Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Picking a puppy from a litter for assistance/service or therapy work

8 months 2 days old

Updated 13th June 2013

This is the third post in a series where I answer some of the common search queries I receive. I speak only reflecting my own experience, in this case temperament testing three litters - two to find Knightley and only one to find Apollo.

While this temperament test is intended for assistance/service puppy prospects, it would work perfectly well for testing a pet, a therapy dog, or a different type of working dog. You certainly wouldn't need to do all the parts of the tests if you were just looking for a pet, and I would only look for a puppy who scored at about the middle of the range - having a super smart dog as a pet can get you into trouble! Feel free to ask questions about adapting the test for pets or other working dogs.

Please note: This test can be used on adult dogs with a few small changes. You may have to skip the first test if the dog is large, you shouldn't clap for the recall test as adult dogs shouldn't need to be attracted like that, the food drive test is even more important as it also tests mouth inhibition (does the adult dog know not to use its teeth on your flesh?), and you'd have to do the webbing test with larger dogs on the ground. Often older dogs are quite touchy with their feet, but it may help to get down on the ground with them. Whether or not they are touchy with their feet shows how much work the previous owner has put into physical desensitisation and grooming.

You may also wish to add to the test a couple of commands - just to place the obedience/training level of the dog. Sit and down would be appropriate, and you could also test how the dog walks on a lead. When choosing an adult dog, having one that has had at least a little training bodes well for its other history.


It was about three and half years ago I became interested in the idea of an assistance dog (we call service dogs assistance dogs here in Australia), but it took me much longer to research the practicalities of whether it would be feasible for me to have one. I eventually decided I would self train, but then it once again took me a long time to find a breeder, and then a litter and puppy I was happy with. Unfortunately Knightley (my first dog) was found to have severe hip dysplasia, so I had to go through the process all over again to find my second dog, Apollo.

Knightley, happy to lie at my feet and play with toys and get
lots of attention on the day we tested him when he was
7 weeks old. He did extremely well on the temperament test
that day, and the test has been borne out in his behaviour
My experience that was finding the right breeder was important for finding the right puppy. You don't really want a breeder who is themselves quite timid and rarely goes anywhere, who mostly keeps to themselves on their property, as it seems from my experience that they can pass it onto their puppies. Find a breeder who has the puppies inside at least some of the time so from a young age they can get used to different surfaces. Also, it is important that they have people over to socialise with the pups, preferably children and men as even fully trained assistance dogs can be challenged interacting with them. Find a breeder who is likely to produce confident puppies so that you won't waste a trip going to see a timid litter

I have put together my own temperament test, which is a bit of a mixture of the Volhard test (which I see as quite outdated), the PAWS Working dog test and of my own devising, and all given a specific slant for public access work, which I've rather immodestly labeled as the DAD temperament test (downunder assistance dog). I ran it all past some very experienced assistance dog trainers who thought it was right on the mark, and I used it to select both my boys, who have both turned out to have wonderful temperaments, perfectly conjusive to acting as a working dog. You can read about my experience with the first litter I tested here, three puppies all of which I rejected. I wanted a male, and apparently *one* of the females in the litter had a confident, outgoing temperament, but that was not a good outcome for a litter of 6. They were extremely timid pups compared with the second litter of 11 puppies I looked at, 8 of which were male. The final litter I tested (from which Apollo came) was even more outgoing. The breeders put a lot of effort into raising those puppies and it really showed in the temperament test. Apollo was kept with his litter and mother until he was nearly 10 weeks old, and this turned out to be a very good thing. He learnt excellent bite inhibition and didn't ever nip us as a puppy, and learnt to get on with the other adult dogs the breeder owned. However, if the breeder isn't particularly proactive in their socialisation of the litter, it may be worth still bringing the pup home at 8 weeks so you can start the socialisation process. In Apollo's case he was better off remaining with the breeder for an extra couple of weeks.

Knightley doing the retrieve test with the breeder (after I had
done it too), very nicely I might add!
Anyway, here is the temperament test I used. I found sometimes you didn't need to go further than the second or third test with some puppies, because it was completely obvious that the puppy was unsuitable. A very experienced trainer once told me that the purpose of temperament testing was really to discount the puppies you didn't want, rather than the puppies you wanted. I found it quickly became very obvious when a puppy wasn't suitable. Deciding if a puppy was quite good enough is then up to you really, and that's where the scoring can come in handy, especially when comparing two puppies.

If possible do this test when the puppy is 7 weeks old, and get the puppy when it is wide awake as it will give a better performance. Try not to tire it out - if you are keen on it and want to do all the tests you may need to come back on another day. Little puppies need lots of rest!Taking a helper with you is recommended. You will want to prepare a temperament testing kit (see what to take further down the page).

DAD (Downunder Assistance Dog) Temperament Test

1. Lap Test

Lift the puppy onto your lap and simply stroke it. Note its posture and other body language carefully. Does it relax confidently on your lap and enjoy the stroking? Or does it crouch nervously and just shiver? This tests sociability. It is particularly important for Psych Assistance Dogs and therapy dogs.

Great ----- Relaxes on your lap, gives eye contact, curious OR climbs up towards your face to investigate and solicit attention 3 points
Good ----- Relaxes on your lap 2 points 
OK -------- Stands on your lap, loose and unafraid 1 point
Poor ------ Crouches on your lap, may tremble OR struggles to get down 0 points

2. At foot Test

Lift the puppy down to floor level at your feet. Make sure you are in a secure room or in a puppy pen for this one. Continue to pat the puppy as it is by your feet. Once again, watch its body language carefully. This tests sociability, independence and confidence. Once again this test is particularly important for Psych Assistance Dogs and Therapy dogs.

Great ----- Stays by your feet, enjoys the interaction, body loose 3 points
Good ----- Stays by your feet for a while, explores but comes back 2 points
OK -------- Stays briefly, off to explore showing independence 1 point
Poor ------ Moves away from you and cowers in a corner OR stays cowering against you, doesn't enjoy the stroking, body tight, possibly shivering 0 points

3. Recall/Come Test

Get your assistant to move the pup two or three metres (6 to 10 feet) away from you and call it to you - if the breeder is with you, ask what they use to call them for food time. You can clap or do anything else to help get the pup to you.

Great ----- Comes to you with little hesitation 3 points
Good ----- Takes a lot of encouragement, but comes 2 points
OK ------- Watches you, starts towards you, doesn't come whole way 1 point
Poor ------ Completely ignores you 0 points

4. Towel game Test

This is partly as a sight test, partly to test willingness to play which has been linked to trainability. You'll want to put aside or acquire a couple of ratty towels for use on your dog, so use one of these for the test. I tied some wool yarn around one corner of the towel and used the wool to drag and twitch the towel. The idea is to have the puppy in the middle of the floor, and then put the towel in front of him, making it twitch and dart back and forward. This is really testing something called prey drive, how much a dog wants to go after little creatures and toys that resemble creatures in the way they move or how they look. For an assistance dog you don't want a dog with a particularly strong prey drive, but you do want one that is curious.

Great ----- Is curious, immediately grabs it, holds on and tugs 3 points
Good ----- Watches, eventually interacts with encouragement, may hold on 2 points
OK -------- Watches, is at least interested, may want to play 1 point
Poor ------ Is particularly aggressive towards it OR is scared of it, cowering, trembling OR ignores it 0 point

5. Paper ball/small ball retrieve Test

For me, this was an incredibly important test, as one of the main tasks I wanted both Knightley and Apollo to do for me was assistance retrieves. The test seems to have worked - both were pretty good at doing a trained assistance retrieve at the age of only 9 months. For this test I simply get an A4 sheet of paper and screw it up into a ball, then throw it just a short distance directly in front of the puppy. Assuming he goes after it, I then call him, and really encourage him back to me with the ball. If he makes it, I gently take hold of the ball in his mouth and give it a gentle tug, keep up the praise and if he gives it to me I hold a praise party! For the second litter I tested I also had a small nylon ball to use, as well as the paper ball. That worked well too.

The early ability to retrieve has been very strongly linked to successful assistance dogs of all types, as well as retrieve being a necessary skill for most mobility assistance dogs.

Great ----- Will pick up ball, bring it back and let you have it 3 points
Good ----- Will pick up ball but drop it on way back OR will pick up ball but not return to you 2 points
OK ------- Will chase ball but not pick it up 1 point
Poor ------ Watches ball but won't chase OR ignores ball 0 points

6. Squeaky toy interest Test

This test looks at curiosity and is a basic hearing test as well. A dog that is curious is often a good learner. I bought a little puppy toy specifically for this test that was a rope circle, but stuffed with a squeaker inside. It stood the test of time, even after the stuffing and squeaker were gone it remained a favourite toy for a long long time! I would have the pup on the ground and wait until it was looking in another direction then suddenly squeak the toy. Once the pup has reacted, squeak it again. If you are looking for a detection dog, or a police dog, these 'play' tests are very important.

Great ----- Immediately turns, on next squeak comes to investigate 3 points
Good ----- Immediately turns, but takes lots of squeaks to investigate 2 points
OK ------- Turns, upon more squeaks is curious, but doesn't come 1 point
Poor ------ Ignores the squeaking for whatever reason 0 points

7. Tug interest Test

This can be an important test for those wanting to train a mobility assistance work who will need to do lots of tugging (opening doors etc). While there is a lot of difference between a play tug and a controlled trained tug, this will at least give you an idea of the pups willingness to have things inside its mouth and pull at the same time. For this test I used the squeaky toy that was half rope and just right for a little puppy to tug. Very important for detection/police dogs.

Great -----  Immediately interested in playing, will latch on and tug 3 points
Good ----- Pup will hold on, will tug a bit but lets go quickly 2 points
OK ------- Interested in playing but doesn't know quite what to do 1 point
Poor ------ Not interested, ignores it 0 points

8. Hearing sensitivity/audio startle recovery Test

For this test I use two soda cans, and hit the two ends together pretty firmly and loudly. Have the pup on the ground in front of me, and wait until its head turns away from you, then bang the cans together. You are watching firstly to make sure the puppy easily heard the sound, and secondly whether it was afraid and how quickly it recovered from being startled. It's ok if it jumps a bit if it recovers quickly.

Great ----- Turns interestedly, may jump, comes to investigate 3 points
Good ----- Jumps a lot, recovers quickly, returns to what it was doing OR turns briefly (enough that you know the pup heard it), then ignores it 2 points
OK ------- Jumps at noise, slowly recovers, returns to what it was doing 1 point
Poor ------ Jumps at noise, may whimper or hide OR jumps at noise and may have aggressive reaction 0 points

9. Food drive Test

I am sort of assuming your dog is going to be clicker or at least positively trained by putting this test in here. Clicker training is the most common way these days to train complicated behaviour chains for assistance tasks, and it is very useful if the dog is quite food driven! For this test I would recommend using something like a small chunk of raw meat or a soft commercial liver treat - something that is going to be particularly tasty for the little puppy. Hold the treat between two fingers, so the puppy can't get it but can taste it.

Great -----  Anxious to get food, works at it with tongue for a while 3 points
Good ----- Keen to get food, licks but gives up fairly quickly 2 points
OK ------- Notices food, may sniff and lick a bit but not too bothered 1 points
Poor ------ Not interested 0 points

10. Clicker Test

This is partly assuming once again that you may be using a clicker, but it is really just checking aversion to strange noises. The clicker makes a rather high frequency clicking noise that some more sensitive dogs have problems with. Obviously a dog doing public access work has to be ok with all sorts of sounds, so this makes sure that the dog is ok with a sound that it may be hearing a lot of in the future, but also tests acceptance of new strange noises. Hold the clicker behind your back (clickers are very cheap, but if you don't have a clicker, try to find something that will make a fairly loud high pitched noise to test the pups) and click it several times in a row.

Great ----- Pup turns, tries to find where noise is from, not bothered 3 points
Good ----- Looks up, but returns to what it was doing 2 points
OK ------- Ignores the sound (only ok if pup passed the other hearing tests) 1 points
Poor ------ Flinches from the sound, is uncomfortable in some way 0 points

11. 'Weird' public behaviour Test

In the course of their working lives, assistance dogs, therapy dogs and other types of working dogs will come across many different types of people. You will want your assistant to simulate a member of public being upset and getting loud and physical. So get them to throw their arms around a bit and yell, standing in front of the puppy. Watch for its response. This tests reactions to a loud voice, and reactions to strange physical movements.

Great ----- Is interested in what assistant is doing, wags tail 3 points
Good ----- Isn't bothered, may watch a bit 2 points
OK ------- May be a little put off, but once it stops recovers quickly 1 points
Poor ------ Is scared or anxious, flinches from the loud voice or waving arms 0 points

12. Umbrella/visual startle recovery Test

This is once again something that a dog will come across in public a lot, and tests the puppies ability to recover from being visually startled. It is the visual equivalent of banging the soda cans together. It is fine for a puppy to be scared of something, what is important is how quickly the puppy recovers from its fright. Have your assistant stand at the distance of maybe 4 - 5 metres (12 - 15 feet or so) away from the pup (think of them walking towards you on a street, about to open an umbrella), and then very suddenly open the umbrella towards you and the pup. Try to not use an umbrella with a spike on the end anywhere around little puppies - it just isn't very safe. Watch the puppies response when the umbrella is opened.

Great ----- Pup little startled, recovers quickly, wants to inspect umbrella 3 points
Good ----- Pup very startled, recovers quickly OR pup isn't much bothered 2 points-
OK ------- Pup very startled, takes a while to recover 1 points
Poor ------ Pup scared OR pup has aggressive reaction, perhaps barking 0 points

13. Gentle webbing pinch Test

This can be an important test for dogs that are going to be mobility assistance dog, as they are likely to spend a fair bit of time in harness, doing all sorts of tasks that dogs definitely weren't born to do. Some of them may at first be a little uncomfortable for the dog until it gets used to the task, so it helps if the dog isn't particularly sensitive. This is also important for therapy dogs, who may have to be ok with clumsy, uncomfortable or even painful touching from older persons and children. Have the pup on your lap and gently hold one paw in your hand. You may need to be gently persistent as dogs don't like their feet being held. Gently separate two toes and hold the webbing between the toes (like we have at the base of two of our fingers) between thumb and forefinger. Start with just gentle pressure and slowly increase the pressure. You should practice on yourself first until you do it the same every time so that you an accurately compare puppies. Stop as soon as the pup squirms away. Important test for therapy dogs.

Great ----- 7 - 9+ count before puppy squirms/responds to pressure 3 points
Good ----- 5 - 7 count before puppy squirms/responds to pressure  2 points
OK ------- 3 - 5 count before puppy squirms/responds to pressure  1 points
Poor ------ 1 - 3 count before puppy squirms/responds to pressure  0 points

14. Concealed food Test

By ending with this test, you end with something positive and associate yourself with food in the puppies mind! If you do stop the testing at any stage as you think you have enough information on the individual puppy, try not to end it on a more 'negative' test. With this test you want to bring along a clear tupperware type lid, or a very low lying container that the pup will still be able to see through - but make sure it is completely clear so that the pup can see right through it. The idea is to put a hunk of food underneath the lid. Give the pup several pieces of food before very obviously putting a piece on the floor, then putting the lid on top. Then let the puppy do what it wants. This tests persistence and intelligence.

Great ----- Paws and licks at lid, tries to flip it, if gets food is excellent 3 points
Good ----- Briefly paws or mouths at the lid but gives up quickly 2 points
OK ------- Understands food is underneath but doesn't know what to do 1 points
Poor ------ Not interested at all 0 points 


As you may not do every test with every dog, what I do is add up the points for the tests you have done for each dog, and then divide by the number of tests you did do, so that you get that puppies average score across the tests.

0 - 0.99 This is definitely not a puppy you want to try training as an assistance/service dog. Even as a pet it would take a lot of work to make it a happy functioning member of your household.

1 - 1.99 This puppy has significant potential and would likely make a good pet. It is probably quite submissive in nature, and would need some work to bring it out of its shell. If its average is in the high 1s, then it may be ok as an assistance dog if you were not planning on doing a great deal of public access work with it - and if it did well on the retrieve and tug type tests. A puppy in the high 1s would make a good therapy dog too.

 2 - 3 This is your target range for the type of puppy you want to train as an assistance/service dog. I would aim for as high as possible, but you also want to make sure that the pup scores highly on the tests that predict trainability as an assistance dog. These dogs would also make a good therapy dog.

To give you an idea, my Knightley scored a 2.7 on his test, and Apollo scored 2.8. Both dogs did/are going very well as ADs, although Apollo is so smart he gets into all sorts of very creative mischief. There were anothers in both Knightley's and Apollo's litters that got somewhere around a 2.5, and indeed in Apollo's litter every single puppy could have become assistance dogs.... they were such sociable and cheerful pups. Knightley's litter tended to score lower. In any litter you test there will likely be a few standouts. However, in the first litter I tested, none tested over 2, and one was below 1. In a case like that you just have to keep searching for the right dog. I would recommend not picking a dog that gets below a 2.0, but that is my personal opinion on the matter.

Summary of what to take

These are just all the bits and pieces I listed in the temperament test:
  • Towel with yarn attached to one corner
  • Two empty soda cans
  • Umbrella
  • Meat or puppy treats
  • A clicker or something else to make a high pitched short sharp noise
  • A squeaky toy
  • A toy for tug
  • Some pieces of paper to roll up to make paper balls and/or puppy sized ball
  • Clear plastic lid/flat container

Keeping track

Knightley after we had chosen him. He was so very tiny!
You are going to want to keep some record of how the pups did, especially if it's a big litter! I didn't bother to start recording unless the pups did well on the first couple of tests, because if they were getting zeros and ones on those first tests they definitely wouldn't be doing well on the later ones. Try to get your assistant to do the keeping track as otherwise it's a lot to do!!

By the time I had tested the seven boys in Knightley's litter my head was spinning.... but Knightley was the last one, and it was clear from the outset that Knightley was going to be the puppy for us, without having to add up scores or anything. This was the same with Apollo, he was the clear standout of the boys, although there was a girl who was even more confident and trainable. I had never tested any girls before, and did for the breeder who had been asked to supply a suitable girl for a family with an autistic child. The one I recommended was a real darling.

Final points to consider
  • Start with the right breeder, look at health clearances, try to view the sire and dam, make sure the puppies are well socialised from a young age as that will make a huge difference throughout their whole life. The more effort the breeder puts into those puppies, the less work you will have to do
  • Try to find lines which have had dogs as assistance/hearing/guide/therapy dogs, or at least have participated in obedience
  • Don't let your heart decide which puppy to go for, it may well mean rehoming when it grows up to be an unsuitable dog. There is no such thing as 'close enough' when choosing a potential AD or even a family pet
  • While temperament testing is a very valuable tool for choosing a puppy, remember you are primarily trying to weed out the puppies that are not suitable. After then it is your choice
  • Even though a temperament test means you start out with the best puppy possible, it is no guarantee that it will make it as an assistance dog. Dogs go through two main personality changes throughout their lives, so you can never be sure how a puppy will turn out. Testing just makes sure you start with the best source material possible.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment or contact me on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DownunderAssistanceDog

Saturday, April 28, 2012

9 months old today!

9 months old

I can't believe Knightley is 9 months old.... that's 3/4 of a year!! It isn't long at all until he's a year old. If I were a puppy raiser there wouldn't be all that much time left, assuming I was giving him up at a year old like with most programs.

It has been a good long while since I have posted many photos of Knightley, so today I went and took a bunch to record his 9 month birthday. All the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them. The main change recently has been in sheer bulk - he has really filled out in the chest and doesn't look all that much like a puppy anymore. His weigh in last weekend put him at 31kg (68lbs), so he's certainly getting up there in weight. The other change has been in his feathering and coat in general... especially his tail and hind legs. He is certainly going to be a well feathered and furred dog, as he is definitely very furry already!

These are a couple of photos comparing Knightley now to how he was at 14 weeks old.

Knightley, my golden retriever puppy lying on my kitchen floor, 9 months old
Knightley today lying in much the same place as
he did nearly 6 months ago in the next photo.
Knightley, my golden retriever puppy lying on the kitchen floor, 14 weeks old
Knightley all fuzzy and cute at 14 weeks old, lying in the same
place as the previous photo.
Knightley, my golden retriever puppy sitting, looking up into the camera surrounded by grass and fallen leaves, 9 months old
Knightley sitting today, 9 months old.
Knightley, my golden retriever sitting in the kitchen, 14 weeks old
Knightley sitting at 14 weeks, he was so cute... what happened!
Knightley, my golden retriever looking peaceful in dappled sunlight, 9 months old
Knightley may not be so cute anymore, but he is becoming quite
  the handsome dog. Today was a beautiful day, it's really starting
to cool down here and the leaves on the deciduous trees are falling
(it's autumn in the southern hemisphere).
Knightley, my golden retriever, trotting at a distance from the camera showing off his long coat, 9 months
You can see in this photo how furry our Knightley is beginning to
get! Especially his tail and hind legs...! His coat won't be fully grown
until he's at least two years old, if not three years old.
Knightley, my golden retriever in the sun gazing intently into the distance, 9 months
Knightley gazing at birds as he sits in the sun.
Trotting around happily in the sun as I struggle to get a good
He's really really growing up now, as you can see. Very soon he will be a year old, it will be time for hip x-rays to check for signs of hip dysplasia, and I'll know if it's full steam ahead for more advanced training. I had heard of so many dogs owners that had horrible times at the 7-10 month old period, and I was worried that we would go through that with Knightley... especially because Knightley is still 'intact' so he is going through some pretty severe hormonal change at the moment. However, so far things are going well.

We still have some resource guarding issues, although they are less than previously. While he doesn't care at all if I put my hands near him if he is eating kibble (he has eaten kibble recently once or twice), big chunks of red meat are another matter (as he is raw fed), although we are working at it and things are definitely improving. Occasionally he'll also grab bits and pieces inside that house that he shouldn't have that he doesn't want to give up (although he is giving them to me more readily now). While I know how to deal with it, it's a little hard to convince the hubby to never just reach for whatever Knightley might have. Instead, I'm trying to get hubby to trade for whatever Knightley may have got.

We're doing lots of practice with assistance retrieves, and I think giving up items as part of a controlled retrieve gives him opportunity to get over this bit of resource guarding. He has absolutely no problem when it's part of his 'work', so I'll just keep practicing. He is getting really good at helping me when we're inside, and he's able to pick up all sorts of tricky items - although when he fails several times in a row on a new item he will starting barking with frustration (which is actually kind of amusing when you see the look on his face, ie. 'how DARE you defy me you stupid shiny flat thingy, why won't you just GET IN MY MOUTH ALREADY!!!'... the barks are mixed in with all sorts of moans and grumbles too, it can be so funny, it's like he's trying to talk - oh and the shiny flat thingy was a hand mirror he had trouble with yesterday). It stops when he figures out the item, though, and he's always seems to be happy to be able to work out how to pick it up more easily. To those people who still don't believe that animals have emotions... they should look at my teenage pup!

Anyway, it has been a wonderful 7 months with Knightley so far. He has made a huge difference to my life, and I'm looking forward to a lot more time with him.

Can people with Lupus (and other autoimmune/auto-inflammatory conditions) get service/assistance dogs?

9 months old

This is the second post in a series answering some of the most common search queries I receive on my blog. The first one was about raw feeding. Also, let me say that I am not sure whether I have Lupus or possibly an auto-inflammatory disease, but the following advice still stands, and can be applied to many other people considering an assistance dog.


The basic answer to the question is yes, a person with lupus can have an assistance/service dog, however it isn't quite as simple as a yes/no answer. In order to have an assistance dog you must be disabled by your illness. This is an accepted definition of disabled:

An individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
So if you have a lupus diagnosis (or another autoimmune disease) but it is well under control and having a service dog (we call them assistance dogs here in Australia) will not suddenly bring you massive independence, and help you at home too.... then let me suggest that you will not fit the full legal description of disabled. It is very important to be sure that you are disabled. Would you qualify for your countries disability pension/social security benefits? It is important because legal challenges to assistance dog handlers do happen, especially if you stand up for your right to be in a place, and owners of shops do occasionally take handlers to court (especially in the US, but there is a well known case here in Australia too). So you must make sure that you are indeed truly disabled before seriously considering getting yourself a dog to help out. The best advice is to actually assume that one day you will have a legal challenge to your public access and will have to prove to the court that you are disabled. The definition of an assistance/service dog is very much based around the fact that its handler is disabled:

An assistance (or service) dog is a highly trained dog who works with a disabled handler in order to help alleviate that handler's disability.

So if you believe you are disabled by your illness, then legally you are on the right footing, but there is more to consider.

Keeping a dog takes a fair bit of work - it's not like they run themselves like a wheelchair or crutches - and it's significantly more than a normal pet dog. They need the very best of equipment, food and veterinary care.  They also will need training maintenance, even if they are fully taught when they come to you. Do your research and if you think that the benefit of having an assistance dog is going to easily outweigh the care you will need to give, well now we're getting somewhere!

Think of some of the tasks you would want your dog to do for you. Properly trained dogs are smart and able to carry out an amazing array of tasks, but it is important to consider that just because a dog can be trained to do something, it isn't necessarily right to have the dog do it. Some tasks can put too much physical strain on your dog and significantly shorten its working life. If you are getting your dog from a program then they will be doing that final training for you, and shouldn't let you harm your dog. But if you are planning on training in conjunction with a program, or if you are planning on training yourself, you must keep this in mind - just because I can train it, should I? For instance, instead of having the dog pull you up from your chair, train it to go retrieve a cane on cue. A good guideline is to think of three main tasks you would want the dog to do for you - those are the recommendations for any service/assistance dog by Assistance Dogs International. If you can't think of three things to make your life easier, then really, you're not going to make full use of a dog (mind you, this is for people with a chronic disease, for some other conditions like epilepsy, one task might change their life).

A photo of Knightley picking up my sunglasses for me. He is
getting good at picking up mostly anything I want him to -
inside the house that is. If you do want to train your own dog,
don't expect your dog to be able to do this type of assistance
 retrieve at 9 months old like Knightley. He is a little ahead
of schedule at the moment! He doesn't get it in public yet - I am
having to teach it from the beginning all over again there.
I'll give you a quick picture of what Knightley (my dog) is doing for me at 9 months of age. He will pick up objects for me at home on cue, although we haven't worked on tricky ones like credit cards and coins yet. He will pick up the strap of my handbag, and we are working on picking up my crutches. He isn't good at picking things up in public yet, he doesn't have the focus for it yet. He is starting to accompany me to our local shops occasionally for training, and we do a *very small* amount of forward momentum work, especially as we leave and there is a little rise to get out of the shops. Until his joints are fully grown at 18 months of age it isn't safe to let him do much of either that or counter-balance work. However, I can tell from these small experiences that having Knightley with me will definitely give me the option of public transport once again (that was an aim), as well as increasing my stamina and independence when out shopping etc (I haven't really shopped on my own for nearly four years). Another task I want to train in the future is to teach him to lean against me when I am standing for a period of time to give me some support, in either a sit or stand. More tasks will be helping me when I have a migraine by doing basic guiding (like a guide dog) as my migraines can be blinding. I am also training him to do deep pressure, (which is usually a psychiatric service dog technique), and have him lie in certain positions on my lap and chest to warm me, calm me, and relieve pain and cramps. While advanced training doesn't start until 1 year of age at most programs (or even 18 months), as I know Knightley is always going to be mine, and since I already know what I want Knightley to do for me, it means that I can begin to train the simpler tasks that will make a real impact on my life at an earlier age.

So, the answer is yes, people with lupus certainly can get service/assistance dogs. However, it basically depends how sick you are and if you are legally disabled. Further considerations are whether the dog is really going to make a big impact on your life, whether the dog's care is less onerous than the benefit it will give you and whether there are clear tasks you can think of that won't endanger the dog but will alleviate your disability. Speaking for myself, Knightley has already made a huge impact in my life and as he matures and learns more it will be even more massive.

If you think the various points I have mentioned sound like they apply to you, and the rest sound reasonable... then certainly look further into getting yourself an assistance dog. The Yahoo group "assistance-dogs" is a great resource for further information, as is http://www.servicedogcentral.org. Sue Ailsby's Training Levels (see the tab named Training Levels at the top of this page for more information) is a fantastic training system for those who want to train their own assistance dog, and her new books feature a wonderfully easy to teach assistance retrieve. Good luck!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A 'new' down, lifting crutches, a migraine, and a good shop trip

8 months 4 weeks 2 days old

Firstly, just a quick note - the 7th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival submission date has been extended due to lack of entries (mine was the only one!). So, if you have a service/assistance dog, if you raise puppies for programs, if you have a partner with a service/assistance dog, or if you're an interested member of the public with something to say about assistance dogs....  As long as you have access to a blog, and reply to the topic (it has changed a bit with the extension), you are very welcome to participate in the Blog Carnival. If you're interested (you should be!), go to http://playswithpuppies.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/adbc-call-for-submissions-take-2.html

I'm working on training a 'new' down with Knightley. The cue is flat!, which is nicely different from boring down. I am trying to resist luring it (using a piece of food to urge to dog into a down position) as that will make for a weaker behaviour. I did a fair bit of luring around the first time, I have to say, but I was still a clicker novice and Knightley and I weren't very good at shaping together. So now he kinda gets clicking a fair bit more, I'm going all the way back to Level 1, and getting myself a brand new shiny down with shaping. I'm also going to try (and I mean try - with his level of distraction outside), to shape it outdoors as well. This will lead to a super strong behaviour.

I did something similar with his cue to go into his crate. Once again, I had lured quite a bit and slowly as I stopped luring and started treating only, then even faded the treats..... eventually the behaviour fell apart. I mean, the cue still worked about 70% of the time, but I had to repeat myself an unacceptable number of times. So I retrained the behaviour with mostly shaping, and a new cue (instead of crate! the new behaviour was box!). He is much more reliable now, and is faster going in too. So far his flat is a much faster, more prompt behaviour than his old down, although if I need him in that position at the moment I am asking for a down until flat is completely trained.

A couple of days ago some cord loops arrived for my crutches, so that in order to lift them off the ground so that I can then get them (if they fall, or if I am forced to put them on the ground somewhere) Knightley can grab the loops. I have put some work into trying to get him to grasp the crutches themselves, but for whatever reason he has a bit of a phobia. Perhaps I have accidentally side swiped him with one before and now he's a bit leery of them? Or he just doesn't like holding cold metal in his mouth? Either way, these loops will work if all I want is him to lift them up for me. So far he is nicely happy to hold the loops, but we are taking it slowly. He has never really held anything of any weight in his mouth during our sessions - although you should see the size of the branches he likes to carry on our walks!!

I'm recovering from a migraine I got two nights ago. Pretty sure I've beaten it but it wasn't what I needed! I really hoped that Knightley would alert to my migraines naturally, as often I have little warning before they hit - sometimes quite savagely. However, so far I have seen no sign of a natural alerting ability. He certainly reacts to me and my moods when I am especially sick, but doesn't give any warning, unfortunately. I do wonder whether migraine alerting can be trained. I certainly know dogs can be trained to alert for conditions like diabetes and other blood sugar related conditions. I've heard about it for heart conditions too. I haven't actually heard about it for epilepsy though, and that is a migraine sufferers nearest comparison. These days they say migraines are indeed related to seizures. Oh well, in the future I shall look into it.

Last night I took Knightley up to (and inside, as we have permission) the local shops briefly and we really worked hard on getting a nice loose leash and keeping a solid 'service dog walk'. At first I was by myself, but then hubby joined me. It was really quite easy getting him to focus and be nice and loose without hubby there, but when hubby arrived things did go out the window a bit. He often walks a bit ahead of me (I am veeerrry slow) and so Knightley thinks he should be keeping up with his Daddy, not dawdling on with his slowpoke of a Mummy. He got rather frustrated when everytime he tried to rush forward to Daddy, he ended up further away because I would walk backwards. He did get the message though, and he settled down walking beside me, nice and solid, plod plod plod. His sniffing was at a minimum, and he was in general just very polite in his behaviour. I was very happy with him. I have been thinking about teaching a no-sniff cue... but I may talk about that later.

For the next bunch of posts I'm going to spend a bit of time answering some of the regular Google queries that I get. Some of them I already answer a bit in my posts, but I'll do some short posts answering them explicitly because there are obviously people looking for information they are struggling to find - which I can answer. So when I leave my normal format, don't be surprised.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Knightley effect

This blog post has been written for the 7th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival! Please visit this page to access the rest of the Carnival and read more blog posts about the effect of assistance dogs on those people around them.

My husband and I brought home Knightley as a fluffy and very inquisitive Golden Retriever bundle at the age of 8 weeks in September last year, with the express aim of training him to be my assistance dog. I'd scoured most of the eastern half of Australia looking for a suitable litter, and I rejected 10 other male puppies before finally finding our Knightley, the last puppy to be temperament tested in a second litter. While he's only 9 months old now, he has already had a massive effect upon my life and indeed, my health; well before I thought he would.

As for a little background, I've been sick for nearly four years, the first year of which was pretty hellish as no one had any idea what was going on and I spent months in hospital. My specialist still doesn't quite know what I have - at first it was thought I likely had Lupus, but now he thinks I could have an 'auto-inflammatory' disease, which is similar to autoimmune, but much much rarer, and hard to diagnose and treat. I have mobility problems that vary in severity from day to day. When it became fairly obvious that I wasn't getting better in a hurry, I started looking for ways to make my life easier. I had trained my previous dog to a reasonable level, so I consumed vast quantities of literature on assistance dog training, clicker training and just training in general before realising training my own dog was indeed feasible.  I did research the option of seeking a dog from a training program, but for various reasons discounted it.

The effect of Knightley in those first couple of weeks in September last year was to cause me to almost rethink what I had done! Unfortunately, at first it was not exactly a positive effect. Previous to Knightley's arrival, if I felt too sick I would just stay in bed most of the day. However, an 8 week old puppy needs a lot of attention, and while I could manage a day or two like that... after a couple of weeks looking after a baby puppy I was just about falling asleep standing up and having to take a lot of medication to make it through every day. Raising a baby puppy is meant to be hard for people who are well, but for me, it was completely earth shatteringly exhausting. However, as I was so very tired, I didn't really notice that Knightley was effecting another change in me. When you have the luxury of lying around in bed feeling sick, that is what you do. With Knightley's arrival I gained structure. I simply *had* to get up and feed him, no matter how I felt. Then since I was already up, I had to play with him, I had to do that early training. I knew what was at stake in getting the right start for early puppy raising, so pushed myself despite my utter exhaustion and sickness.

Slowly Knightley's needs became less: the feedings went from four to three times a day and I didn't have to take him outside as often. As the exhaustion started slowly receding, I started realising what an effect he had already had on my life. Three or four weeks in he made me laugh and smile, stroking him distracted me from pain, the warmth of his little body eased cramps, and he gave me a reason to get up every day, no matter how awful I felt. We were doing a lot of training, just basic stuff that would one day be the basis for his assistance work for me. It was wonderful seeing him soak it all up, knowing that if everything worked out, he would truly be able to help me one day.

Things got better and better. His effect was felt in every facet of my life. Our training sessions gave me a real high when we worked well, and after he got all his shots, we took slow meandering walks together. He gave me a reason to get outside, whereas without him I would have just continued my pattern of not having been outside since I had got sick. I loved seeing his joy in discovering the world, and simply seeing him so happy always had a positive effect on my mood. The fact that I was his trainer, and would be his main trainer throughout all his learning, gave me a lot of inspiration to get going each day and get training. With every breakthrough we made, I got back self respect and self confidence that I had lost with the dramatic change in my life.

Around the time we got Knightley I started volunteering regularly at an arts organisation. I believe that if not for the structure having Knightley gave me, and the mental application I needed for his training, I would not have made a success of my volunteering like I did - especially somewhere where I actually had to use my brain. Having Knightley in my life had really helped prepare me for the workplace, and he wasn't even a working dog yet!

As we embarked on our training journey, writing my blog and participating in several forums and groups introduced me to an expansive network of dog owners and trainers. It has been great to share knowledge and learn new techniques from the many talented trainers out there in internet land. My blog has also got me writing again, which I used to enjoy a lot - both creative writing and nonfiction. The writing practice too has been good for going back to the workplace as I now do a lot of writing at the arts organisation. While actually owning and training Knightley has has its direct effect, having him around has meant refreshing other indirectly related skills that I haven't used for a while.

Anyway, about four weeks ago I decided the time had come to start some concentrated work on training the first steps of a formal assistance retrieve. Amazingly, within only five days, Knightley was able to pick up all sorts of objects on cue for me. I was absolutely thrilled, completely over the moon, because from that moment started the part of our journey in which Knightley starts truly affecting my life as a working dog - well before I was expecting it too. That won't just have an effect upon me, but also my husband and family as I get more and more independence.  Knowing Knightley is with me already gives my husband peace of mind and he worries less. I too feel much more confident when Knightley is with me, and I have only begun to train him to do the assistance tasks I intend for him to do. Assuming we become a successful assistance dog team, we will be unstoppable!

Now at 9 months old, Knightley goes into a few shops briefly with the permission of shop owners, and has been to a couple of loud busy events for further socialisation and some early public access training. He's not afraid of anything, is very happy to be out in public with people around, and is a cheerful, intelligent teenager growing up very quickly. I am thrilled with the choice I made in selecting him last September, as so far things are looking good. Aside from all the things Knightley does to make my life better, and the help he is beginning to give me, his sheer presence seems to make me healthier. I have not been admitted to hospital once since I got Knightley, due no doubt to my more active, structured and generally happier lifestyle. That is a huge benefit.

'The Knightley effect' is something I am incredibly grateful for, and I look forward to exploring what our future together may be.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Whole prey model raw feeding: a week of feeding Knightley

8 months 3 weeks 2 days old

So, I continue not to be well at all and we are doing minimal training unfortunately. When things get back on track I think I'll go back to Level 1 and refresh our skills from the beginning as some Level 2 skills are getting rusty! So instead of talking about training, I'll do an entry on raw feeding to address the search queries I get on the subject.

This will be the first post in a series addressing some of the common search queries I receive.

Whole prey raw feeding

I brought home Knightley when he was 8 weeks old, and pretty much from that time he had an erratic tummy. At 20 weeks of age I put him on a very high quality 'All Life Stages' kibble, but his tummy problems still continued - runny stool and even diarrhea for no apparent reason several times while he was still only a baby. He also always had *heaps* of eye discharge, especially when we woke up in the morning. I wondered if he had a sensitivity to something in the food I was feeding him.

Knightley making his way through a whole turkey leg - it
takes ages from him to eat, and gives him both a physical and
mental workout. Turkey is another meat it is ok to start early
with but the bones are significantly harder for the novice dog.
It is amazing to watch the muscles in Knightley's face as he
crushes and crunches up bone so easily. It's a bit scary actually!
I had been interested in raw feeding from even before I got Knightley. There was someone on the Golden Retriever forums I frequent who fed raw and I was fascinated by all the interesting things she fed her dog, and thought it must be so much better for dogs that were fed raw. However, I found it quite an intimidating thought, especially the idea of doing it while Knightley was just a baby and messing up the nutrition while he was growing so fast and needing so much of everything. Now of course, I just wish I had looked into it more and taken the plunge much earlier - especially because it would have slowed down Knightley's rate of growth and reduced the chance of hip dysplasia. When I did start feeding raw Knightley's growth slowed down immediately, even though he was over his biggest growth stage.

The rationale is of course that dogs and their ancestors the wolves have for many thousands of years eaten animals and parts of animals. Over the course of weeks and months the dogs and wolves would eat a certain ratio of meat : bone : organ as naturally appears in most mammals. For a while there was controversy over whether dogs were omnivores or carnivores. People claimed that in the wild wolves would eat the stomach contents of their prey. However, more recent studies have proved that while wolves will greedily eat the actual stomach of their prey, they carefully pick their way around the stomach contents. Only in the most direst of starvation will a wolf eat anything other than meat. Ov er the following millennia as humans and wolves became closer and the dog was born, the dog would get the hunting scraps - often offal and bone. This continued over the centuries. We didn't feed our dogs vegetables or grains like are in most kibble, and we didn't grind their meat completely down into a sludge like once again you find in kibble. Until kibble came along, dogs tore at raw chunks of meat, eating mostly the offal and cuts that nobody else wanted and crunching up edible bone. Of course not all those dogs were well nourished, but if we are careful our dogs get enough variety, and the ratios of meat : bone : organ are good, then they are going to thrive on the diet that nature intended for them.

So, finally when Knightley was nearly 7 months old, I figured he was old enough that a) he'd done most of his growth so I couldn't mess him up that much and b) how hard could it be? So I started looking around for information and came across the whole prey model, and specifically the "rawfeeding" Yahoo Group which gave me excellent information. After a couple of weeks hanging out reading a lot of posts on the group, I was ready to give it a go. For the first couple of weeks they recommend you start with chicken and/or turkey, as it's a bland meat so better tolerated in those first weeks, and has easy bones for a novice raw feeding dog to crunch up and eat.

Ratios for feeding Whole Prey

Knightley eating a whole ox tongue. This is the first time I gave
him one, and at first he didn't have any idea how to handle it.
Whenever you give food for the first time, expect a little runny
stool, but after the first time your dog gets used to it. They also
learn how to handle unusual cuts! Sometimes Knightley barks at
his food when he doesn't know how to tackle it....
The whole prey model is based on the ratios of 80% meat, 10% bone and 10% organs (of which half must be liver, and the other half should be all sorts of other organs). Sometimes the definition of meat vs organ isn't as clear as you would think. For instance, a heart is classed as meat, since it is a muscle, and most people class lungs as meat too. Obviously things like tongues are meat. Organs are 'organs that don't do muscular work', like brain, spleen, kidneys, liver, stomach, bladder, gizzard and so on. Occasionally you come across things like testicles that some people feed as meat, some as organ. The more variety of types of animal, different cuts and different organs, the better.

After about 10 weeks on raw, Knightley eats ox, cattle, lamb, kangaroo, turkey, chicken and pig. More variety would be even better though, and as time goes on I'll slowly find better sources with better prices. The one thing the ratios don't address, which I think is quite unfortunate, is fat. Dogs need a relatively high fat content in their diet. It doesn't give them heart disease or anything, and is very important for their nutrition. If they are eating red meat that is grass fed then the fat they get from the red meat will satisfy many of their nutritional requirements, but if not you may need to supplement with a good quality fish oil. Also, when feeding lean meals, such as hearts, chicken breasts and tongues, I supplement the meal with extra beef fat I get free from my butcher. The beef at our local butcher comes from only a couple of hours away from vast and very grassy pastures, so the fat gives Knightley his omega 3, 6 and 9 fats and lots of other good stuff besides.

The first couple of weeks

In the first couple of weeks feeding raw (while you are feeding the chicken or turkey), the general rule is to leave out the organs, and in the following weeks slowly introduce them (they are very rich and will give the runs to a dog who isn't at least used to a basic raw diet). Also, it is suggested that you feed a slightly higher ratio of bone to meat, as bone is a constipating agent, and dogs going from kibble to raw often are a bit runny for the first little while. The extra bone helps to make the transfer painless for everyone. From personal experience, instead of 5 out of 14 meals having mixed meat/bone (eg 1/4 of a chicken) which would be the ratio for a dog fully adjusted to eating raw, I would go for at least half the meals having some bone in them.... so maybe 7/14 or even 8-9/14 depending on how your dog was going. After the first week, start feeding less bone and aim for only 5/14.

How much to feed

The other main guideline for whole prey feeding you need to be aware of is how much to feed. The suggested amount is 2-3% of your dog's ideal adult body weight. However, it is best to weigh your dog at the beginning of feeding raw, and see how he has gone at the end of one week and then adjust as needed. For puppies, sometimes you will need to feed more like 4-5% of adult body weight. For overweight dogs, sometimes 1.5% is the way to go. Basically, watch your dog's outline, watch their 'tuck' - you always want to see a nice waist. Be guided by their appearance and weight and that will help you fine tune how much to feed. At first you will have to weigh the food - but I only did for he first four or so weeks. By then I had a pretty good idea of how much to feed, and Knightley is still looking great. If your dog was starting to look a tiny bit large I would just make sure the next several meals are on the smaller side. You are responsible for your dog, so keep a careful watch on his physical condition, looking at his tuck and waist, and feeling for ribs often.

Click on the image to see it larger. All pet owners need to be responsible for the weight
of their pets. I actually find when feeding raw, keeping Knightley at the perfect weight
is easier than it was on kibble. He just seems to look great all the time - probably  because
there just isn't any of the added junk when you are feeding raw compared to kibble.
An example menu

Here is an example menu for a week in Knightley's life. You could use it for a fortnightly menu for a grown dog, as because Knightley is still a puppy he is fed twice a day. The only change I would make is on the day he is fed organ I would make the meal part organ, part meat with bone. Organ can occasionally cause the runs even with seasoned dogs, so I like to feed meat with bone on the same day for its constipation effect (you'll see on my example list that on the days he gets organ, his second meal is meat with bone). If the dog is having just one meal a day, then obviously you'd just serve it with the organ. It can be something small, especially if the dog is small. Be wary of feeding things like chicken necks - they are extremely boney with barely any meat, and are a potential choking hazard for all but the tiniest dogs. If you want a bit of bone to feed alongside organ, you would be better off chopping a thigh in half, or perhaps a wing if the dog is fairly small (again, beware of choking with wings).

When feeding anything at all, feed everything in as large a piece as possible. It gives the dog more physical work - I've known Knightley to take half an hour on a 'difficult' meal. This is a far more natural behaviour than bolting down kibble in 20 seconds! It also gives more exercise than you would think, and gives an outlet for tearing, pulling, crunching and other destructive behaviours like our dog's ancestors did in the wild, and thereby lessen any destructive behaviour the dog may do in the house and garden.

Day 1
[Meal 1] Pork liver
[Meal 2] Chicken 1/4 & 1 raw egg, fish oil

Day 2

[Meal 3] Ox tongue
[Meal 4] Lamb heart with added beef fat

Day 3

[Meal 5] Lamb neck
[Meal 6] Beef kidney with a little chicken gizzard

Day 4

[Meal 7] Chicken breast with added beef fat
[Meal 8] Turkey drumstick & 1 raw egg, fish oil

Day 5

[Meal 9] Beef heart
[Meal 10] Ox tongue with added beef fat

Day 6

[Meal 11] Chicken 1/4
[Meal 12] Lamb heart with added beef fat & 1 raw egg, fish oil

Day 7

[Meal 13] Lamb neck
[Meal 14] Chicken breast & 1 raw egg, fish oil

Fat and calories

Notice the raw egg. I give that for the added fat and nutrients if he has a lean meal, and also if Knightley has had a full on day. Dogs that use up a lot of energy need more calories obviously, and giving some varied fats every couple of days is a good way to bump up the calories and make sure your dog stays in top condition. Assuming that Knightley makes it as an assistance dog, some days he will use up a fair bit of energy being with me, and I will have to be careful to meet those needs. This is even more important for sports dogs, and high energy working dogs such as sniffer dogs, and even moreso for herding dogs who are sometimes on the go all day. There they need to eat so much, they often can't eat it all in one sitting, and need two separate meals with a significant portion of fat in order to meet their caloric requirement. I don't absolutely need to give the fish oil as Knightley eats grass fed beef and lamb, but it certainly doesn't do him any harm, and can improve other aspects apart from just nutrition. If he wasn't eating grass fed beef/lamb I would be giving him the fish oil every night.

So these are the very basics for feeding raw with a whole prey model. It has been a wonderful voyage of discovery with Knightley and there have been so many benefits along the way.

Benefits from feeding raw
  • Great teeth from the cleaning motion of chewing through bones, fat and muscle
  • Very stable tummy, total change from before
  • Tiny poo - virtually everything eaten is digested, unlike with commercial dog food!
  • Amazingly soft and shiny coat
  • No doggy smell - at all!
  • Peace of mind, knowing what I am feeding my dog
  • A more natural diet, eating what dogs and their ancestors have eaten for thousands of years until the very recent invention of kibble and canned food
  • An outlet for destructive behaviour such as chewing, ripping and tearing behaviours, leaving your dog less likely to destroy household items and also leaving him a calmer dog
  • A slow rate of growth as a puppy, reducing the chance for hip/elbow dysplasia and other conditions that can be worsened by fast growth

Words of advice for those who want to feed raw
  • Feed as much red meat as possible - chicken/turkey is to be minimised, this is especially the case for raw feeding cats, as they have a much higher taurine requirement
  • Don't ever feed meat that has been 'enhanced' by injection of broth or brine, it is very bad for dogs
  • Do not cut up meat up for your dogs (especially don't feed ground raw food!), even when they are 'learning' to eat, but you can make slits in it to encourage your dog, or rub some parmesan cheese or something else enticing into the meat
  • If your dog's movements are a bit runny in those first couple of weeks, increase the amount of bone you are feeding, as bone is constipating. You can also try reducing the amount of fat, for instance, remove the skin on the chicken etc. On the other hand, if your dogs movements are dry, lightish and a little crumbly looking you are feeding too much bone!
  • Wild meats are great to feed - if you are worried about parasites, freeze for two weeks before feeding
  • Some dogs hate the texture of liver, and since it makes up an absolutely essential 5% of a whole prey diet, it has to be fed. Sometimes briefly searing it will work (but it stinks), but most people find feeding it partly or completely frozen works for them. Knightley has no problem eating it all wibbly wobbly!
  • Dogs are carnivores, they do not need to eat, nor should they have, vegetables. In fact unless the vegetables are cooked, and indeed many need to be pureed, dogs cannot digest them - a good hint that dogs shouldn't eat them! However, occasionally Knightley will get some leftover rice which he loves.... dogs tend to have less reaction to rice than to other grains
  • If your red meats are grass fed there is NO need for supplements! If your dog isn't getting much grass fed red meat, it will need supplementing with a fish oil for Omega-3
  • Older dogs that are starting raw after being on kibble for a long time can refuse to eat raw. Flavour the meat, even sear it very briefly, but a healthy dog is ok to go without food for a couple of days - until it realises this is the only food it is going to get. However, if your dog rejects its first meal or two and you are worried, contact your vet
  • A lot of vets do not learn much about canine nutrition, or what they have learnt is often sponsored by kibble companies - not to mention they are often rewarded generously for selling certain brands of kibble through their practice. You can find vets who know more about pet nutrition and are not anti raw feeding, but it is harder. Be prepared for most vets to be against feeding raw but do not let that dissuade you
  • All my advice here is from personal experience and research and I do believe raw is the best way to feed a dog, but it is your choice alone whether to feed raw. If you act upon my advice and things don't go quite to plan I won't be taking any responsibility for your actions. I will however be happy to answer questions here or on my facebook page about raw feeding or any other dog related matter you may read about on my blog
  • More very excellent advice on whole prey feeding can be found on the Yahoo Group "rawfeeding" - I highly recommend it
If you want to see Knightley progressively eating the big turkey leg in the photo above, have a peek at this newer post!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bath day, a public assistance retrieve, and perhaps a holiday coming up?

8 months 2 weeks 4 days old

We took it easy today, apart from a tiny bit of retrieve training. I haven't been feeling well.

However, with even the small amount of public access training we are doing it is important that Knightley stays clean - cleaner than a normal family pet. Before I take him inside anywhere we have permission to be (local shops, the airport the other day, the music festival and its venues) I give him a quick brush to collect any stray fur. Assistance/service dogs must have a higher standard of grooming than the normal pet dog, as they are going places where food is stored, prepared and where people might be that are allergic to dogs. The more I can reduce his shedding the better, and improve his general appearance too.

Knightley happy enough getting a good
wash. He has a lot more fur than he used to!
So, in light of all that, today was bath day. From the beginning of my bath training I have plied Knightley with treats. His very first bath he got buckets of roast chicken! Today we saw this pay off. He was almost happy to be there! He was still a little stiff when it came to turn him around, but compared to his first bath he's come a long way. We are using a do it yourself dog wash place near here - unless he's filthy and just has to be washed at home - and it's very handy and saves my back.

I'm just amazed at the power of positive training like this. Knightley could have been taught to put up with baths in a more 'traditional' style of training, but not be happy with them. My previous dog, Clipsy, hated baths completely and absolutely. It is a shame that only now do I know how I could have made them a lot more pleasant for him.

Knightley, still quite wet and rather excited outside the pet
store where he can't focus on anything at all due to memories
of puppy play!
One thing we have a problem with at the place we are taking Knightley for his baths.... is it's the same place he did his puppy preschool. I think he still remembers the excitement, and getting anything like a loose leash when entering is pretty much impossible. What I need to do is spend like half an hour there going in and out and click/treating constantly for him being beside me. I have to say, our loose leash on a flat collar is not going fast anywhere at the moment - except when he's in his vest, and then he is much better at it. Explain that to me anyone?!

From a bit of a funny angle, but showing Knightley all wet.
You can see his build more clearly. He has so much more bulk
on him these days. Not fat, but just... size. We meant to weigh
him at the pet store, but forgot until he was all half wet, and that
would have been quite a wrong reading. I am guessing about
30kg (66lbs). Definitely not a baby anymore!
I dropped a receipt at the pet store today and got Knightley to pick it up for me. Our first real useful in public retrieve! I am just so happy he can do this at this age - I really wasn't expecting it for a good few months yet.

I've been talking with hubby about the possibility of going away for a weekend in a couple of weeks time, and taking the pup with us. It's one thing that Knightley hasn't done... a longer car trip and nights away someplace with us. There's a farmstay place right near the South Coast of NSW (New South Wales, one of our states, for those of you who don't know.... I live in a very small 'territory', like a state, called the Australian Capital Territory, which is completely surrounded by NSW) that I have been itching to go to for a long while. We meant to go before hubby left for England but it didn't pan out. The farm also has a bunch of working border collies who are also pets, and livestock, which Knightley needs to get some exposure to - judging by his response to cows at the agricultural show we took him to a month or two back!! So hopefully we'll be going in the next couple of weeks, and Knightley can also experience a beach for the first time. In the mean time, his bath is the only water he is getting today. ;)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Good trip to shopping centre, annoying people, retrieve training great!

8 months 2 weeks 3 days old

So today Knightley, husband and I had a short trip to our local big shopping centre. I just wanted to buy some socks, and have permission to take Knightley in, so we made it a training visit.

As I was about to cross the road to enter the building, for the second time now someone thought I was blind and was worried I was about to walk into some cars. I had Knightley in his vest so I guess they just assumed he was a guide dog. Assistance dogs here in Australia are still pretty few and far between compared to places like the US and Canada. Anyway, so we crossed the road after arranging to meet my husband inside (so I wouldn't have to walk in from the parking lot, even though I have a disabled parking pass, it would have meant a significantly longer walk). Knightley and I walked in nice and smoothly through the sliding doors. I know some dogs have problems with sliding doors, but when Knightley was a baby puppy I spent a lot of time hanging around some sliding doors near our small local shops, so he got really really used to them. Now he just doesn't seem to notice. So he walked through smoothly. I do notice though, when we change surfaces from outside to inside (eg concrete to polished floors or carpet), he sometimes tries to start pulling. I don't know why this is - maybe it's partly coming into an area with lots of interesting people. What I need to do is find some sliding doors with a surface change underfoot that aren't used very much, and go in and out and in and out, rewarding him when he sticks with me, and backing up if he tries to rush ahead.

Anyway, we got inside and there were quite a few people around, it being a Saturday morning. So I stuck to the outskirts and walked slowly around with him. As he settled down to his usual assistance dog plod we started to walk more in crowded areas. I stopped several times and asked for sits and the occasional eye contact. I also got him to hold my sunglasses several times, which he did nicely. We then went into the shop I wanted to go to, which is where the hubby joined me. He did sniff a bit at some clothes as we went past, which wasn't great. I think I may need to train a 'no sniff' cue, as he tends to be a 'nosey' dog. I found the socks I was looking for and hubby went to buy them so I could concentrate on Knightley. We did a nice smooth exit out of the shop and continued our slow walk around the area. He is great on polished floors, doesn't mind them one bit.

I do however have problems with him when people reach for his head (despite a no touch, in training patch on his vest). He will ignore touches on any part of his body except for his head. I tend to fairly sharply say 'leave it!' and that stops not only Knightley but also the people who were about to touch him. It isn't exactly tactful, but I am really talking to Knightley, and that is his cue! However, I need to get him to the point where the cue isn't needed and he won't respond to people reaching for him. It makes me really annoyed that people do it despite three patches saying no touching. Also kids that aren't under control of their parents, and who just come over and start touching him... that drives me mad too. Knightley is a young dog and just starting this type of training. He is certainly not un-distractable at this stage, and I wish parents would heed the patches on his vest because Knightley has a lot to learn still and having kids like that just doesn't help at all. I guess sometimes they figure that 'special' dogs are never going to hurt their children, and it won't hurt the dog to be patted by a child. Knightley isn't doing much for me now obviously, but over time I hope he will do more and more. Having him distracted will impact upon that work, and having him distracted now will mean he doesn't get the practice focusing in public like I want him to.

We then walked back to the car, through the shopping centre. He walked very nicely with his plod plod plod wag wag wag. It's nice when I see him in a reflection and can see how much he enjoys being out with me in public places by his general body language. Judging by how he is at this young age he is going to deal wonderfully well with the stress of public access work, although he isn't doing much at the moment obviously, compared to what I would see as ideal for our future together. Still, the reason a lot of assistance dogs don't make it to the end of their training is because they can't cope with public access stress, and Knightley just loves it at the moment. He is also the most bombproof dog I have ever seen, he's literally afraid of nothing. We took him through a carwash with us today and he just lay next to me panting gently eating the treats I offered. He was absolutely fine, not a moment of worry.

We continue our retrieve training. I'm getting him to hold things in public. A couple of days ago outside the shops we did some work with the dumbell. Just holds, with and without me. I'm not asking him to pick up anything yet as I am re-teaching it from the beginning, as you should whenever you significantly change a behaviour. He is doing good holds though. I am trying to get him to pick up my crutches at home - not entirely, but just raise one end so that I can snag it. However, he really is quite wary of them for some reason. I am focusing on nose bops for now, to get him used to touching the crutches, as well as some more standard classical conditioning (eg scattering food around the crutches, holding a crutch behind my back, bringing it into view and feeding him treats, hiding it away and the treats stop). He is certainly improving, but as soon as the crutches move suddenly he becomes a little more shy. I can't remember ever accidentally hitting him or putting one down on a foot or anything, so I am not sure why he is so wary. Anyway, I'll work at it.

I'm also getting him to pick up the handle of my handbag, and that is going a lot better than with the crutches. We do sometimes have problems as he stands on the handle strap and then finds he can only pick up it a few cm off the ground! I could shape him to pick it up elsewhere on the handle, near the bag itself, but then when he picked it up he would have to take quite a bit of weight of the handbag itself, which isn't good for a dog. So I'm not sure! We'll work at it. Maybe I can teach him not to stand on the handle strap.I'm also starting a wallet/purse retrieve, but we're starting with a nose bop. I'd like to actually use a cheapie replacement to train with so that Knightley doesn't ruin mine! I think his mouth is quite soft (he is a golden retriever, after all!) but I haven't actually tested it with an object. The classic test is with a raw egg, but if he breaks it he may decide he likes that test and break them deliberately if I try it again. He gets a raw egg 4-5 times a week afterall. I could do a boiled egg I guess, but there must be other ways to test how gentle his mouth is.

I am actually using him to pick up stuff for me as a reasonable matter of routine now. I am motioning with my feet to what I want him to pick up (assuming I didn't just drop it, in which case it's obvious to him). I'd like to start training a laser pointer retrieve, but that's certainly not going to be child's (or puppy's!) play. It would be very useful though, especially if I were in a wheelchair and couldn't use my feet.

So things are going well, except I am very very tired at the moment and sleeping very poorly. It's lovely to have the husband back here though, life is so much fuller and easier with company and a helper. Although I still miss not having Knightley on the bed!