Sunday, 30 September 2012

Self Training vs. Agency Training

Answers to The Big Question

The big question that I am always asked when it comes to my desire to self-train a service dog for my daughter is Why don't you just get an agency dog already trained?
The answer to this question is very easy for me to answer.  I chose to train our own service dog because  of many reasons.  The first being the wait time that the agencies have to get a dog.  Right now, here in Canada you are on the wait list for an agency-trained dog for 18-24 months.  That's 2 years!  A lot can happen in two years and when I was training River for Asia I knew that we may not even have 2 years if I didn't act now.  The second reason was because I actually can train service dogs.  I have been training dogs for many years and have taught myself many things through books and workshops. 

When a family receives a dog from an agency they get an adult dog.  In my opinion, I think training a dog for seizure work should be started as a puppy.

How Did I Train River for Seizure Work?

This is another question I get a lot.  Even from other dog trainers. Below I have laid it out step-by-step for ease of understanding.
We got River as an 8 week old puppy.  The first thing we did was give everything a word.  For example, if she barked we'd say "Bark".  When she stopped barking we'd praise and say "good Quiet".  We did this for quite some time until she could bark and be quiet on command.  That was the very start.

1) train "bark" and "quiet"

2) When Asia was starting a seizure one of us would tell River to bark.  We'd encourage barking as loud as she could.  After a minute of barking we'd toss her a tiny piece of Roll-Over, a treat she'd ONLY get during a seizure. This was a huge treat for River. 

3) When I no longer needed the "bark" River would be told "quiet" and was rewarded with 2 large slices of Roll Over.  She knew that in ALL cases she would NOT get more Roll Over after she had received the two large slices.  Her job was to simply "bark" when there was a seizure.  At first we'd have to tell her to "bark" because she had no idea what Asia was doing.

4) At 6 months of age River surprised us all.  She had been training for 4 months almost daily as Asia seized. (yes, that is how bad it was)  Well, "something" caused River to bark like crazy just like she did when asked during a seizure.  We checked Asia and everything was we thought.  5 minutes after the barking started Asia seized.  This was the first time River had done this on her own and she had actually alerted BEFORE the seizure.  She had made the connection with the "pheromones" that a body gives off before and during a seizure.  Yes, she loved that Roll Over enough to get excited when she sensed the beginning of the Roll Over cycle...which was actually the beginning of Asia's seizure aura.

So, as you can see, training really can start sooner than 24 months.  Agency trained dogs are in puppy care first learning basic obedience, then they go into the training program.  For our family, it is the right decision to go with a self-trained dog.  We also get to enjoy those puppy years, the obedience classes, and all of the other fun that puppies bring.  This answers that big question for many and as I write in this blog I will be sharing my other reasons why self-training is right for our family.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Dog Property Laws

9 years ago (well almost 10) when we adopted River from a local breeder we were given a sheet of paper with a rules that a labrador would like a new owner to follow.  The beautiful lady that we got River from was a really funny lady and she quizzed us a few times just for fun.  She would ask us things like, "What will you do if River chews up your favourite shoe?"... the required answer was "Roll up a newspaper and hit yourself over the head with it for leaving the shoe out".  She always made us laugh and when we finally had sweet River in our arms she gave us a piece of paper with the following on it....

I will always think of Susan, the breeder when I read that.  It is sad that Susan died of cancer a few years back.  We will always remember her lovingly.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Jedi Puppy Picture and News

We were so blessed with a beautiful picture of the puppy we have on hold.  I am very optimistic that everything will work out well since we have chosen a very reputable breeder who raises puppies in her own home.  Being socialized early is very important.  If you are local and are interested in a high quality breeder please check out

Meet Masonridge's Jedi Spirit 

Having this picture will help us really get our fundraising going.  We need to raise $900 before November 12th.  We are about 1/3 of the way there already so I am thrilled about that. If anyone has any fundraising experience and wants to share some ideas with us please email me at  We need all the advice we can get at the moment. 

Now Some News...

I will just get to the point... I am going to become a certified dog trainer!  This means that I will be able to help other people with their companion or service dog.  It means that I will do the stuff I have always done with dogs but will actually be a certified trainer.  I spoke to a school yesterday and am excited to move forward with this.  Just imagine if I can help others train their own service dog for their child and avoid the long wait times within the agencies.  It's a win-win situation for everyone.  I will give more details as I have them.  The person I talked to at the school thinks I'd be great at this and seemed impressed with what I have already done with River. This will be a part-time hobby for me, but with certification! Yeah! 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Amazon Banner

Just a quick note to all of our readers... the banner at the top of our page is set up in a way that when you buy stuff for your family we get support from Amazon.  Please, if you buy from Amazon use our banner to get there.  That way we can raise more money to help with Jedi's training.  Thank you in advance.

How to Test a Puppy for Service Work

I know, we really want the black female pup but we have to look at this in a non-emotional way.  We have talked to the breeder and plan on testing the pups when they are 6-7 weeks old.  Many people ask me about the testing and what I do so I thought I'd post about it in hopes that it can help other families considering a self-trained service dog.  Testing the puppies really will help us choose a puppy that will work out for us.

Puppy Test for Service Dog Work

The tests are as follows:
1. Social Attraction- degree of social attraction to people, confidence or dependence.
2. Following- willingness to follow a person
3. Restraint- degree of dominant or submissive tendency, and easy of handling in difficult situations.
4. Social Dominance- degree of acceptance of social dominance be a person.
5. Elevation- degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control, such as at the veterinarian or groomer.
6. Retrieving- degree of willingness to do something for you. Together with social attraction and following a key indicator for ease or difficulty in training.
7. Touch Sensitivity- degree of sensitivity to touch and a key indicator to the type of training equipment used.
8. Sound Sensitivity- degree of sensitivity to sound, such as loud noises or thunderstorms
9. Sight Sensitivity- degree of response to a moving object, such as chasing bicycles, children or squirrels.
10. Stability- degree of startle response to a strange object.


Here are the ground rules for performing the test:

•    The testing is done in a location unfamiliar to the puppies. This does not mean they have to taken away from  home.  A 10-foot square area is perfectly adequate, such as a room in the house where the puppies have not been.

•    The puppies are tested one at a time.
•    There are no other dogs or people, except the scorer and the tester, in the testing area
•    The puppies do not know the tester..
•    The scorer is unobtrusive and positions him or herself so he or she can observe the puppies’ responses without having to move.   
•    The puppies are tested before they are fed.  
•    The puppies are tested when they are at their liveliest.  
•    Do not try to test a puppy that is not feeling well.  
•    Puppies should not be tested the day of or the day after being vaccinated. 
•    Only the first response counts!

Top Dog Tips: During the test, watch the puppy’s tail.  It will make a difference in the scoring whether the tail is up or down. 

1. Social attraction - the owner or caretaker of the puppies places it in the test area about four feet from the tester and then leaves the test area.  The tester kneels down and coaxes the puppy to come to him or her by encouragingly and gently clapping hands and calling.  The tester must coax the puppy in the opposite direction from where it entered the test area.  Hint:  Lean backward, sitting on your heels instead of leaning forward toward the puppy.  Keep your hands close to your body encouraging the puppy to come to you instead of trying to reach for the puppy.  

2. Following - the tester stands up and slowly walks away encouraging the puppy to follow.  Hint:  Make sure the puppy sees you walk away and get the puppy to focus on you by lightly clapping your hands and using verbal encouragement to get the puppy to follow you.  Do not lean over the puppy.  

3. Restraint - the tester crouches down and gently rolls the puppy on its back and holds it on its back for 30 seconds.  Hint:  Hold the puppy down without applying too much pressure.  The object is not to keep it on its back but to test its response to being placed in that position.  

4. Social Dominance - let the puppy stand up or sit and gently stroke it from the head to the back while you crouch beside it.  See if it will lick your face, an indication of a forgiving nature.  Continue stroking until you see a behavior you can score.  Hint:  When you crouch next to the puppy avoid leaning or hovering over the puppy.  Have the puppy at your side with both of you facing in the same direction.  

Top Dog Tips: During testing maintain a positive, upbeat and friendly attitude toward the puppies.  Try to get each puppy to interact with you to bring out the best in him or her.  Make the test a pleasant experience for the puppy.  

5. Elevation Dominance - the tester cradles the puppy with both hands, supporting the puppy under its chest and gently lifts it two feet off the ground and holds it there for 30 seconds.  

6. Retrieving - the tester crouches beside the puppy and attracts its attention with a crumpled up piece of paper.  When the puppy shows some interest, the tester throws the paper no more than four feet in front of the puppy encouraging it to retrieve the paper.  

7. Touch Sensitivity - the tester locates the webbing of one the puppy’s front paws and presses it lightly between his index finger and thumb.  The tester gradually increases pressure while counting to ten and stops when the puppy pulls away or shows signs of discomfort.   This test I don't do.  I prefer to touch paws, ears, tail, etc and see how the puppy responds to touch.  I refuse to make a puppy feel pain.

8. Sound Sensitivity - the puppy is placed in the center of the testing area and an assistant stationed at the perimeter makes a sharp noise, such as banging a metal spoon on the bottom of a metal pan.  

9. Sight Sensitivity - the puppy is placed in the center of the testing area.  The tester ties a string around a bath towel and jerks it across the floor, two feet away from the puppy.  

10. Stability - an umbrella is opened about five feet from the puppy and gently placed on the ground.  


Following are the responses you will see and the score assigned to each particular response.  You will see some variations and will have to make a judgment on what score to give them. 

 Response                           Score
 SOCIAL ATTRACTIONCame readily, tail up, jumped, bit at hands 
Came readily, tail up, pawed,  licked at hands 
 Came readily, tail up

Came readily, tail down4

Came hesitantly, tail down5

Didn’t come at all6
FOLLOWINGFollowed readily, tail up, got underfoot, bit at feet 1

Followed readily, tail up, got underfoot  2

Followed readily, tail up  3

Followed readily, tail down    4

Followed hesitantly, tail down    5

Did not follow or went away    6
RESTRAINTStruggled fiercely, flailed, bit1

Struggled fiercely, flailed    2

Settled, struggled, settled with some eye contact    3

Struggled, then settled    4

No struggle    5

No struggle, strained to avoid eye contact6
SOCIAL DOMINANCEJumped, pawed, bit, growled    1

Jumped, pawed    2

Cuddled up to tester and tried to lick face    3

Squirmed, licked at hands    4

Rolled over, licked at hands    5

Went away and stayed away    6
ELEVATION DOMINANCEStruggled fiercely, tried to bite    1

Struggled fiercely    2

Struggled, settled, struggled, settled    3

No struggle, relaxed    4

No struggle, body stiff    5

No struggle, froze    6
RETRIEVINGChased object, picked it up and ran away    1

Chased object, stood over it and did not return    2

Chased object, picked it up and returned with it to tester    3

Chased object and returned without it to tester    4

Started to chase object, lost interest    5

Does not chase object    6
TOUCH SENSITIVITY8-10 count before response    1

6-8 count before response    2

5-6 count before response    3

3-5 count before response    4

2-3 count before response    5

1-2 count before response    6
SOUND SENSITIVITYListened, located sound and ran toward it barking    1

Listened, located sound and walked slowly toward it    2

Listened, located sound and showed curiosity   3

Listened and located sound    4

Cringed, backed off and hid behind tester    55

Ignored sound and showed no curiosity   6
SIGHT SENSITIVITYLooked, attacked and bit object    1

Looked and put feet on object and put mouth on it    2

Looked with curiosity and attempted to investigate, tail up    3

Looked with curiosity, tail down    4

Ran away or hid behind tester    5

Hid behind tester    6
STABILITYLooked and ran to the umbrella, mouthing or biting it    1

Looked and walked to the umbrella, smelling it cautiously    2

Looked and went to investigate    3

Sat and looked, but did not move toward the umbrella    4

Showed little or no interest    5

Ran away from the umbrella    6


The scores are interpreted as follows:

Mostly 1’s - 

Strong desire to be pack leader and is not shy about bucking for a promotion

Has a predisposition to be aggressive to people and other dogs and will bite
Should only be placed into a very experienced home where the dog will be trained and worked on a regular basis

Top Dog Tips: Stay away from the puppy with a lot of 1’s or 2’s.  It has lots of leadership aspirations and may be difficult to manage.  This puppy needs an experienced home.  Not good with children.  

Mostly 2’s - 

Also has leadership aspirations  
May be hard to manage and has the capacity to bite  
Has lots of self-confidence
Should not be placed into an inexperienced home  
Too unruly to be good with children and elderly people, or other animals  
Needs strict schedule, loads of exercise and lots of training  
Has the potential to be a great show dog with someone who understands dog behavior  

Mostly 3’s     - 

Can be a high-energy dog and may need lots of exercise 

Good with people and other animals 
Can be a bit of a handful to live with  
Needs training, does very well at it and learns quickly  
Great dog for second time owner.

Mostly 4’s     - 

The kind of dog that makes the perfect pet 

Best choice for the first time owner.   
Rarely will buck for a promotion in the family  
Easy to train, and rather quiet.  
Good with elderly people, children, although may need protection from the children 
Choose this pup, take it to obedience classes, and you’ll be the star, without having to do too much work!

Tidbits: The puppy with mostly 3’s and 4’s can be quite a handful, but should be good with children and does well with training.  Energy needs to be dispersed with plenty of exercise.  

Mostly 5’s     - 

Fearful, shy and needs special handling  

Will run away at the slightest stress in its life  
Strange people, strange places, different floor or ground surfaces may upset it  
Often afraid of loud noises and terrified of thunder storms. When you greet it upon your return, may submissively urinate.  Needs a very special home where the environment doesn’t change too much and where there are no children  
Best for a quiet, elderly couple  
If cornered and cannot get away, has a tendency to bite

Top Dog Tips: Avoid the puppy with several 6’s.  It is so independent it doesn’t need you or anyone.  He is his own person and unlikely to bond to you.  

Mostly 6’s     - 

So independent that he doesn’t need you or other people  

Doesn’t care if he is trained or not - he is his own person  Unlikely to bond to you, since he doesn’t need you.  
A great guard dog for gas stations!   
Do not take this puppy and think you can change him into a lovable bundle - you can’t, so leave well enough alone


Few puppies will test with all 2’s or all 3’s - there will be a mixture of scores.  

For service work, wonderfully easy to train, potential star, look for a puppy that scores with mostly 4’s and 3’s.  

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Updated Wish List

Here is an updated wish list for Jedi.  I was planning on buying as much stuff as I could used but while browsing the ads on kijiji I got a bit worried about getting something unsafe or possibly something that was used with an ill dog.  I just can't take the risk.  I will buy things used ONLY if I know where that have come from.  Here is the update list with some additions..

Jedi Wish List

2 crates (Ordered at a local store)
Collar (not choke) PURCHASED
6 foot leash (donated by Cay's Knotty Things)
Stainless steel food/water dishes size large
dog travel water bottle
heavy duty nail clippers
slicker brush (purchased)
sturdy dog chew toys
dog shampoo
dog blanket for crate (x2)
clicker (purchased)
2 baby gates
20 foot training leash
service dog in training jacket (purchased)
metal puppy play yard (gates that attach together)
2 crate floor pads to fit large crate
1 crate cover
stainless steel dishes that attach to crate

If anyone local sees some good sales on items that I have listed I'd really appreciate it if you could let me know.  The wholesale company we found won't ship to Canada.  Thanks so much for everyone's support.  Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Spirit's Litter has Arrived!

After a difficult delivery Spirit delivered 4 beautiful pups.  Hopefully one of them will be Jedi.  She gave birth to 1 yellow male, 1 yellow female, 1 black male, and 1 black female.  We are hoping that the black female will be Jedi.  We are so very happy to have such a loving breeder who stood by Spirit the entire way.  Spirit is resting after her c-section.  Thank you Carol for being there for Spirit and the puppies.  You are simply awesome!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Rough Evening for Sienna

Three of my children were enrolled in an educational program at our local library.  Brian had to work so I decided to bring Sienna and work on her spelling with her while we waited for the class to finish.  Sienna started out o.k.  She sat in her chair, opened her book, got her pencil and started to listen to what I was teaching her.  The sitting nicely lasted for about 5 minutes.  She got very distracted and then got out of her chair.  I motioned for her to come back and see how many words she could write and that was when a group of about 5 kids came in.
Saige, my toddler instantly tapped my leg and pointed to Sienna.  I was amazed..Saige is only 18 months and was trying to tell me that Sienna was getting stressed.  Saige put her shirt in her mouth and started chewing on it, just like Sienna does when she is stressed. I think she was trying to tell me to watch out for Sienna because Saige stopped chewing as soon as I acknowledge her communication.

Saige was right, Sienna was getting stressed.  I grabbed her arm and calmly told her that the kids were coming in to use the library.  She didn't calm.  She starting eating her shirt just like she does every time she is stressed.  One of the children started coming close to her so she switched to biting herself instead of biting her clothes.  It's so sad to see her struggle.  I distracted her as much as I could and eventually she sat down to finish her spelling.  That didn't go well.  She instantly broke the end of the pencil and got upset because it was the only pencil she had in her bag.  Everything went downhill from here and the Spelling work never did get done. 
Once the class was over we were out of there very quickly.  I held Sienna's hand on the way back to the van because I was afraid she might take off on me.

While it is never good to see a child go through so much it really helped me decide what services this wonderful new dog will be able to provide.  Below is a PARTIAL list of how Jedi is going to be able to help Sienna...

  • calm Sienna during stressful moments by offering Sienna a brush to care for her dog. (this is very calming to her)
  • one way to calm Sienna is to give her a weighted vest, weighted lap pad, or maybe a loving lab to lie across her lap to help make her feel safe (command "Go Hug" will be used)
  • prevent Sienna from bolting when she gets scared. (dog will be tethered to Sienna once he/she has been trained)
  • at the moment Sienna starts chewing her clothes, Jedi will be taught to distract her with a toy they can use together. (a tug o' war game perhaps) This will be given  the "go tug" command.
  • Jedi will be her best friend.  You see, Sienna doesn't connect well with other kids, even her siblings.  She gets so frustrated and upset and usually ends up in a tantrum.  So, this falls into the emotional support this dog will give her.... that area deserves a whole web site of it's own) 

This is just a PARTIAL list of what Jedi will be trained to do.  I will add more as I can.

Oh, and today's Good News... we have a wonderful vet lined up to care for Jedi.  I have to thank my dear friend Crystal for this part of it.  Thank you Crystal! You have been such a support to our family!  We love you!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Thank You!

At a Loss for Words

I have been busy today,  listing things for sale that we no longer need.  It's a great excuse to declutter and finally Sienna is letting me part with some of her outgrown toys.  She is being very mature about this and we have really needed a toy box clean-out for some time.  Well, I listed some things and then I thought I just check out my blog for a bit and see if there were any further comments for me to respond to.  As soon as I got here I was notified of some donations that had come in.  Thank you just doesn't seem to be strong enough to show each of you how much I appreciate your help. 

 I wish I had a stronger word for something like this.  Saying "Thank You" to somebody who holds the door for you and then saying "Thank You" to somebody who goes way out and donates to a child's just doesn't seem like the right word combination for such a big thing.  Until I find the right way to thank you I will just use these words from the bottom of my heart, in every language I can say them in. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Jedi Training Wish List

I have had a number of emails asking for me to put up a wish list.  I have started one but may tweak it a little as we go.  We are hoping to buy most of this stuff used with the exception of the collar and leashes.  So, here is the list that will likely grow as we go.

Jedi Wish List
Crate for medium-sized dog
Collar (not choke) with secure snap-together clasp
6 foot leash
Stainless steel food/water dishes size large
Dog travel water bottle
Nail Clippers
Slicker Brush
sturdy dog chew toys (labs have strong jaws)
dog shampoo
dog blanket for crate
2 baby gates
                                           20 foot training leash

Friday, 14 September 2012

Journey to Jedi

Our Journey to Jedi

This is the beginning, the very beginning of our journey to get a service dog for our 7 year old daughter Sienna.  Sienna has Pyridoxine Dependency (a rare seizure disorder), Autism, OCD, Pica, Celiac Disease, and an anxiety disorder.  Sienna is one of 6 kids in our family.  She is the 2nd youngest.

Our story is unique because we are training our own seizure/autism response dog.  We've done it before for our oldest daughter, Asia, who is now 15 and suffers from Pyridoxine Dependency as well.  Asia's dog, named River is still working and is amazing.  She is able to detect seizures almost 24 hours before they happen.  She can also detect migraines.  Now, you can train a dog to do seizure response work but alerting before the seizure is not something you can train them for  You either get lucky or you don't.  We got lucky with River. We were blessed to find a dog who can actually alert before the seizure hits.  Nobody know for sure how the dog can do this, but it is possible that the dog senses a pheromone that the body gives off as part of an aura. 

We are going to start training a puppy for Sienna very soon.  Our hope is that this dog will be able to help not only with the seizures but also the autism that makes things hard for Sienna each and every day.  The dog will be trained to help calm Sienna when she is having a melt-down, prevent bolting (which she does out of fear), help with social skills, and even more.  The seizure response work will include many skills including alerting that a seizure is actually in progress, comfort during and after the seizure.  Hopefully, like her distant cousin (River) she/he will be able to detect seizures before they happen. 

We have found a wonderful breeder who is willing to work with us and our new addition with be either a Black or Yellow lab.  The litter of puppies is due very soon and we are keeping our fingers crossed that one of the pups in the one for us.  

The name...oh yes, we have chosen the name "Jedi" for this new little one.  Jedi will be doing Jedi Training so he/she can use the force. Only Star Wars fans will get that one. :O)  Our house is full of Star Wars Fans and the name Jedi really works for our family.  So, this blog will be about our journey.  Obtaining, Training, and working with this special dog.  Thanks for joining us.