Monday, December 26, 2022

Highlights from Azul's 2022

Azul has had a busy 2022!

There is no way we could list everything we've experienced and accomplished this year, but I want to touch base on some of the highlights. While it's been a slow "training" year, this year has been a huge applied life year for us. Azul turned 2 last spring so we mainly worked on applying all the training we had done the first 2 years to real life situations.

Nailing down Azul's role as a Service Dog (SD) is probably the biggest of all highlights. We had done a ton of prep work to train foundations of SD tasks prior to 2 yrs old, but this was the year we really pulled it all together. Using a SD in day-to-day activities relies on more than simply training skills, but becomes a "dance" of teamwork and figuring out what works best for both human and dog. We've spent this year figuring out what that means to us a Service Dog Team. For anyone new to our story, Azul does medical alert and light mobility tasks that help me with my disability. These tasks are individualized to us a team based on things Azul loves do that directly impact my disability. Here is a list and brief explanation of the tasks we've developed as a team:
  • Forward Momentum Pull (FM) - Azul leans into a leash or short handle attached to a harness to help me walk on rough terrain such as climbing hills to enjoy the hikes we both love so much. While hiking is our favorite way to enjoy this teamwork, we also use this to accomplish day to day chores such as grocery shopping, getting the mail, and having the energy to meet with our dog training clients. 
  • Counterbalance -  This applies to 2 main needs for balance assistance for me, vertigo/dizzy spells & slippery or multi-level surfaces. To do this task, Azul will brace into a stronger stand if I pull up on his soft handle. (I never push down on my dog for bracing as this is very hard on a dog's body.) If I'm having a brief vertigo issue, I slightly tip in one direction and Azul lightly leans the opposite direction. If we are hiking in a rough environment with lots of things to step over, hills to go down, or on slippery rocks/surfaces, Azul will walk slowly at my side taking one step at a time while I hold that same soft handle. 
  • Medical Alerts - Azul does 3 main medical alerts for me. Migraine Alerts were his first and most valuable alert in 2022. (I'm happy to report that towards the end of 2022, my migraines are growing less frequent and therefore this is dropping off as our #1 task. YAY!) Azul will run his nose up and down my leg when he feels the need to check my status and if the migraine is about to hit or about to get substantially worse, he will do a nose nudge on my leg to tell me to take meds ASAP. This medical alert often happens 40-45 minutes before I have any sign or symptom of a need to take meds. The other reason this is extremely helpful is that I get a wide range of headaches & migraines so sometimes I might feel like a migraine is about to build then 30 min later it goes away and Azul doesn't alert in these situations. Since I don't want to live on meds 24/7, I've learned to trust Azul's nose and wait for his alert to take my meds. Azul also alerts to extreme inflammation that can strike me at any time. This is part of my autoimmune issue where any random body part can suddenly start to swell up as if it was injured. Azul will lick that area to alert the need for help. He has never enjoyed licking me since he was a puppy, but he started this behavior when I started playing with scent training for this medical issue. I was playing with this because I don't know of any other dog trained to do this type of alert and I wasn't sure if there was a scent involved or not. When Azul starts licking, I know to take my NSAID and start with ice/heat rotation to reduce the amount of swelling that takes place. And the last medical alert Azul does is an extreme vertigo/dizziness alert for when I've been pushing to hard to get something done and need to sit down before I fall down. It's totally normal at any part of day to have a moment of vertigo, but if these moments are coming frequently which causes lots of off balance pressure on the soft handle Azul wears, he will place his paw on my foot to alert the need to stop and sit down. Thankfully I don't struggle with this every day, but it tends to run in streaks where it will happen multiple times a day for several days before it goes away for a few weeks. All 3 of these alerts are life saving in their own way, allowing Azul and I do accomplish more as a team and allowing us to have more fun together having adventures.
  • Retrieve Tasks - Azul learned at a very young age to pick up miscellaneous items and place them in my hand. Most often Azul is retrieving my meds, water bottle, phone, keys, and winter gloves. Azul will retrieve pretty much anything that I drop on cue. This is a cued task because I don't want him picking up things that may be dangerous such as medicine, a dropped knife, or other hazards. We have fun with this task sometimes entertaining ourselves and sometimes entertaining the public around us. I totally accidently dropped a box of bacon in the grocery store once and Azul carried it from the back of the store up to the check out much to the laughs of everyone around us. I've also handed Azul tip money before to hand over to the person who had earned it. Azul also loves to greet UPS drivers on the back porch and then carry the package into Dad. If Azul is not there, they always leave a treat for him on the package.
There are a few other tasks Azul can do, but these are the most frequently used tasks that we use every day in some fashion. We've also dropped a few tasks that would be very helpful for me, however Azul didn't really enjoy them. I don't ever want his job to require Azul to do something he doesn't enjoy! My last SD did DPT on my neck during migraines and Azul overheats doing this. While a dog's heat & pressure helps more then my heating pad, I'll stick to my heating pad instead of making Azul uncomfortable. (TEAMWORK is everything to us!) 

We might develop some of our tasks in greater detail in 2023, but I'm pretty happy with where we are at with SD tasks at this time. 

Amazing Adventures

Thanks to our teamwork, we've been able to participate in some pretty incredible adventures in 2022 including hiking to some gorgeous waterfalls, travels to see family members, and some big SD moments. Every since I was a child, I loved rock climbing and going in search of waterfalls. Now with my balance and fatigue issues, this would be impossible without the help of Azul along the way. Thankfully the environment we live in has lots of amazing nature that surrounds us. Most generally we stick to the local splendor that we love unless we have friends or family to go out and explore with. If you've followed our story, you've surely seen pictures of many of the lakes and trails we walk regularly; Strawberry Lake, Myr Trail, Smalley & Longslide Falls, etc. Unfortunately, we haven't spent nearly as much time as we'd like in most of these "regular" spots having only visited each spot a few times this year. Little Fumee Lake is one of our favorites, but is a 2 mile loop so we only made it out 3 times this year. We have been able to explore with a few others this year so here are a few highlights.

Lake Michigan from the boardwalk in Manistique.

A small boat launch near the top of the Quinessec Hydroelectric Plant.

Strawberry Lake 1 Mile Paved Loop

Memorial Day Adventures with my kids & grandkids.


Hiking with Jen & Betsy

Camping & Canoeing with Extended Family Members



Fall Hiking with my kids & grandkids.

Piers Gorge Adventure with Family

Lake Superior Sunrise Walk

Adventures in Illinois 

Service Dog Highlights in LOL

Many of these things were recorded in previous blogs so here are a few links:

Therapy Dog Highlights

Additional Training

We've really spent the year fine tuning leash manners in outdoor environments and building up to more exciting environments and working around other dogs.  This is going to be a work in progress that we will be looking at more in 2023. 

We have also worked on formal recall training in 2022. Before Azul turned 2 yrs old, we worked mainly on fun recalls used in play and training. But this year we added in some station training to help define the place to stay and build in the release to come back to me in a more formal recall. I didn't want to teach this to puppy Azul because I wanted to wait until he had the self control to take on this challenging topic. 

I have some other great training videos and things that I haven't had a chance to write up yet, but hopefully I will get a few more of those done over the next few days before we celebrate New Year's Eve! Stay tuned to see all the great things we have planned for 2023!


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