Thursday 29 July 2021

Assistance Dog 101: Grounding

Our final day of Placement week was a very low key day. As we'd passed the public access test on the previous day, we went through a few of Henry's skills just to make sure that we were confident. We did one last training run at our local Woolworths and praticed Henry grounding.
When we reach the edge of the footpath or the curb, Henry is given the command to wait. He's trained not to move from the wait until he is given the next command.
L often needs reminding to stop, or at times he will walk/run straight into traffic. L has no sense of danger and very little safety awareness, so he will run out onto roads. With Henry, L has his own lead to hold onto that is attached to the left side of Henry's vest.
When Henry feels L pulling at that lead, Henry grounds himself because he hasn't been given the command to walk. Henry plants himself and on our final placement day, L, and myself, saw that Henry cannot be budged no matter how hard L pulls on his lead.

It is uncomfortable for Henry, as his vest and body is pulled in two directions - his own body weight keeping him grounded and L pulling at the vest. Henry received lots of praise and pats.
This is yet another strategy that will help keep L safe in the community ❤

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Henry goes to ... Australia Zoo

Henry goes to Australia Zoo!

Recently it was Daddy Superheros birthday so I decided to surprise my little family with an outing to Australia Zoo. Both little superheroes (and us parents) love zoos and we hadn't yet visited Australia Zoo.

I'd already done a little research and had discovered that we could take Henry with us on our zoo outing, they just required a minimum of three days notice.

Australia Zoo has two options for service dogs, the first option is that the service dog can be housed in their wildlife hospital while their owner is at the zoo. The second option is that a staff member accompanies the owner and service dog while at the zoo. That is the option that best fitted our family. While it is wonderful that Australia Zoo are able to look after the service dog, there would be a chance that we'd need Henry to put his training into action while at the zoo. The three day notice for Australia Zoo is so that can coordinate staff for the service dogs visit.

So after liaising with the Volunteer Coordinator, Bec, at the zoo, we were ready for our outing. And what an amazing day we had.

As we approached the entrance of Australia Zoo, the staff there recognised that we had a service dog and directed us to the counter that we needed to attend, as well as contacting the staff member that would be accompanying us at the zoo.

Sarah met us soon after and she was just wonderful. Sarah has worked at the zoo since 2002 so has seen quite a few changes, including the death of Steve Irwin. Sarah's role while we were at the zoo was to be the contact between us and the zoo staff. Sarah was on the radio checking where staff were walking the dingoes and other animals, checking with and informing staff when we were about to enter walkthrough enclosures, and assisting us to find our way around the zoo. And all because of Henry. There are obviously certain risks for both Henry and the zoo animals, and part of Sarah's role was to ensure that those risks were minimised. 

There were a few animals that Henry was not allowed to go near - the crocodiles, the cheetah, the tigers as well as onto Bindi's Island as there were various animals roaming on the island. These really were common sense, walking a dog past an apex predator is a recipe for disaster! All of the animals are very well fed, but ultimately they can be unpredictable especially if they sight an unknown animal. With these animals and their enclosures, Sarah waited with Henry and myself as the little superheroes took their Daddy to look at the animals.

Sarah was amazing - we basically had a personal guide at no extra cost, showing us around the zoo. Due to her working at the zoo for such a long time (she primarily works with the mammals at the zoo,) she was able to call the animals by name as well a provide us with information about the zoo and the animals. Sarah was so very patient with both little superheroes as they both bombarded her with random fun facts about the various animals that they saw - she was very polite as I'm sure she already knew all of the fun facts.

Henry was quite interested in the Rhinoceros Iguana! We're sure that he was thinking he could take the Iguana on! It took Henry about half an hour to settle into the zoo as with all the new smells and sounds, he was a little distracted.

Both little superheroes found a locked cupboard in the fossil dig area and L was convinced that because of it's location, the had to try to work out the code to the lock - "it must be part of the clue!" So apologies to the staff, L tried numerous times to work out the code!!

Both little superheroes had a giggle at this turtle as it was sun baking under the wrong sign! 

Both little superheroes had their own maps of the zoo and were directing us to what they wanted to see at the zoo.

Much to our delight, Chief, one of the zoos Tasmanian Devils was having a great rest in the sun. Usually we have to hunt for the Tasmanian Devils as they're asleep in one of their dens.

Henry has a wee bit of a fear of Ibis, they really are an odd shaped bird. He didn't spot these cousins of the Ibis, the glossy Ibis. He did however spot a fee bush turkeys that were roaming the zoo and by the puzzled look on his face, Henry did not know what they were!!

One of O's most favourite zoo animals are snakes - the bigger the snake, the better.

Our visit to Australia Zoo was the longest time we've been able to spend at any Zoo without one, or both kids, becoming overloaded. Henry really showed during our visit just how amazing he truly is. Whenever the little superheroes needed calming, Henry was there.

And Australia Zoo were so accommodating to us and Henry. As L said, quite a few times, "this is way better than the farm cos they wouldn't let Henry in!" We'll definitely be going back at some stage!

Friday 23 July 2021

Assistance Dogs 101: Work Mode

A few people have enquired as to if Henry is always in work mode, and technically he is. Whenever L is around, Henry always has an eye on him, regardless of where we are. If L runs off, Henry will watch where he goes, and then he will glance at us ready for the track command. If Henry hears L becoming distressed, he'll go find L and do a lap lay to calm him. Henry has been trained to be a working dog, so no matter what time of day, he will always have one eye on his boy.

Whenever we are at home, the jacket is off and Henry is just a typical goofball one year old puppy.

But the switch from relaxed mode to work mode is instant, especially when Henry's jacket is put on in the morning just before we leave for the school drop off. Henry can be prancing around the house with his bone or his sloth teddy, and as soon as his jacket is on, Henry serious work mode is switched on. Even without his leads and halti on, the jacket means work time. Henry's entire demeanour changes as soon as his jacket is on, right down to his facial expressions. Henry will usually give one last look at his sloth teddy as if to say "I'm sorry, I working now!"

And as soon as his jacket comes off either during the day or in the afternoon, goofball Henry appears instantly. Henry's favourite toys at home are his chew bone, his sloth teddy (that he chose at the Op shop!) and a Nerf bird throw toy.

Whoever is first awake in the morning, will have one of these three items thrust in their face by Henry with an entire body tail wag.

It is important to us that Henry has a good balance between being a working dog in his coat and having time to just be a puppy. Part of his training is to ensure that even when he is off lead in free mode, Henry will return when called as well as obey the rules of wherever we are - like not jumping up onto the couches and so on.

Henry and L love our daily walks, especially when they get to run around like crazy in the green space that is near us. Henry truly looks like a gangly baby giraffe with his long legs and floppy ears as he gallops around the area. It is definitely a great energy release for them both.

And Henry is a huge couch potato who loves to sleep. If he isn't prancing around the house with one of his toys, he is curled up in a ball fast asleep!

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Assistance Dogs 101: Assistance Dogs


Let's face it, dogs are, and always have been, man's best friend. We all know the extraordinary benefits and innate abilities that dogs have, and as they are (most of the time) highly intelligent and trainable, they are the most popular animal to assist us humans in an official capacity as a service dog or working dog.

But there seems to be a lot of confusion about the difference between an assistance/service dog and a companion dog. Depending on where you live in this wonderful world of ours, the lines seem to have blurred about the difference between the two.

It's been a few months since Henry arrived at superhero headquarters and became L's furry sidekick and already we have lost count of the number of times that when we've been out and about, a well meaning member of the public has said to us, upon realising that Henry is a service dog, "oh I have a service dog too, it's a [insert dog breed here.]" And the majority of times, the dog breed is a chihuahua or a dachshund or some other extremely small stature breed. We've also had people tell us that they have an emotional support assistance dog.

Now I have nothing against either of these breeds - in fact we're big fans of dachshund's, but neither of these breeds have the stature needed for the tasks that service dogs are often required to do. They are the perfect size dog breed for a companion dog however. And this leads us to the main point of this post.

There is a HUGE difference between an Assistance or Service Dog and a companion dog. The term Assistance and Service are interchangeable so in this piece when I refer to an Assistance Dog, I am also meaning Service Dog.

Assistance Dogs are considered a medical aid and they are specifically trained to assist people with visible and/or non-visible disabilities. There is a lot of training, many more hours of training then you would put into a family pet, and as such Assistance Dogs are given additional permissions and protections under the law than a family pet would have.

Due to the additional permissions and protections given to Assistance Dogs, they are required to meet specific temperament, behaviour and hygiene standards, both before and after their public certification.

Traditionally, Assistance Dogs are predominantly recognised as Guide Dogs for the sight impaired - Henry is often mistaken for a Guide Dog because that is the most well known Assistance Dog.

Assistance Dogs can be trained to do a wide range of tasks. Smart Pups who trained Henry not only train Autism Assistance Dogs, they also train mobility Assistance Dogs, Seizure Alert Dogs, Diabetes Dogs that detect high and low blood sugars and they've branched into training PTSD Assistance Dogs for returned service and emergency service personnel. Assistance Dogs, while assisting their owner with a myriad of tasks, also assist the person to access and participate in community activities.

Due to the role and tasks that Assistance Dogs are trained to do, Assistance Dogs are protected in Queensland under the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009 in regards to the public access rights that the dog and their handler have after they have successfully completed the certification process.

Assistance Dogs Australia wide, are also protected under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (commonly referred to as the DDA,) section 9, part 2. This states that the legal definition of an assistance animal, like a dog or other animal, is that it:

(a) is accredited under a State or Territory law to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effects of disability; or
(b) is accredited by an animal training organisation prescribed in the regulations; or
(c) is trained to (i) assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effect of the disability and (ii) meets standards of hygiene and behaviour that are appropriate for an animal in a public place.

To gain certification, the handler and dog must work with an approved trainer or training organisation to train the dog and once the trainer is satisfied, the handler and dog must successfully complete the public access test (PAT) and certification process.

Once the handler and dog have passed the PAT, a handler identification card is generated (in our case we have two handler identification cards, one for L and one for myself.) When the dog is in work mode, this card must be kept on the dog or handler at all times - Henry has a small pocket in his work jacket that these cards are kept in.

Assistance Dogs are working dogs. Henry is L's Assistance Dog and is in fact listed as belonging to L. Henry is not a family pet as even when out of his work jacket, he is still working.

When an Assistance Dog is in its jacket, the dog is on the clock and working to assist their handler. 

Assistance Dogs and their handlers have access to all public spaces - restaurants, shops, libraries, cinemas, zoos, work spaces, hospitals and everywhere in between. The only places that assistance dogs are not permitted are in commercial kitchens (but let's face it, do we really need dog hair in our food??) and sterile areas like operating theatres and quarantine areas (which makes a lot of sense.) By refusing access to an Assistance Dog, you are discriminating against the dog and their handler.

There are a few distinct features of an Assistance Dog, and not just the specific tasks that it can do, that really sets an Assistance Dog a part from a family pet. With an Assistance Dog, you shouldn't actually realise that it is somewhere a pet dog isn't allowed to go. We regularly surprise people with Henry when they realise that he has been very quietly sleeping under a chair or table while we've been out and about. An Assistance Dog, while in work mode, should not be barking or growling at people or at other assistance dogs. An Assistance Dog shouldn't be begging for food from its handler or other people around it. 

All of these things have occurred to us when we've been out and about - we've had two "assistance dogs" growl and bark at Henry as we walked past - Henry was on his best behaviour and ignored the dog both times which Henry was rewarded for. I've seen more than a few extremely small "assistance dogs" begging for food inside cafes and food courts of shopping centres. These are traits that you do NOT want to see in an Assistance Dog.

Dogs that are classed or referred to as companion or emotional support animals, generally do not have any task specific training and as such they are not recognised under the same legislation as Assistance Dogs and therefore they do not have the same public access rights as an Assistance Dog - they are also not recognised under the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009.

A companion or emotional support dog, while I have no doubt they are incredibly useful, they have generally not undergone any training to do specific, identifiable tasks to reduce their owner's need for support. A companion dog is a fancy way of saying a family pet.

If a companion or an emotional support dog has not undergone the public access test, it is not permitted to enter places such as restaurants, shopping centres, hospitals and so on.

If you are unsure about the classification of any dog that you see out and about in places that family pets are not allowed to be, by all means ask. The handler, if the dog has been certified, has an obligation to carry their handler card and provide this when asked for proof about the dog. Please be polite when asking to view these details though.

We've always said that if our old bull terrier was younger, she'd make a great therapy dog - she'd need a lot of training - but she is definitely an undercover therapy. She is a wonderful companion and emotional support dog.

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Assistance Dogs 101: Leads

While being out and about with Henry, we're often approached by members of the public and one of the questions that is invariably asked is about Henry's leads and collar.

Henry has two collars - he has a home collar which is a regular collar. And then he has his working collar which is known as a martingale collar. It is similar to a choker collar but with a smaller chain loop which provides more control over the dog. Henry also has a halti that slips over his nose and clips together behind his ears. One end of his lead, which is very long, is hooked onto his collar, the other end onto his halti, which effectively gives me the handler, a loop lead to hold onto to.
Henry is trained to commands but if he doesn't listen, which isn't very often, we can give his collar a tug. His halti is the last resort for discipline and it is simply to turn his nose towards us. As some have asked, the halti is not to prevent Henry from biting or opening his mouth.
If you see us walking Henry, we keep his lead loose. He is under complete control this way. Keeping the lead too tight, he pulls against the lead.
L has a shorter lead that attaches to the side ring on Henry's left side of his body. The end of L's lead has a neoprene loop that slips over L's thumb and hand.
When Henry is on lead attached to his collar and halti, he knows that we are in control.
In the centre of his jacket at the back is another ring, this is where the retractable lead is attached when he's tracking. As soon as we attach the lead to that, Henry knows that he is control and he leads us
Oh and in these photos, Henry was keeping watch where his boy had gone!

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Assistance Dog 101: Lap Lays and Overs

One of the skills that Henry has been taught, is to lay on L's lap to provide deep pressure input when L needs it.

L responds well to deep pressure, he has a weighted blanket that we used to use on a daily basis. Deep pressure calms L when he is overcome by his emotions, when he's in sensory overload, when he's feeling anxious or just having a rough day for whatever reason. L will often ask for big squishy cuddles if he is sad or upset.

Henry is able to do lap lays, which is putting his head onto L's lap, and overs, which is when Henry puts his front legs and head over L's legs and onto L's lap. The pressure from the lap lay is pretty heavy, the deep pressure from an over is even more intense.

The first time we practised lap lays was during our placement week and it was pretty damn perfect first time.

We've since had Henry do several lap lays, and overs, on L and on O when they've needed the deep pressure input. The calming is immediate. Even if we don't give Henry the command, he can often sense when L needs the deep pressure input and will just go and lay on L's lap.

Watching Henry in action is just wonderful and well worth the eighteen month wait!