Monday, May 23, 2011

Doing Dog Sports with an Alert Service Dog can be Exciting and Challenging!

I know this is my blog about raising service dog candidates from the time they are puppies until they are working service dogs (and can successfully pass a public access test). I'm using my experiences raising my young chocolate Lab, Hardy, to show the different things that you will need to do, the problems that will occur, the different experiences you will share as well as the tremendous bond that forms between you and your canine partner.
At the same time, I also have Laurel, my soon-to-be five year old working service dog. And having her while raising and training my next service dog has had a huge impact on that experience. Laurel has been a wonderful teacher for Hardy - she was an amazing puppy trainer, taught him two of her natural alerts, helps with teaching him tasks and generally continues to keep his behavior in check. I learned so much from working with her and I have consciously attempted to improve things for him by using what I have learned. I asked my service dog trainer, Sue Alexander, to come down and temperament test litters of puppies so that I could get a puppy better suited to the job because I see how hard it is for Laurel. But maybe the most important impact having a working service dog has had on my experience raising Hardy is that I have been able to enjoy Hardy's puppy-hood with much less stress and temptations to rush him to grow up and begin working. For me, that's particularly important because I am very competitive and don't need much encouragement to act like an idiot! 
Having expressed all of the above yet again, I'm also going to share an experience I had with Laurel at agility trials over the weekend. As I've shared before, Laurel does 3 different medical alerts for me - all of which began naturally (Laurel taught them to me instead of the other way around). She taught Hardy two of the alerts when he was still a puppy and she has alerted to other people. She's alerted to our daughter's anxiety and her severe muscle spasms; she's also alerted to several friends' anxiety and she alerted to a friend's pain disorder. But these were all people she knows and has spent time with. 
Normally, at any type of trials, Laurel relaxes or sleeps when she's in her crate. Yesterday, when I came to get her for one of our agility runs, my husband mentioned that she had barked at a stranger who had walked past her. It caused me to pause for a moment because she has never ever done anything like that before ... she was socialized to everything and more as a puppy and she's been successfully working as a service dog for about 3 1/2 years now. But we had to run (literally) so I didn't have time to think much more about it - we went and warmed up and did our run. I noticed that Laurel was much more distracted than she had been but didn't think much about it. When I came back to our crating area, I put Laurel away and then observed her very intently and deliberately watching the same stranger. If someone got in her way, she would move in her crate so that she could see him again and occasionally, she would look at me and "woof" once. I quickly began thinking that there was something going on and that maybe Laurel was alerting. I took her out of her crate to see what would happen and she continued to very deliberately get me to look at the man and then "woofed" at me to let me know that something was going on with him. I had no idea what "protocol" was in this situation - do I go up to him and say that I have an alerting dog who seems to think something is going on with him? I saw that he was with someone I know casually from the trials so I approached her. I asked if she knew him and when she said yes, I told her about Laurel and that she was alerting to him. The woman looked startled and then said that the man had just had surgery and had a tube draining blood from an incision and that he had diabetes and with the surgery (which hadn't gone well), his blood sugar was very high and out of control. I'm not sure which Laurel was alerting to but I was sure that she was alerting to something. I went back to Laurel in her crate, thanked her for alerting, gave her a jackpot of treats, told her that her job was done and five minutes later, looked over and saw that she was sound asleep once again. After that, our weekend went on as usual - Laurel had done her job as she believes it to be and then went on taking care of me and playing agility together! I have to admit that I was amazed by my awesome girl and the gift she shares with the people she comes in contact with! 
Hardy had a wonderful time at the trials - he didn't alert to any strangers but he visited and watched teams compete and we worked on some obedience things together! 
Laurel coming out of a tunnel at an agility trial

Laurel & I playing at agility together

Hitting that contact on the teeter totter

What Laurel does at agility trials when she's not alerting


  1. Hi Y'all,

    What a beauty she is running the agility course!

    Missed y'alls last post about the hospital stay. Must say that I agree on the reason you were in the hospital. Maybe it's because I just finished a Bible study on God's touch in our lives.

    Happy belated 32nd Anniversary!

    Y'all come by now,
    BrownDog's Momma

    (some reason, since blogger went nuts on me the other day, I can only use my LiveJournal ID on most comment forms)