When travelling by air you can prepare your service dog ahead of time to reduce the stress for you both.
Specific Basic Skills Dog needs:
- allowing self to be patted down by security staff which may include use of the wand. (Alternatively, taking off all harnesses etc., that may contain metal and pass through the metal detector on her own)
- pee and potty promptly on cue (ideally on a variety of surfaces and over a grate) (Can also carry potty pads or child diapers for emergencies. Easy clean-up and disposal.)
- curl up in tight spaces for long periods of time (start shaping the dog to go into a box then a round space such as laundry basket)
- ignore other people eating off trays in close proximity
- recognize that a familiar mat means calm relaxed behaviour
- be comfortable with the sound of pop cans being opened nearby
- stay calm in the presence of loud roaring sounds and vibrations
- ignore the 'ding dong' sounds of the stewards making announcements
- teach dog to follow a chin rest or nose target so you can walk dog naked through metal detector rather than be patted down with gear on.
Here are some tips:
- Practice a variety of modes of transport that mimic different aspects of plane travel (elevator for air pockets, laying on bus floors for vibrations, train travel for tight spaces. etc.).
- Practice in a local airport before every getting on a plane
- Do shorter practice runs if you plan on traveling for long trips especially with layovers.
- Don't count on having enough time to potty your dog outdoors between plane changes (training the dog to pee on pee pads or in floor grates is handy at airports).
- Take toys and treats for long trips so you can break up long stationary periods.
- Teach simple tricks or games that can be done in a small space (nose target, 4 foot paw lifts, retrieve keys etc)
- Carry a familiar mat with you so the dog has a place all his own.
- Practice staying in small spaces for increasingly longer time periods (Place a couch or chair facing a wall to mimic the space under and in front of an airline chair).
- Learn to read your dog to watch for signs of stress and knowledge of low key ways of relieving that stress (such as chewing a bone or toy on take off, playing a gentle tug game, using a massage, etc.)
- Pack a clean up kit: disposable baby diaper, paper towels and wet towelettes to do clean ups.
- Make sure you have all required documents
- Read each airlines guidelines for service dogs on their website to make sure you notify them in the amount of time they request and that your dog qualifies as a service dog
- Carry your medication on you, not in the dogs vest or pack
- Prepare for other dogs and kids in your dog's personal space
Haley Mauldin shared her first experience flying with her SD. Here is what she wrote!
I thought I would share some of my experiences from flying for the first time with my SD. Other people’s posts about this had really helped me so I thought I would add!
Things I did to Prepare:
• Played youtube videos of planes taking off through the speakers in the car (good way to get them used to how loud the plane is especially during take-off and landing).
• Did a lot of tuck practice in small spaces.
• Practiced putting Morgan in a sit wait (I use a wait command and a stay command depending on the situation), walked away from him, then stopped, turned around, and called him to me immediately into a sit stay. We did this with a lot of distractions.
• Use the bathroom on command.
• I flew Southwest, when I bought the ticket I said I was flying with a trained assistance animal, I had no trouble at the counter and didn’t get asked for anything (I was, however, using Morgan’s pull strap due to a recent dizzy spell so I think they assumed he was a SD not an ESA).
• Went on Morgan’s first shuttle thing through the airport, something we hadn’t really prepared for but he did fine.
• When we got to security we went through a different line a little ahead of everyone because they had a working bomb sniffing dog and didn’t want him to get distracted by Morgan.
• We went through the metal detector separately. Really glad we practiced in highly stimulating environments because there were two ESAs losing their minds over Morgan just on the other side of the metal detector.
• I went through and they swabbed my hands then had me call Morgan through but I couldn’t take his leash until they had the results from the swabbing so it was good that we had practiced him coming to me and immediately sitting.
• I didn’t take his vest off when we went through but wish we had because Morgan carries two sets of medications of mine in his vest and they had to pull them out of his vest and examine them, in the future I will just take his vest off and send it through the scanner.
• On the other side of security we ran into the two ESAs on flexi leashes that were barking and running up to Morgan and one started snapping at Morgan so I switched sides with Morgan and body blocked them from Morgan (he did great ignoring them).
• My flight ended up getting delayed an extra hour because of a storm over the airport. All in all Morgan ended up going nine and a half hours without a bathroom break. The morning we flew I only gave him his breakfast and let him drink water until about noon (we got to the airport at 4:00pm). I’m really glad I didn’t feed him after that. On the plane I gave him a little water and some of his kibble to tide him over.
• We loaded onto the plane after those in wheelchairs and were given bulkhead seating. Thinking back on it I’m really glad we took the bulkhead seating as it allowed Morgan to do paws up DPT while we were flying which I don’t think he would have been able to do in a regular seat. He, however, wasn’t too fond of not being able to tuck under but it ended up working!
• I brought his small dog bed that rolls up for him to lay on (I use it when we go to class so he knows exactly where to go).
• When it came time for takeoff Morgan checked in with me a few times and I gave him a little kibble to get his jaw moving to try to help with the pressure changes in his ears just to be safe.
• He checked in a few times with me at first but then relaxed.
• When it came time to get drinks I got ice water and gave Morgan a couple of ice cubes (he loves them) which I felt he deserved and was a good way to give him water without having to worry about spilling.
• The one thing I wish I had done a little more exposure with was the opening of soda cans. I don’t drink much soda so Morgan wasn’t really familiar with the sound and they were opening all of the cans on the other side of the thin wall right in front of where he was laying. He was fine but a bit confused at first so something we are going to work on.
• Morgan did a few alerts and DPT during the flight and then really just slept the rest of the time. I brought his sweater but didn’t end up using it.
• All in all the flight ended up being almost six hours with around nine and a half hours between the plane and airport.
• Got the usual comments about “what’s wrong with you?” “Who trains pitbulls to be service dogs?” “Are you blind?” “Who are you training him for?” But I have my canned responses so I just used those and moved on.
In many parts of the world, a service dog is considered a valuable caregiver and are actually paid. The fee covered food and toys for the dog and saves the health system up to 29,000 pounds a year for a human caregiver.
And costs incurred may also be a deduction for income tax purposes for the handler in some countries. Check into it in your country.
In Canada, typically it is only the costs to maintain service dogs provided by non-profit societies that can be deducted, but save your receipts and ask your tax man in case the laws have changed in the last year.
In the US, you can deduct the costs for an owner-trained service or assistance dog (but not an emotional support dog or therapy dog).
While scientists do not yet understand the exact trigger* (see below) that dogs recognize to know a seizure is coming, they do know that the foundation of response training is simple: reward a behavior the dog does (pawing, grabbing sleeve, getting agitated in any way, barking, licking, etc) while the owner is having a seizure. This is called a conditioned response. A dog trained this way is called a seizure response dog, one that responds to the seizure as it is happening.
A seizure alert dog is able to predict that the seizure is coming. Some dogs appear to have this as an innate ability while others can develop it. This is not something that can be trained so far as we know today. What may happen over time is the seizure response dog learns to look for smaller and smaller clues (whatever they are) to predict the seizure will happen so they can get rewarded sooner (an example is a dog that is fed on a regular schedule that starts 'asking' for supper earlier and earlier.) Some dogs can predict seizures up to 45 minutes in advance.
(Source: European Journal of Epilepsy Seizure Brown, Steven W, Dr. & Val Strong 1999)
BC Epilepsy Society defines the difference between the two dogs:
Of course, training a seizure response dog is more complicated than simple behavior conditioning. In order to be a valid service dog in any jusidiction, the dog also needs to have all the foundation behaviors, such as basic obedience behaviors, being calm in public, ignoring distractions like food, kids, other dogs, cats, and people, plus it is recommended to have at least 3 specially-trained behaviors such as responding to the seizure by providing comfort, getting help, pressing an emergency alarm, dragging harmful objects away from the person as they are having a seizure, carrying information about the handler's medical condition, rolling them over to prevent airway blockages, blocking the person from falling down stairs, helping to re-orient the person as they come out of their seizure, helping the person to stand after a seizure (called bracing), guiding their disoriented person to a predetermined location for help, or reminding their person to take their medication regularly.
Not all dogs seem to be able to predict seizures. Some studies suggest only 10-15% of dogs can alert to seizures before they occur. Success may depend on the type of seizures the owner is having. Psychological seizures are induced by stress and epileptic seizures cause a change in the chemistry in the brain. For some seizure suffers, having an alert dog can lead to less frequent seizures. Further research still needs to be done in all these areas.
Even if a service dog does not learn to alert to a seizures, their handler can still benefit from the dog as s/he can stay with the person and comfort them as they recover (by laying beside them), lick them as they re-orient, or go get help as the seizure is happening (or the other tasks listed above). Of course, seizure response dogs offer constant emotional support as well.
Is it possible to train your own seizure response dog? Yes, if you have frequent seizures (I.e. your seizures are not being well-controlled by medication, some studies suggest once a month or more) and you have help from a person who can reward the dog while you are having a seizure (or you have regular access to a person who has seizures frequently.)
Update: A small group of individuals interested in testing what might be the biological cue for the dog to alert have discovered that it is likely something in the scent given off by a person who is about to have a seizure.
Here is what one of the members wrote me:
"Seizure Alert Project Phase
1: An empirical study of the capture, preservation and measurable use of seizure scent for training purposes
Anyway…….I firmly believe that 1) there IS an odor,
2) it can be captured and stored
3) the dogs can be trained to distinguish it and alert to it.
Just like every other scent driven alert, the difficulty in testing is locating donors and obtaining odor for training. "
Contact Lynn Shrove for more information on what they found.
Then take the challenge of taking corrections (punishment) off the table!
It's a simple as that!
Why would you do that? Because the vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors.
Reread that last sentence and digest it.
"The vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors."
This is sad but true. If you videotape yourself training, you will find that anytime your dog makes a mistake (assuming he has actually learned the behavior) it is because of a mistake you made or something you overlooked in the environment. Rather than correct the dog's behavior, look at it as a way to improve your own training. What is it that you have missed in his training that set him up for failure?
Here is a list of the 11 most common parts of training that are missed by handlers training their own service dogs:
Handler's lack of ability to read their dog's communication.
A stressed dog cannot think about his behavior. Happily, there are a series of early behaviors that give the handler an idea of the stress level of their dog. Learn what those are and change the training environment so your dog's stress level is reduced. Stress can be both good (excitement) and bad (worry) as well as emotional (scared) and physical (tired). Join the Facebook Observations Skills group to learn more.
Not explaining the behavior in enough different ways so your dog can understand what you want.
Like humans, dogs learn in different ways. Some learn by watching another dog do a behavior. Some learn by watching their human do a behavior. Some dogs love shaping. Almost all can learn by capturing a behavior as he does it naturally. Luring works too but fade the lure as quickly as you can or the dog can become reliant on it as part of the cue.
Using the wrong motivator.
We all need some sort of motivation to learn and perform a behavior. Would you still go to work if your boss didn't pay you? Find out what it is that your dog loves and use that! Food, toys, playing with you can all work well. Just make sure it is something your dog really wants. Also, adjust the motivator for the level of difficulty of the behavior and the environment you are training in. Lower value for easier behaviors, known behavior or training in low distraction locations. Medium for middle of the road challenges and higher value for the more difficult/distracting locations.
Failure to teach the behavior at a distance.
While most dogs learn to do a behavior close to you, they have no idea they can do a behavior at a distance. That must be trained incrementally. If you haven't done that, then your dog's failure is your mistake, not his.
Failure to teach the behavior with duration.
How long the dog can do a behavior also takes specific training. Duration can be hard for puppies, adolescents and for impulsive dogs. When you play games, think of the ones you give up on. Those are the ones where the game just gets longer (boring) and does not allow you many successes. So vary the length of what you ask, always making sure to do some easier ones so the behavior isn't always getting harder. It also helps to pair stationary activities with active ones.
Increasing the level of distractions too quickly.
Dogs can learn to ignore distractions quickly, but you do need to vary their level too. Be creative with the type of distractions Do you know the days you crawl out of bed and are sensitive to sounds? Perhaps you are feeling a little "off" today? Dogs have those days too! Particularly in adolescence when hormonal changes vary day to day. If he have had too many stressors the day before, he might need a day of lower distractions to recover. Realize that there will be some situations when your dog is distracted from the start and won't be able to succeed. On those days, lower the distraction level or change your training location. It might mean moving just a few feet to one side or going somewhere else altogether.
Failure to teach cue discrimination.
Dogs as social learners typically learn physical cue (like body and hand signals) very easily. However, they may find verbal cues much harder. Take the time to teach your dog that different hand signals and different words mean different behaviors. Be aware that many words share the same starting consonant or the same vowel sounds. That is very confusing. "Slow" and "Go" can be hard to tell apart. "Sit" and "Stand" may as well.
Plan what verbal cues you will use. It helps to keep a running list of both hand and verbal cues so you can see where movement and sounds might overlap. It happens much more often than people think, especially once your dog has learned many behaviors! Additionally, handlers often use a hand signal at the same time as a verbal cue. If the hand signal and verbal cue differ, almost all dogs will choose to follow the hand signal.
Insufficient change of position.
Dogs are discriminators by nature, which means they look for the small details, not the larger patterns. So you must proof behaviors for position changes (both the dog and you). Can your dog do a cued behavior with you sitting on the ground? Laying on a bed? Can the dog do the behavior (say holding an object) when sitting, standing, laying down, turning around, changing from one position to another etc? If you haven't already taught him that he can do a behavior with each of these changes, then you are punishing him for your lack of training. No fair!
Not giving your dog a chance to acclimate to a new environment.
Acclimation is giving your dog a chance to assess the environment he is in. When you go to a party (or any new location), do you mark right in and start talking? Probably not. Think of the first few times you went a party. You felt awkward and worried. You probably stopped near the entrance and looked around, noting where the bathroom was, where the food was, the music and chairs and if there was another exit. That allowed you to know where you could move to depending on how you are feeling. Dogs need to do the same. Give your dog a chance to look (and sniff if appropriate) in a limited area (such as the length of the leash) before starting to focus on you. Capture any focus he chooses to give you and you will find you will get more. Giving him time to acclimate will build his confidence in new places and he can focus on you.
Not enough generalization.
Since dogs are discriminators, they do look for the details. So if your dog learned to nose nudge your leg beside the refrigerator, the refrigerator might be something he looks for a clue to what behavior you want. If it is not present, he has to then start guessing. Your dog needs you to give him enough practice in many different environments so he can learn what the key points to watch for (environmental, hand signal, verbal cue?) to tell him what behavior you want from him. Start teaching each behavior from the beginning in each new environment and you will find he relearns the behavior faster and faster in each new location. Eventually, he will be able to walk in and perform that behavior with just the cue, no retraining.
No maintenance of trained behaviors.
Just like humans, if they don't use behaviors, they forget them. Maintenance involves reviewing and even retraining a behavior periodically to put and keep it in long-term memory. Plan to practice new behaviors at least once every two weeks to a month in the beginning, then once every couple of months after that.
If you take correction (punishment) off the table, then you will learn so much more about how to best teach your dog.
Want to learn more? Check out our Foundation Skills classes. The classes are for the handler are much as they are for the dog!
The fastest growing sector of service dogs is the use for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Anxiety. Many non-profit organizations will train and supply dogs for veterans but there is a huge population who can also benefit from these dogs such as people who have suffered traumatic events in their life or others who have been emotionally abused. Some people group these under Psychiatric Service Dogs, or dogs for invisible disabilities.
- interrupt anxiety behaviors as soon as they start (such as picking, self-harm behaviors)
- interrupt absentee (disassociation) behaviors
- deep pressure therapy
- request that dog be removed from an anxiety-provoking situation
- lead person to the exit
- find the car
- providing a physical block between the handler and other people (in crowds or in a waiting line for example)
- provide tactile support for focus/grounding or interrupt sensory overload
- wake the handler from night terrors or to get out of bed in the morning
- go ahead of the handler into a room turn and lights on
- medication reminders
- carry medication
- get help
- provide balance on stairs for lightheadedness
- carry medical supplies
- alert to smoke alarm (if the handler is sedated)
- bring the phone when the handler is in a panicked state
- open front door for the handler when in panic (only if there is an outside storm door)
This month, we are offering a new online class for Anxiety Alerts. Take a look!
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