Stores/restaurants can also give you water to help.
8. Be attentive and responsive, as well as patient. Your dog will keep going even when it's not a good idea. If you're a wheelchair user, your dog may wear out first when you're putting in some distance.
9. Your dog will decondition as you do if you've been sick or less active. Have others take him or her for walks as much as possible if you can't, and be sure to exercise him in your house and yard.

What we experienced was by no means an emergency.  But it required urgent attention and definitely reminded me that it's time to pay attention to warm temperatures again, and to be careful.

In good news, my son is doing a lot better.  Two years ago, we could only move from show to show, and he tired in 5 minutes and was in a lot of pain.  My husband had to give him piggyback rides.  Even a year ago, he could not walk far.  Yesterday he complained after 4 hours, though he was able to stay longer.  That was something to rejoice in!

Any further ideas for keeping your dog cool and from becoming overtired?  Please share them in comments!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Reclaiming Sex: Inflammatory Arthritis and Intimate Relations

*Sex education material here; adults only*

Feel free to reproduce for other patients; please give credit to FridaWrites as the author.

Despite the wealth of information available about sex and sexual problems, unfortunately almost nothing is written about chronic illness/disability and sex.  Often severe arthritis makes every single physical action challenging; on difficult days, every movement is carefully considered or at least keenly felt.  And when it comes to sex and sexuality, relationships can suffer and personal/spiritual fulfillment be compromised.

If pain or fatigue are uncontrolled, sex can be difficult or impossible, especially if the individual has a lot of demands on his/her limited energies.  And sex can create severe inflammation or a flare afterwards.  Libido can be severely affected by pain or medications.  Controlling your pain as much as possible may allow you room to get in the mood.  But remember that sex and becoming aroused also release endorphins—at a certain point, the pain will diminish.  You need enough pain control to begin, but not 100% pain control.

One key is to allow lots of time. You may have to schedule sex, so you can take a little more pain med in advance.  Try for mid-morning to early evening rather than late night or early morning.  Plan before a big and exhausting event, not after.  And allow hours, not quickies; it's worth it to go very slow to avoid the pain flare.  Using heat on joints (microwave heat packs!), soaking in a hot tub, or taking a hot shower can help ease pain on joints.  Gentle massage of tight muscles can help reduce pain and increase relaxation.  There are Youtube videos by LMTs demonstrating techniques--go very gently at first so as not to flare later!  

Keep movements slow and easy and pay attention to positioning.  Use pillows underneath joints that hurt (without a pillow under my left knee, my hip says no and I shut down), and large bed wedges from the back stores or Liberator pillows to make alternate positions more comfortable.  The wedges mean you can position closer to the other person and be more supported without straining your spine.  

For those with spinal arthritis or pelvic pain, reducing pelvic motion will help a lot--think of both of you with micro-movements focused on keeping the spine straight, so that you're rocking more on a horizontal axis rather than pushing your spine into the plane of the bed. For women, using a vibrator can reduce the physical effort required.  A side-lying position or doggy-style may take most pressure from joints.  Look up different positions and see if something else might help.

One RA blogger, Lene Andersen, reminds people that our necks are vulnerable to injury during sex (actually, go read her whole post), so you may have to be careful not to arch it.  Neck movement is as dangerous with spondylitis--you are vulnerable to spinal cord injury and vertebral fracture as your spine becomes brittle and fused.  I second her voice--when the rush of endorphins and your body tension is at its strongest, you will not be able to feel the pain you may be producing in any of your joints or soft tissue, not until later. So be careful!  What feels great now may produce an injury or setback.  Go easier next time if you need.

Sometimes it's just not going to work, even when you're both in the mood.  It’s okay.  Come back and try later in the day or the next day—a few hours often makes all the difference physically.

Carlin Ross, who writes with Betty Dodson, writes fairly regularly about disability and sex:  Ross has 67 posts with the disability tag already, and a lot of what Ross writes would apply to arthritis.

There are a couple of books that may help (there's also a more recent theoretical text):
-Enabling Romance: A Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships for People with Disabilities (and the People Who Care), Ken Kroll and Erica Levy Klein
-The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness, by Miriam Kaufman, Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odell

Call for Posts: Eleventh Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (#ADBC)

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival banner with purple dog silhouette

Welcome, service dog enthusiasts!  Thank you so much to Sharon Wachsler of After Gadget, who created the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC), for the opportunity to host.  The Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is a great way to find writers who are kindred spirits, to explore creative ideas and solutions, and to enable people to find your own blog.  You can find more information about what a carnival is and read past entries at the ADBC information page.  We also have another giveway this month (below). 

The Details

The theme for this carnival is Resources and Tools.  Sharon inspired me to create this topic because of her generosity in sharing her ideas with others through her videos, her explanations and links to Sue Ailsby’s and others’ dog training work, and a small miracle she gave our family by recommending particular grooming tools to us that have saved us hours of laborious work.  I’ve really learned since embarking on this journey how crucial it is that we share information with one another and ask questions. 

Feel free to be as creative as you like with the theme.  Some possible ideas for this topic include:

  • links to dog training sites, books, and videos that have been really helpful
  • a piece about the kinds of people and allies who are helpful to you as a team;
  • a description of how you solved a difficult problem or two;
  • different avenues for service dog training/application;
  • lists of physical tools such as grooming equipment, leashes (I love leashes), dog foods, etiquette or ADA cards, treat bags, etc. that make your life easier; or
  • a combination of these.

The goal of this carnival is to provide all of us with some enriching ideas that will benefit working partners and trainers now and that also can serve as a resource and reference to newbies/future service dog owners or to us when we have a new need.

April 28 by midnight your time

Posts will be compiled and listed April 30. (I will include any that are submitted late, but in the spirit of offering a rich resource that people may visit then, please strive to submit your posts on time.)

Who may submit:      
Anyone who would like may submit a post: trainers, service dog owners, puppy trainers or other volunteers, veterinarians, prospective owners who are mulling over the possibility of owning a service dog.  We have many people who train their own service dogs (owner training).  Since posts will include products this time, please, if you sell a product, do not make your post purely commercial—the focus should not be on advertising or self-promotion, but on life with a service dog or the training and supports for one.  

Please help us spread the word:
Let other people know about the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival via email, Twitter (use the #ADBC tag), Facebook, and other social media, and invite individuals who may be interested to contribute a piece.  We’d like as many people as possible to benefit from the community and camaraderie of service dog bloggers as well as from the wealth of ideas and information shared.

Submitting Your Work

After you’ve written your post, please follow these short steps to submit your work:
  1. Please include a link to the Blog Carnival (you can link to the call for posts initially, then change it to the carnival piece when it’s collected/collated on April 30).  A link to the ADBC homepage is also appreciated.
  2. If you like and are able to, please include the ADBC badge/image, the one with the purple doggy above that says, “Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.”  You can copy and paste it.
  3. Important: to comply with the new law about product reviews, if you write about particular products, please write a note on the end of your blog post that says you have received nothing in exchange for the review, or that you have received the product for free to review.  (If you’ve been paid to review, that’s commercial, and the blog carnival is not commercial.)
  1. Accessibility (from Sharon Wachsler’s previous blog carnivals):  
-For the sake of people with seizures and migraines, which can result in critical medical emergency, please remove anything on your blog that flashes or moves (snow falling, gifs that move, graemlins, etc.) or music that automatically plays when someone enters your blog, until two weeks after the carnival goes live.  OR please include a head’s up that you have this feature in your entry below so we can make informed decisions in taking care of our health and safety.  
-Making your posts as accessible as possible to readers with a wide range of disabilities will be greatly appreciated for all participants.  Examples of ways to make your blog more accessible include providing a description of visual images or a transcript of videos and turning off Captcha (word verification) for comments, and making link text relevant.  Here are five easy steps to making your blog more accessible. For further info, here's Sharon's cheat sheet on accessible blogging.
  1. To submit your postcomment below with your name (as you’d like it to appear), the name of your blog, the name of your post, and the URL for your post. OR, if you prefer, tweet me the same info to @fridawrites or email me at  (Some people have had problems commenting on Blogger—it may be easier to type your name and URL in than to log in, or again, you may email.)  Please let me know if you have problems commenting.

Because of the theme of this month’s post and inspired by the giveaway Sharon did for the tenth carnival, I’m offering a drawing for two items I particularly like—this is not a new requirement for the carnival!  The two winners will be randomly selected from writers who submit posts.

The first item is a Partner Link leash from Cody’s Creations in the color of your choice.  
Partner Link - A Wheelchair Leash
Photo of happy woman with dog on Partner Link leash

I love leashes and have found it necessary to have a variety for different purposes.  The Partner Link leash is a wonderful short leash that can make navigating in tight crowds much easier; it can be extended to make a longer leash for rest.  If you are not a wheelchair user, I can order one of her cool treat bags for you.

The second item is a custom collar from Terri at Day Dog Designs.  Terri uses adorable European ribbons to fashion her collars.  I’ll include one of her convenient tag changers that allows you to move tags between collars easily (how’s that for accessible design?). She has dozens and dozens of prints from which to choose--you will select the style and size for your dog (note that you can place the 5/8" or 3/4" ribbons on a wider collar). 

Paisley Dog Collar / Adjustable Pet Accessory
Photo of collar with blue and pink paisley ribbon on pale blue nylon
I look forward to reading your posts!  Please contact me if you have any questions or to let me know if there’s anything I’ve overlooked.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival #11: Call for Posts Coming Soon!

The next blog carnival will be hosted here at FridaWrites; posts will be due on April 28.  The topic will be Resources and Tools.  Stay tuned, and I will get the announcement posted shortly!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Assistance Blog Carnival #10, Perfect 10: Perfectionism and Service Dog Training

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.
Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Banner
Perfectionism and Service Dog Training

This blog post is written for the 10th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC), hosted by the wonderful Sharon Wachsler of After Gadget.  Go read some of the other entries when you have a chance! I have learned quite a lot from other service dog owners through the carnival.

I have been using a scooter or wheelchair for five years.  Five years, centered right around Martin Luther King Day, the midpoint in the week of buying and using the scooter at home and using it at work for the first time.

In my pre-wheelchair life, I was a Perfectionist with a capital P.  Even my best was often not good enough for me, and I would strive to go further, to do better, and to make a difference.  I was not easy on myself to say the least. Becoming more disabled was very difficult and meant letting go of a lot in ways I did not want. I had anticipated even as a wheelchair user continuing to work and go to school and volunteer, to travel extensively and to write copiously.

A year and a half ago, I received my service pup in training.  We soon moved from training with an individual to training our dog ourselves.  Through the help of my children, my pups, and the generosity of other service dog owners, including Sharon, in sharing resources, we've come a long way.  I never thought that I could owner-train, not only because of the physical demands but because of my lack of experience. I'd had other dogs, sure, but they were constant companions, not service dogs at all.

Because I am so hard on myself, I can be very embarrassed if my dog behaves less than perfectly. I am not overly demanding on my dog; actually, I can be the opposite because of fatigue and exhaustion.  Despite the help from others, there are times when I am not up to training for quite a while, or times where my dog has not been in public for a while since I've been stuck indoors. He may need some refreshers, and I worry that the perception is that he's not really a service dog if he makes a mistake, albeit a small one.

Recently, for example, my dog refused to pick up my keys in a parking lot. I'm not sure why.  He's picked them up for me dozens of times before.  We worked on this behavior again at home--at first he was hesitant, but with treats and reinforcement, he was quickly picking up my keys again.  That's not what people saw in public, however--sometimes people only see the rare refusal to do a certain task or an off-day when he's tired or balky and not all the tasks he does help with.  Since some people imply that he's not a service dog or is a "fake" one since he's an atypical breed, I feel more pressure for him to "perform" quickly and compliantly.

But my dog is not a robot or an extension of my personality.  He is a thinking animal and a caring soul with his own needs and wants.  He has the freedom to make mistakes--within reason, of course.  And it's my job to guide him so that he doesn't make serious ones, endangering his safety or inadvertently harming me, such as pulling his leash.  He likes to greet people he recognizes that we see often or semi-often--and it doesn't take him long to recognize people.  I'd prefer that he not sniff a pants leg or get underfoot--but to me, he shouldn't need the reminder.  When people tell me, "it's okay," sometimes I can't hear that.  I have to teach myself to hear that.  Here, I don't mean people who interfere with my dog in public, but the ones who see him with me and don't mind if he greets them.  While I still want him to cooperate on first command and to show manners and not be intrusive, it's nice that many people don't mind him and the (very contained) enthusiasm that he shows for them, that they don't judge him or me if he needs a direction.

Intelligent disobedience is also easy to miss, and sometimes I don't pick up on it until later.  As I mentioned in my last ADBC post, it took me a while to figure out why my dog would sometimes throw himself in front of my footplates--to prevent someone from bumping into me hard, to draw my attention to the kind of men who frighten me, or because he sees a large dog who's not behaving particularly well and who we need to keep an eye on. Ironically, I wanted to train him to do these tasks, but I almost corrected him out of doing them automatically! So what can initially look like a lack of perfection can be the purest of perfection--finding a need and fulfilling it, even when directed to do otherwise. It just does not appear that way to others. And I'm okay with that.

I have to be careful as a service dog owner that my perfectionism doesn't overtire my dog or put too many demands on him. When we were stuck at the optometrist's office for nearly two hours last week, my 12-year-old became increasingly restless and uncomfortable. So did I, and I, umm resorted to making ballet poses and shadow figures on the eye chart, which relieved my shoulders for a bit. I pointed out to my son that my dog has to be better behaved than any toddler, and even than us. When my dog stood to stretch and then just stood for a while, I told my son to allow him to do that; if it's overly automatic for us to ask him to lie still, as for shorter doctor's appointments, we would miss that he was at least as uncomfortable as we were and really needed some relief.

I don't always know how others perceive Gabby, so it's been very helpful to me when others have praised how well-trained he is, being very specific.  And I've learned to relax more over time.  While we want to be the best team we can be, perfectionism would be damaging to us--to his well-being if I am not training the behaviors as I should and expecting too much from him, and to me if I put concerns over others' perceptions over my health and train more than my health will allow.  He conducts himself gracefully in public, lies quietly in restaurants and doctors' offices, does not disturb merchandise, stays by my side when other dogs or people tempt him.  And, importantly, he's a help to me.  If we're not perfect, well, c'est la vie.