Sunday, November 14, 2021

Overcoming Disabilities with a Service Dog


I don't often talk about my disabilities when it comes to my dog training sites, but I want highlight some of the amazing tasks my Service Dog Azul does to mitigate my disabilities.  First, I have a whole bunch of autoimmune issues with overlapping symptoms that effect my daily activities.  I'm not going to go into all of that, but I don't mind sharing my story, so contact me if you want more information.

Basic Task List & Simple Explanation

Migraine Alert & Response:  Azul has a taught behavior that he does about 30 minutes before the migraine hits that allows me to take meds before I would know to take them myself.  He is also trained to retrieve those meds for me and rest his head on painful body parts which helps while I wait for the meds to kick in.  Migraine Alert is a scent based task, meaning Azul smells a chemical change in me that lets him know when to alert.

Vertigo Alert & Response:  This one varies based on my needs at the time, but again Azul is trained to do a specific behavior when he feels the need to make me aware of frequently recurring episodes.  He also will provide counterbalance which allows me to keep walking through light episodes.

Retrieval Tasks:  Besides retrieving my meds, Azul can retrieve a wide variety of items that are dropped.  When an item is dropped, Azul waits to here the Leave It or Get It cue.  Then if asked to Get It, he will pick it and return it to my hand.  This can be anything as heavy as a water bottle or as small as a nickel.  He often carries packages from the back porch into the house when we get a delivery.  And he is slowly learning the names of important items such as my phone, keys, etc that he will be able to go find and deliver to me when I need them.

Azul wears a lightweight, soft handle on his harness the allows him to assist with some light mobility tasks.

Forward Momentum:  When I am holding the handle, Azul will assist with a slight pressure to propel me forward at a normal speed to prevent extreme fatigue from slowing me down.  He automatically applies pressure when we are walking up a hill or when I tell him to follow a specific person.  He is trained to keep the pace with another person we are either walking beside or following behind.  

Counterbalance:  This task is a bit hard to explain and it is commonly thought as a person pushing down on a dog such as they would a cane or walker.  Actually, this is the opposite as the person is pulling up on a handle gently for support which is much safer for the dog.  For Azul, he does this task in 2 situations.  First, if we are walking on uneven or slippery surfaces, going downhill, or walking in places where I need to position my footsteps very carefully, Azul stands at my side providing assistance as needed so that I can prevent falling.  Second, if I'm experiencing vertigo, I generally tip to one side or the other and so Azul again walks at my side to provide support.  Since vertigo also tends to go with migraines, I often am not aware of frequently repeating episodes of vertigo so that is when Azul will alert and ask me stop walking until it is safe to move again.

Azul also uses a combination of these tasks to lead me to a family member if we are out in public, help me find the car, and help me find a seat if needed.  Since my symptoms come and go frequently and unpredictably, Azul's assistance allows me to be able to go out in public by myself without having to have a family member there to help me if one of my issues decides to suddenly attack.  And because my symptoms come and go sometimes I look and sound totally normal, or not disabled, while other times I can barely accomplish simple tasks without help.

Issues a Service Dog can't help with

While having Azul with me, I can do many more things but there are still some things that he can not assist with.  There are days that moving has to be done in short bursts of activities so I don't leave me house on those days.  The migraines often affect my speech, not slurring words as some might think, but making me forget common words and therefore sometimes my responses are delayed or may not make total sense.  And dealing with chronic pain for days at a time can make a person extremely irrigatable, cause a short attention span, and become easily annoyed at things that typically wouldn't bother me.  So if I accidently offend you or don't reply to a question in a timely manner, it's not on purpose.  If I totally forget that you asked me to help you with something, feel free to ask again.  I will not think you are badgering me as reminders are extremely helpful.

How does my disability affect me as a dog trainer?

Due to limited physical resources available, I keep my dog training practice small.  I can help many more people via digital services such as my website, video meetings, and training groups.  I only take on a limited number of in-person clients at a time.  It is very important to me to be available to assist my clients with needs as they present themselves.  Thankfully, my schedule is typically very light so I can schedule meetings at a wide variety of times to meet my clients scheduling needs.  My disability is unpredictable, but I may need to reschedule from time to time, so I appreciate your patience with this.

Also due to my disability and needing to do tons of research in order to train my own Service Dogs, I often understand the needs my clients are facing in their personal life.  I try not have a crackerjack approach to my dog training!  I will listen to my clients needs and brainstorm with them until we can find an approach that will work for both client and dog.  All of my dog training is based on a teamwork approach, helping owner and dog to work effectively together.  If I can't help a person due to a physical limitation on my part or theirs, I have several other trainers that I work with that can be brought in to assist as necessary.  

In my opinion, my disability makes me a stronger dog trainer way more then it prevents me from dog training.  My dedication to my clients, both human and canine, is what sets me apart from other dog trainers.  While I hold a Certificate in Advanced Animal Behaviors which allows me to do behavioral consults, I do not raise my prices for these services!  Instead, I automatically build in behavioral assessments into all my training plans.  My goal as a dog trainer is to help as many teams as possible, staying within my limited physical resources available.  

Please let me know how I can best help you to meet your needs!

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