Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's A Process, NOT An Event!

When I was going to go train with my first Service Dog, our class was reminded that getting our canine helpers was a many-faceted process, not just one fell-swoop event.

For me, the process involved many things. First and foremost was doing my homework about service dogs, would it be feasible to get one, how could I handle it, trying to get an idea of what to expect. I learned a lot of useful things, but NONE of it thoroughly prepared me for what I was going to deal with. In some ways it's like a woman with kids trying to explain pregnancy to a woman who's never had a baby. You can talk about symptoms, and such, but until a lady has actually had a baby herself, she'll never thoroughly understand all the info. And if she's not yet pregnant, it is not information she needs yet, regardless of how much she wants to know about it.

Once I selected KSDS and sent in my application, I waited for their approval. When my application was accepted, I was on their waiting list, until my name came forward in their files. Then I had to go to the next phase, the actual interview with KSDS---in person---where they could get a first-hand look at what my strengths were, level of mobility, etc. The interview at KSDS consisted of a review of my application, plus a tour of the facility, and a meeting with the entire staff. The Service Dog Coordinator tested my grip, to see if I was physically capable of holding onto a dog in harness while in my wheelchair. They watched me walk with my crutches. This gave them a better idea of my level of mobility, and to see if I could actually physically cope with a working dog. I was asked which of the breeds of dogs they used, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and---at that time---German Shepherds, would I prefer to work with. My first choice on the application was a Golden Retriever, because of the breed's reputation as an excellent assistance dog. My second choice was a German Shepherd. My last choice was a Lab. But I did note that I had grown up knowing wonderful dogs of each of these breeds. The main thing I wanted, I told them, was the dog that would work the best for me, and left it up to their good judgement to choose it.

A lot of my questions, pre-training with Woody, were not answered --- yet, as I went through the training course, I understood why. Part of the questions dealt with the training, itself, and those were adequately explained as I took the course. Before I began the training, the answers would not have made much sense, as I wasn't yet working with Woody and had no way to correlate those answers with what I was experiencing---plus, some of the access / protocol questions were not yet appropriate. I didn't have the dog yet. The KSDS staff never hit me with "We'll cross that bridge when we get to that," --- but that was definitely the case. Part of this process of getting a dog lies in having the right information at the right time, i.e. when you're ready to deal with it as a team. It can be a little frustrating, but if you trust the program, and the people, that famous old adage "You get what you need when you need it" certainly comes into play. All that you and your dog need to become a successful team will come to you at the right time.

For my dog, it was a process, too. My first dog, Woody, was born from KSDS breeding stock of Labradors. The theme name chosen for his litter was the TV show "Cheers." [Thus, the 11 puppies in the litter were named Boston, Chambers, Cheers, Clavin, Frazier, Lillith, Norm, Pantuso, Tortelli, Vera, and Woody.]

Woody was personality-tested at age 7 weeks. At 8 weeks old, he went to live with his puppy-raiser. And bless their hearts, the puppy-raisers have taken on quite a labor of love! They are the lucky souls who get to deal with the housebreaking, and the teething, and the socializing, and basic obedience training to turn these lovable little mischevious fur-balls into docile, obedient candidates for a canine career! The puppy-raiser also gets to deal with the heartbreak of giving up the puppy at a certain age, return him to KSDS for health clearances on eyes, hips, elbows and shoulders. If all the health-tests come out fine, then the dog goes through advanced training. He learns to heel with (or pull) a wheelchair, and sharpens his retrieval skills. Once he is paired with a disabled human partner for team training, the dog's individual skill-tasks are fine-tuned for the person he will be working with. Then comes the training, the testing, and (if all goes well), graduating as a certified working team from KSDS!

The process also continues after graduation, but more on that in due course, here.
©2008 SKC

1 comment:

Lisa and Ellie said...

WOW - I didn't know Clay was your second dog. Actually, your graduation with Clay was my first KSDS graduation I ever attended! :)