Sunday, January 9, 2011

Decisions - submission for 2nd Assistance Dog Blog Carnival

In October, I wrote a submission about The Two Most Important Firsts in my Service Dog Journey So Far for the 1st Assistance Dog Blog Carnival and now I am faced with writing another one about Decisions for the 2nd such event, hosted by Dog's Eye View. I find that I am overwhelmed with possible topics related to the many important decisions I have had to make since first considering whether a service dog would be beneficial in my life.
However, in order to submit an entry in keeping with my blog, I've decided to write again about my decision to get a puppy this summer when my current service dog, Laurel, was still young (4 years old) and working. This was a truly momentous decision largely because I was so opposed when I first starting considering it. As difficult as I had found the process regarding whether to get a service dog to begin with, I found the one about if and when to get a successor even more emotionally charged and heart-wrenching. And at first, I found it impossible to even consider getting another dog because all I could think about was that doing so would mean Laurel's retirement and eventual death. My service dog trainer, Sue Alexander suggested I consider it; other service dog handlers who had suddenly lost a young, working dog recommended I think about it and many of my dog-training friends who had seen how hard Laurel worked for me thought that I needed to look into it. Additionally, since Laurel does 3 medical alerts, each of which began as natural alerts and no one knows what allows or encourages dogs to do alerting, our hope would be that Laurel would teach the next dog.  But for the longest time, although I knew that it might be the smartest thing to do, I couldn't get past my denial over Laurel's aging - I think there was some illogical thinking going on that if I didn't prepare, Laurel would never grow old, need to retire or die. 
One of the important decisions we had made when we originally decided to try to raise and train my own service dog was to switch from our breed of choice, Standard Poodles, to Labrador Retrievers. Although I had grown up in a SP kennel and my husband is allergic to dogs, we had many reasons for making the switch -  Labs are easily recognized by the general public and are accepted as service dogs; although the breeds are generally the same size, Labs are much sturdier and stronger and Labs are "wash and wear" while Poodles are grooming-intensive. Since they are both water retrievers, I hadn't anticipated how different the breeds are and Laurel spent her first two years hearing me complain that she was not a Standard Poodle. Since then, however, Laurel and Labs in general have grown on us and I realized that I wouldn't want any other breed.
At the same time, because I knew I couldn't get another puppy from Laurel's breeder (she has retired), I had contacted Labrador Retriever kennels in about 5 states around us and in Canada. I had heard that some breeders wouldn't let their puppies go to become service dogs so I thought I might need to develop a relationship with a couple breeders in order to have them see what kind of a life my next service dog would have. Although I didn't have any breeder refuse to sell me a puppy outright, I'm pretty sure the one who priced hers at $3800 or more wasn't real interested in me having one.
When Laurel was young, we became friends with Amy who had a lovely yellow puppy, Georgia, from a breeder, Donna Reece, about an hour away from us.  Amy introduced us to Donna at the big Crown Classic dog show several years ago and although she was busy showing, we had a lovely talk and I was very impressed with her dogs. Since then, I have had the opportunity to see a number of her puppies and young dogs and have been very impressed. I have continued to talk to Donna and a comment she made was responsible for letting me get beyond my denial to make the decision to get a puppy. We were discussing everyone's suggestions to me about getting a puppy sooner rather than later and she said that it sounded like Laurel's job had expanded to more than what one dog should be expected to do (with the 3 medical alerts plus mobility tasks) and that I should look at getting another dog to become her partner first and not worry about it being her successor. I am sure that is what everyone else was trying to tell me but Donna was able to do it in such a way that it became a positive instead of a negative. 
With that new mindset, I decided to go ahead and start looking for a puppy. 
In the months prior to actually looking at litters, I went through many of the same processes I had prior to getting Laurel. I reviewed my needs, our living conditions, my breed choice and our finances etc. Then I decided which breeders I wanted to deal with - Donna Reece of Ridge View Labradors and one other that another friend had referred me to. Because I determined that I wanted help getting a puppy whose temperament would make it easier for him or her to be a service dog than it is for Laurel, I arranged with Sue Alexander to come temperament test some puppies at the beginning of June. She found my boy, Hardy as the 11th puppy tested and although he is the wrong color (chocolate instead of yellow) and the wrong sex; he appeared to be the perfect puppy for me; something which still seems to be true even though he is currently a persistent adolescent! 
I've already had reason to be grateful I made the decision to get a puppy. Hardy alerts on his own now and like Laurel's, it is predictive and accurate. I fell on the ice recently when I got out of my chair to pick up after Hardy at the class I teach. Since Laurel was at home, he alerted on his own and was very persistent in making sure I understood and took my meds. Over the past several days I have continued to have pain and muscle spasms and have been thrilled to watch my two Labs work together to have at least one of them with me, laying across my legs. They actually do seem to split the work on watching me; with the one who is "off-duty" able to rest or play. This is everything I had hoped for but certainly more than I had ever expected!


  1. I'm glad things have worked out so well with your second puppy. Many of the people I know who train their own assistance dogs have more than one dog working at the same time - like you, usually one is older and fully trained, while one is young and still learning.
    Thank you so much for participating in the ADBC! I’m checking links now, so the big list should be up on my blog soon.

  2. This was a great post. I so wish I had been able to get a puppy when Gadget was younger, for all the reasons you mention.
    The first time around, I was able to raise a successor (Gadget), while still having a working SD (Jersey), and it made a world of difference!

  3. Thank you for this post. It was both enjoyable to read and very informative. I believe that I had a very ignorant view of people having two SD's at once, but you have changed my mind and cleared a few things up for me.
    Thank you

  4. Wow that's cool! I didn't really think about having 2 service dogs at once but that makes sense :)

  5. While I am amazed by my guide dog and his skills, service dogs like yours are nothing less than totally amazing to me. In fact just today, in discussion with a woman on paratransit who's wheelchair dog was at home, I talked about you from your first carnival post, even though I couldn't remember which blog or any real details. The woman was amazed and we started talking about service dogs who alert and we both agreed it's an incredible gift they possess. I'm just fascinated by your stories; what amazing dogs! Thank you so much for sharing; it's wonderful to learn about all the different things our amazing dogs do.

  6. Hi Linda, I was so excited to see you had a blog and were participating in the blog carnival. I remember meeting you and Laurel a year or so ago and thinking how amazing she is. I look forward to reading about and learning from your training adventures with Hardy. Someday I'd like to train my own service dog, but it all depends on timing and well....Cessna turned 7 in October and I still have my retired guide in addition to my 2 pet dogs so I'm not sure my husband will be into adding another at this point in time :) Take care!

  7. I'm so glad it has worked out. It must be hard work though!

    Take care, torie and guide dog Ushi