Service Dog Highs and Lows

Service dogs are there to provide medical aide to their handlers. Sometimes that can be easier said than done. Alice is winding down her service dog career now that she recently hit 7 years old. Since 20111, Alice has been a remarkable help to me and made me more confident in being able to open up to people regarding my disability. When I was younger, I used to pretend that I was normal and that nothing was wrong with me, then when things would crop up it hurt worse. Now that I am older, accepting things head on instead of hiding from them tends to go over better. 

The high points are very easy to talk about because they happen every single day when Alice or Rolo are on duty. When Raven, goes out on training visits, she fills my heart with such joy that I know that she will fill her mother's footprints when the time comes. Alice has this ability to draw people in and get people to talk to me, this has allowed me to explain to people what she can do for me and how she helps me. Rolo exudes strength and power, his size and "Wal-Mart greeter" mentality really set myself and others at ease. Both dogs spring to action when needed and it is incredible to watch. 

As with anything, you have to take the good with the bad. I hate to say it but the bad things are always relating to the fact that I do not have a visible disability. The well-meaning people ask thoughtful questions, the rude people assume. I hear the snide comments like "that lady needs to give that dog to somebody that really needs him..." Whenever I get people that ask about getting a service dog for their disability, I warn them in that a service dog does not make you invisible, it makes you stick out and you have to constantly remember that they are a tool to help you and that's all that matters. The next stories I am going to tell are all bad and happened to me and I am sharing them as an example of when things go wrong. 

Fake service dogs are a hot button issue within the Service Dog Community and most people want to know how to spot them. Fake service dogs to me are easily spotted by the handler instead of the dog. A dog in training is different and the handler should be actively correcting the dog in case they do something wrong. My only encounter with a fake service dog happened while I was at a restaurant with my mother. Alice was in a tuck under my chair and out of the way, frankly she was nearly asleep as she knows that restaurants are places where she isn't needed that much. This fake service dog and its owner walked by us heading towards the restroom. The owner stopped, the dog kept on tugging and pulling, the owner did nothing, then the owner noticed Alice. Alice had barely lifted her head up but the owner of the fake service dog intentionally tried to get her dog to greet Alice with a statement of "Awwww say hello to the other doggie..." My comment to the owner was "Please do not disturb my dog as she is working." Thankfully a waiter came by and directed the owner away. My mother and I left shortly after. My story is mild but I know that it could have been worse. 

The next two incidents involve businesses and how they need to train their staff better. The first incident happened while I was at a Barnes and Noble in Chesterfield, Virginia. I had Rolo with me and he was performing a trained task, bracing me while I browsed for books on the shelf. I noticed that 2 employees seemed to always be around us. So when I stopped to look at the dog books section (I'm a nerd for dogs and love dog books), I sat down and had Rolo lay down in front of me, ready to help me get up if needed. Those two associates stood at the end of the aisle and talked about me, pointing and staring. I told my fiance what I heard and he heard them too. We promptly left, however I called the store to speak to a manager immediately after. To my surprise those whispering, staring and pointing were the General Manager and the Assistant General Manager. While a person was getting the General Manager on the phone, I heard the general manager say "Yes, we followed them because they weren't in a wheelchair and obviously faking..." When I heard that I let the manager know who denied it until I said that I heard her say it. I then took that complaint to corporate, who supposedly took care of it. I rarely go to that location again but if I have a service dog with me, I never go alone. I am glad that those people did that prior to my concussion which lead to me developing panic attacks, because if that had happened after my concussion it could have been a medical emergency. However, every time that I have gone back to that store since, I have never seen those two people there again.  . 

The last incident happened while we were traveling for an AKC Meet the Breeds event in New York. We were staying in New Jersey with the plan to drive to Manhattan every day for the event. I made the reservations months prior to stay at the Embassy Suites in Seacaucus, New Jersey, indicating that I was traveling with 2 service dogs and that were were part of a group for the AKC Meet the Breeds event. When we arrived, after spending nearly 6 hours on the road. The hotel put us in a room that was too small and not part of the group. We had no room to fit one dog, let alone 2. I complained to the front desk who put us in a room reserved for their Hilton Rewards members. As soon as the manger saw me put a dog in there, the phone rang in the room and I was being forced to move to a different room. This was after we got nearly everything unloaded from the car. I mentioned to the manger that you can't segregate service dogs and their handlers but they didn't listen. Within five minutes there was a bellhop at our room ready to move our stuff to the lobby while they got us another room. They then tried to put us in a room that was directly across from the elevators. When traveling with dogs, being by elevators is the last thing we needed as they would never settle down with the constant noise. After waiting in the lobby for another 30 minutes, we were moved to another room. We finally got to our fourth room and got everything unloaded close to 4 hours after our arrival. I was exhausted and furious. I contacted the Embassy Suites corporate office via phone, social media and email. They seemed apologetic at first until they admitted that it was company policy to segregate all animals regardless if they were service dogs or not. I sent them a copy of the federal regulations regarding service dogs and they then refused to answer any of my messages after that. I have never stayed at an Embassy Suites again and I actively tell anybody who will listen about how horrible they are. I also informed the American Kennel Club regarding how horrible they were to us and the AKC no longer works with Embassy Suites in Seacaucus, New Jersey for group rates. What Embassy Suites didn't know at the time was that Alice made history at that event and was part of the launch of a special new title called, the AKC Community Canine, also known as the CGCA. Even after all that happened to us and the hustle and bustle that Embassy Suites put us through, just 24 hours later, Alice passed her CGCA and became the 4th ever to earn the title in the history of the AKC. I never make complaints expecting to get anything but that trip was an absolute nightmare because of Embassy Suites. Even though that Embassy Suites violated the ADA, not once did they admit that they were wrong in any way. They never offered to make things right or concede that they needed to educate themselves on appropriate practices with service dogs. So to all those reading this, avoid Embassy Suites and their parent company, Hilton as they have shown blatant disregard for those with disabilities and the tools that those with disabilities use to make their lives whole. 

Alice earning her CGCA

Alice earning her CGCA

The incredible perception of Hamiltonstovare

Over the past few months, I have been suffering through a mysterious illness. I started showing symptoms just after I arrived homes from Westminster. I tried to chalk it up to just a stomach bug. The symptoms that I had just wouldn't quit. I started losing weight rapidly, over 30lbs in 2 months. I sought the care of multiple doctors, visited the ER multiple times had every scan and treatment known to man kind, nothing worked. 

The one constant was that Alice would want to be at my side, at all times. As my symptoms got worse, I became unable to sit and unable to go to work. Alice stayed by my side no mater what, even after each test came up normal. Finally there was a clue, my ct scan showed that something was abnormal with my appendix. About 10 days ago, I started getting extreme lower right abdominal pain and Alice knew it. She would come up to me and put her nose on my lower right abdomen. She knew something was wrong. What was even more incredible was that the other 3 Hamiltons in the house knew it too. Rolo acted more subdued around me. Raven and Selene wouldn't jump up on more or if they did, they would aim for other areas than my lower abdomen. 

Well, I was admitted to the hospital on May 30th and was operated on to remove my appendix the next day. Within hours of me waking up from the surgery, I felt better. I was discharged on June 1st and returned home that evening. Alice saw me and her behavior changed, it was like she instantly relaxed. She's been sleeping primarily since I got home. Just a few days after my discharge, I got the full report and it turns out there was a small pocket of infection that was trapped in my appendix that caused all of my symptoms. Alice, Rolo, Raven and Selene all knew it. 

I have long suspected that Hamiltonstovare are much more perceptive than the average dog. I've had anecdotal evidence of stories where Hamiltons instantly change their behavior around people who aren't as able bodied, small children, elderly and disabled. Alice started exhibiting something from the time I got her that surprised me and made me consider her for a service dog. Alice can sense my limits when on my feet, I don't know how she does it but it is like she picks up on my pain and can sense it coming minutes before I can. Her alerts were subtle at first and that's why I didn't pick up on it. Alice and I used to take walks when I lived with my mother and she would gently tap her nose on my leg while on these walks, within minutes of that tap, my pain would start. I didn't catch on at first because it was so gentle and it seemed like she was just doing it at random, until I picked up on the pattern. 

When I got Rolo, the incredible thing is that he started doing it too, with no training or prompting. I was shocked. I couldn't believe it. When Alice and Rolo's puppies were born, I had this thought in the back of my head wondering if they would be able to do it too. That opportunity came  a few weeks ago. I was feeling fairly decent and we decided to take Alice out at a veteran service dog and Raven as a service dog in training. I had Raven the entire time and within an hour or so, Raven alerted. I was stunned. I have taught Raven some basic skills needed but never the alert. She did it just like her parents, a subtle tap on my leg. She got so much praise for it and I turned into the crying lady in Lowe's. 

This just proves to me that Hamiltonstovare are really the best dogs on the planet and need to be cherished at all times. 

Training Hamiltonstovare Do's and Don't's

Training a dog is a personal choice as always but there are some methods that work much better with Hamiltonstovare than others. I have trained my guys mainly at home but I do work in a formalized way with them from time to time. The first key component of any well trained dog is socialization. Take your dog everywhere and as often as possible from as early an age as possible. A good breeder should start that process for you, they should easily be able to tell you where they take their dogs and how often. If they can't do that, run away as fast as you can. True, Hamiltonstovare aren't an at risk breed for aggression but a breeder should try their best to better the temperament as often as possible. 

The first thing you should do when bringing your new puppy home at 10-14 weeks, any earlier is a huge no-no, is enroll them in a puppy manners class that focuses on crate training, socialization, manners, and some introduction to obedience. The puppy manners class should focus on letting the puppy make good choices and enforcing those positive choices. After the puppy manners class, they should start a basic obedience class that puts emphasis on sit, stay, come, down, heel, and using those skills at will. Hamiltonstovare that are trained well from a good trainer should never need a prong choke collar or a gentle leader. Gentle leaders have become very popular as a training tool recently and almost every single person I have seen use them, use them incorrectly. Gentle leaders are designed for one purpose, to discourage pulling on the leash as a last resort. It is not a training tool to be kept on during a training exercise, a hike, or anything after the dog is properly trained. Gentle Leaders are only to be used on adult dogs that are done maturing, for Hamiltonstovare that is over 2 years of age. If you have trained your dog properly then you should NEVER need to use one. Hamiltonstovare have long necks and the possibility for injury using a Gentle Leader is great. Gentle Leaders can cause neck injuries, muzzle phobia issues, and if put on incorrectly permanent nerve and spinal damage. 

Training a Hamiltonstovare is actually remarkably easy if you have one key component, food. Hamiltonstovare are highly food motivated and will do practically anything for food. I have trained 2 dogs to a CGC and one to a CGCA using food. At home I train tasks 100% off leash using food. Alice is my trickster and she knows several tricks that we all taught while having her wait for dinner. Alice knows sit, down, wait, speak, roll over, sit-up, shake, wave, high five, back-up, and touch. Rolo is learning but he knows sit, down, wait, speak, say his name (he goes Ro Ro), sit-up, back-up and touch. Rolo is in training for agility and is progressing very well with that training thanks to food and an item called a Lotus Ball. 

Rolo doing some DIY agility jumps

Rolo doing some DIY agility jumps

With Raven and Selene, we are doing things much earlier and the results have been incredible. Raven has started some Rally-O training recently and she is loving it. Raven is being trained using the clicker. Clicker training has really helped her understand the importance of good choices, immediately. Selene is highly toy driven, the most toy driven dog I have ever seen, and she has started some agility training. She adores it. 

The main key to training a Hamiltonstovare is finding the thing that motivates them and exploiting it to do things that you want them to do. Hamiltonstovare, like most scent hounds, respond horribly to negative reinforcement. Anything from yelling, prong collars, gentle leaders, some types of choke chains; can actually do more harm than good. Trust is key with Hamiltonstovare, they respond best to an owner that allows them to work and progress at their own pace. 

Here are some key Do's when training Hamiltonstovare:
Work with them daily using positive reinforcement
Challenge their brain on a regular basis, Hamiltons are very bright, use it to your advantage
Use food as a reinforcement
Take them everywhere possible
Try anything with them from weight pull, lure coursing, rally, agility, etc.
Find a trainer that understands how to train a hound

Here are some key Don't's when training Hamiltonstovare:
Use a gentle leader on a dog under 2 years of age
Yell, hit, or any form of negative reinforcement
Make them do something they they don't want to do
Expect more out of them than what is realistically possible
Use a prong collar or gentle leader unless it is an absolute last resort for the dog's safety

The most important thing to remember when training Hamiltonstovare is to have fun. If you are having fun then that will travel down the leash to them and they will have fun. Hamiltonstovare are incredibly versatile and have the ability to excel in agility, dock diving, lure coursing, weight pull, rally-o, obedience, fly ball, trick training, service dog work, therapy dog work and pretty much anything you can think of, they can do it. 

Alice waving

Alice waving