Stuff My Dog Loves: Service Dog Edition

I’m a huge fan of the Dog Snobs’ Blog. They’re witty, thorough, and they use a generous amount of hilarious memes. One of my favorite columns that they write is something called “Shit the Dog Snobs Love” where they list their favorite dog products and why. I have tried quite a few of the things on their lists and they have yet to steer me wrong.

So, in the spirit of the Dog Snobs, I’m going to write a similar column, maybe not quite as witty, but I hope that my readers will find this column almost as helpful!

The theme of today’s STUFF MY DOG LOVES is “Stuff for your service dog (and other dogs, too)”

#1: Bold Lead Design Harness

The most important piece of equipment that I use with Daphne when we’re out and about is our Mobility Support Harness from Bold Lead Designs. This is currently the best harness on the market if you are looking for a rigid handle mobility support harness. It looks like this:

Ready to work!

Ready to work!

Katrina over at BLD makes each harness by hand, custom for your dog. It’s made with supple leather and lined with sheepskin. The whole thing weighs in at 3 lbs, including the metal handle (which collapses, by the way), which is the lightest mobility harness you will find. This is extremely important when working a dog that is bearing weight.

The harness is also extremely durable. I’ve had mine for over 18 months, I abuse it daily, I have no clue how to care for leather, and it still looks spectacular on my dog. Not only that, but you can purchase extras for the harness like a pull strap for counterbalance, a banner sign, or even a cape that sits on your dog’s back behind the harness.

photo 4

BLD also makes a variety of harnesses for other types of service dogs. They make a guide harness, a basic assistance harness, and a guide/mobility harness.

#2: Mendota Leashes:

How do I love the Mendota snap leashes, let me count the ways…

So pretty…

Not only are these leads spectacularly beautiful in every color, they’re sturdy. Daphne has not only been working almost constantly in her 4′ red Mendota snap leash, she has learned to retrieve a leash using it. It has put up with her pawing it, drooling all over it, tossing it, and finally learning to retrieve it to my hand, and it still looks excellent. These leashes are soft to the touch, waterproof, and colorfast when exposed to UV rays. The leather is tanned using the “English bridle” tanning process. I’m not a horse person, but my leashes have gotten drenched and the leather doesn’t look any worse for the wear. All this and a 1/2″ diameter, 4′ length leash will cost you less than $17.

Service dog users generally like to pick a color for their dog’s gear. Some service dogs, like hearing dogs, have a “standard” color that many of them wear. These leads make it super easy to match your leash to your dog’s collar or gear. I actually have three of these. They’ve never let me down.

#3: EzyDog Neo Collar

The EzyDog Neo Collar is the gold standard in comfort flat collars. I have scoured the internet and have not been able to find a collar that 1) is more comfortable for my dog 2) is able to display the color I want as well and 3) is as durable. The collar is nylon with a neoprene interior. It has a separate, smaller plastic ring for tags to cut down on that annoying jingling sound. It’s also really well priced, ranging from $16-$22, depending on the size. It comes in 8 bold colors.

The collar is odor resistant, waterproof, reflective, and easy to clean. It is my favorite flat collar to work my dog in by far. Daphne wore a red one for a year straight and it looked brand new the entire time. 

#4: Trader Joe’s Beef Recipe Jerky Strips

photo (10)

Anyone who owns a service dog, whether the dog is from a program or is owner-trained, knows that it’s crucial to constantly be training, proofing, and training some more. Daphne can work out in public without treats, but I always like to carry treats with me in case she does something spectacular. Also, lately we’ve been working on some new tasks that I’m hoping to start working with her in public really soon.

That said, these are my new favorite treats, ever. Trader Joes sells these jerky treats for ridiculously cheap. For $1.99 you get 6 oz, which is a lot more than it sounds. Each strip is about an inch wide and 4.5″ long. The strips are perforated so they’re easy to split into little bites for training purposes.

If you’ve been following the news lately, you will have noticed that there have been a lot of dog deaths associated with jerky treats made abroad (particularly in China). Because of this, when I feed jerky treats, I only feed human-grade jerky or treats made in the USA. These treats are 100% USA made. Not only that, the first 3 ingredients are beef, beef liver, and chicken. Very impressive.

#5: Active Dogs Padded Harness Vest/Active Dogs Neoprene Snap-on Bridge Handle

2013-01-16 12.14.54

If I’m going somewhere where I don’t think I’m going to get a migraine, but I want Daphne in gear just to be sure, I put her in her Active Dogs gear. I use the padded harness vest. I use this vest and the bridge handle mainly for counterbalance (the dog leads and “pulls” forward, providing balance support without bearing weight). With my 24″ tall dog, I’ve found that the 24″ handle gives me a guide harness-type length.

I like my harness vest because it is extremely durable and easy to clean. I usually just run it through a gentle cold wash and then let it air dry. It’s also beautiful. I have yet to see a company create vests with the same professional look and consistency as Active Dogs.

My vest doesn’t slip, but if you have a slimmer dog, this vest may actually slip to the side when the dog is moving. Active dog actually sells a “Chest to girth strap support” that will help to anchor the vest and keep it from slipping.


It’s a boy!

So much cuteness I can barely contain myself!

So much cuteness I can barely contain myself!

So sorry I haven’t posted in awhile. We’ve had quite a whirlwind of news around here.

About 5 months ago Stefan and I decided we wanted to add a new member to our little family. A puppy to be exact. After a lot of research on breeds, we decided to go with a rare breed from the Netherlands called a “Drentsche Patrijshond”. We liked the “Drent” for several reasons. First, the dog is large enough to train as Daphne’s successor service dog (Daphne is 24″ at the shoulder and was about 68 lbs when I got her, which is really the minimum size I need for the mobility work she does). Second, the breed is known for it’s versatile temperament. It’s a great field dog, a hard worker, smart and trainable. On the other hand, it’s a spectacular family dog. It was originally kept by the poorer classes in the Netherlands as an all-around dog that could hunt with the men and then come home and spend time with the women and children. As long as a Drent gets a moderate amount of exercise each day, it can come inside and be a large, lovable, over-sized lap dog.

Finally, the Drent isn’t overbred. I was worried about getting another lab because it’s just so easy to think you are working with a good breeder and then later down the line find out that the breeder has been breeding for quantity, not quality. On the other hand, although the Drent is a rare breed around the world, it has quite the following in the Netherlands and so the bloodlines aren’t too limited. The dogs aren’t so rare that they’re inbred.

We found a very responsible breeder through our regional breed club. Our breeder, Rainshadow Drents, is out of Sequim, WA. Before deciding to commit to this breeder we did a few key things:

  • We checked out the parents: Our dam is named Brookelyn v.’t Wijdseland NA I and our Sire is Esp. CH Joksan Nabar the Gloucester a.k.a. “Booker”.
    • Both parents checked out normally when we looked up their health profiles on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website. All good breeders will register their dogs on a website like this (or alternatively, PennHip).
    • Booker has been shown abroad (The American Kennel Club does not recognize this breed in conformation showing) and both parents are good hunters.
    • They are both free of any glaring temperament issues.
    • Perhaps, most importantly, the parents aren’t related. It may surprise you that we actually had to look that up, but you’d be surprised how often breeders breed dogs that are close blood-relatives. Brookelyn and Booker do have a grandparent and a great-grandparent in common, but this is called line breeding and it’s common in the rarer breeds. It’s fine when not done excessively. Correction: I went and looked back at the pedigrees and the parents don’t technically share a grandparent and a great-grandparent. One of my sire’s grandparents is one of my dam’s great-grandparents and one of my sire’s great-grandparents is one of my dam’s great-great grandparents…so, it’s not even as close as I originally posted.
  • We talked to the breeder and her family: After we filled out the puppy application, we interviewed with the breeder. What we found was that the breeder was much more concerned about the welfare of her puppies than about making money. This is important. Breeding dogs is not about making a quick buck. Most good breeders don’t even break even after all is said and done. Good breeders breed for the joy of breeding and to improve on the overall health and livelihood of their breed. If your breeder has any other motivations, they’re probably not doing it right.
  • We read and re-read our puppy contract: A good breeder will want you to sign a puppy contract. Generally, this contract will have something about payment, but that’s not what the puppy contract is about. The contract outlines the responsibilities of the buyer and the seller. An example of a buyer’s responsibility may be: “the buyer may not give the dog away or sell the dog without express consent of the seller”. An example of a seller’s responsibility may be: “The seller will give a full refund if the puppy gets sick within a week of purchase.” Some clauses in a puppy contract can definitely be red flags. If you see any of these clauses in your contract, you may want to consider another breeder:
    •  A clause stating that you cannot criticize the breeder: I have actually heard of puppy contracts where the breeder enjoins the buyer from criticizing the breeder in writing (such as on an online forum, in a letter, or to the Better Business Bureau). Doing so will void all warrantees in the contract. This is dangerous because it means the breeder has quite a lot to hide.
    • A clause stating that you must feed your dog a specific brand of food: Sometimes breeders create their own food brand or get “kick backs” every time one of their buyers also buys a bag of food. When this happens, they might also include a clause in their contract that requires you to use their brand of dog food. Beware. A dog will have different nutritional requirements throughout her lifetime and you want to have the flexibility to change the food as the dog changes. Not to mention, your budget may change throughout the dog’s life and you might have to downgrade her food for awhile. None of this should be the breeder’s business.
    • An arbitration clause: So few people know how disastrous an arbitration clause can be. Almost every form contract we agree to these days has an arbitration clause (think: software agreements, car title transfers, loan agreements, credit card agreements, etc.). When you sign a contract with an arbitration agreement it means that you are agreeing that, if a lawsuit arises, you will go to arbitration before you go to court. What it also usually means is that the party who wrote the contract will choose the arbitrator. You essentially sign away your right to justice.
  • We got references: After we did all of the above, we asked the breeder for references from people who took home puppies from her last litter. I then proceeded to email a handful of the references. The people were ecstatic to talk to me, they were all very happy with their dogs and amazed with how well the breeder had matched them with their puppies. So far, none of the puppies had any glaring health or temperament issues and one of them was even working as a hunting dog and doing fantastically.
  • We notified the neighbors: This is important because we live in close quarters. Our neighbors and housing department were very happy for us!

Once we committed to the breeder, we waited for the call, and on Friday night we got it! Brookelyn had given birth to 3 boys and 5 girls. All were healthy, eating regularly, and all were similar weights (no runts). It had been an easier birth than her first litter and none of the pups were in distress.

Brookelyn doesn't look like she thought it was very easy, though

Brookelyn doesn’t look like she thought it was very easy, though

The breeder provided us with photos of the three boys. That’s all the information we’re going to get as far as which puppy is going to be ours until they’re 7 weeks old. We’re actually not going to be allowed to pick our own puppy. We’re going to be given a puppy that is suitable for our needs and our lifestyle after a temperament test is given to all 3 males when they are 7 weeks old. I know we’re putting a lot of faith in having the breeder pick for us, but I do trust that she will make a good decision.This is actually the way most responsible breeders function. Breeders know that they know the puppies better than a buyer ever could, since they’ve raised the puppies from birth. They do their best to match the puppies personalities to the lifestyles of the families that have applied.

So, since we don’t know which of the 3 males we’ll end up with, I’m going to post weekly individual pictures of all three until we know. The puppies are identified by colored ribbons, and they’ll grow into colored collars. The males have yellow, blue, and black ribbons, so I will refer to them as the Yellow, Blue, and Black boys.

Here’s Yellow Boy with a half mustache:

yellow boy week 1a

yellow boy week 1b

Here’s Blue Boy who is spotted like a dairy cow:

blue boy week 1a

blue boy week 1b

And here’s Black Boy with a circle on his butt:

black boy week 1a

black boy week 1b

Keep calm it’s just a service dog


Seriously, after all I’ve been through in the past 2 and a half years since I got my service dog, I have considered making this into a t-shirt. While it should be obvious that a person entering a place of business with a well-behaved, often fully-vested or harnessed, dog at their side has a right to be there with their animal, that isn’t always the case.

On March 15th, 2011 the US Department of Justice revised it’s definition of a service animal. According to the DOJ, under Title II (state and local government facilities) and Title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) a service animal is:

  • A domesticated dog (canis familiaris) and in rare instances miniature horse
  • That is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.

A service dog is allowed to go:

  • State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.

A service dog may be excluded from:

  • Residential homes
  • Places of worship
  • Some private clubs

This is not known to many but it should be. It is illegal for any public entity to require paperwork from a disabled person with a service dog. That means, there’s no such thing as a “certified” service dog. Sure, there are certifications out there, but they’re mostly private clubs with their own standards of training (Delta society, Assistance Dogs International) or they’re scam certification sights. It is also illegal for any public entity to require that a service dog be vested, harnessed, or otherwise marked as a service dog. In fact, a public entity can only ask two questions to the service dog handler in order to ascertain whether the dog is a service dog:

  • is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  • what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

After those two questions are answered to the satisfaction of the public entity, the handler must be allowed to continue on his or her way. These rules are to keep random public entities from inquiring about private medical information.

I have only had one physical altercation in my few years of working with Daphne. I was physically removed from The Porto Rico Importing Company in New York, NY. One of the employees there physically removed me and my dog even though I insisted that it was my civil right that I be allowed to shop in peace. Needless to say, I never went back. I considered filing a complaint with the city, but I didn’t have the time or the energy to do it.

A friend of mine, however, had a very harrowing experience in a hospital just yesterday. My friend Lindsay (name changed), works an American Pit Bull Terrier as her service dog. Now, while there is a lot of controversy surrounding the breed, I can personally attest that this dog is impeccably trained, calm in public, and a fantastic, hard worker. Lindsay’s nephew had fallen very ill and she had been sitting in the PICU for six hours supporting her sister and her sister’s sick child. Her service dog was an angel the whole time. He stayed on his mat in the corner and his presence by the child’s bedside seemed to keep the boy calm and happy. The nurses in the PICU all commented on how lovely her dog was and what a joy it was to have the dog there to comfort the sick child.

Time came and Lindsay and her sister got hungry so she, her sister and her service dog made their way down to the hospital’s cafeteria. They had a peaceful meal and made their way back to the elevators and that’s when a hospital administrator threw herself in front of the elevator door, demanding the dog’s “certification and ID”.

Lindsay calmly explained that there was no such thing as “certification and ID” for service dogs and she went to step on the elevator but the woman refused to budge, exclaiming that if Lindsay could not produce her dog’s papers, she would have to leave the hospital. Lindsay then gave the woman a copy of the ADA but the woman said that it was “hospital policy” that the dog should have papers.

The ADA is a civil rights law. Much like the Civil Rights Laws that granted people of color equal rights in the 1960s to have free use of any public establishment, the ADA grants disabled people the rights to have free use of any public establishment they please as long as it is reasonable. Thus, just like a hospital can’t have a “policy” that prohibits people of color from using their facilities, public establishments can’t have “policies” that preempt the rights of disabled people from equal use of their facilities, service dog or not.

Lindsay’s sister suggested they just take the stairs, but as they headed towards the stairwell, they were intercepted by hospital security. The security guards claimed that if the dog didn’t have papers, he had to go because he had “scared” a nurse simply by looking at her. Another DOJ regulation states that fear of dogs or allergies is not a reason to remove a legitimate service animal and both the disabled person and the fearful or allergic person must be accommodated. The only way a service animal can legitimately be removed by a facility is if the dog is causing a disturbance like toileting in a public place or barking incessantly. Lindsay’s dog had done none of these things.

Long story short, Lindsay was escorted out of the hospital by two formidable male security guards and was not allowed to go back inside to retrieve her medication which she had left with her purse in the PICU. She was literally kicked to the curb, in a torrential downpour, across the hospital from her car. Since Lindsay was disabled, there was no way for her to walk that far to her car without help, but the hospital security threatened to call the police if she entered the building again. Her sister was forced to leave her sick child in the PICU to help Lindsay find her way to her car.

This sort of abuse happens every day. Service dog handlers are one of the few openly oppressed minorities left in America and, despite the existence of Federal laws that protect our rights, we often don’t have the money to hire attorneys to fight the abuse.

So, the next time you see this abuse occurring, whether you are a service dog handler, a friend of a handler, or a bystander who is now educated because you have read this post, please stand up for the rights of this vulnerable minority. The disabled community asks very little from the general public. Only that we be treated with dignity and given the most basic accommodations.

Think about it.

ETA: Lindsay, or rather, my friend Amanda Figueroa, took this story public. The resulting news story went viral in the service dog community. Not only did the state attorney Willie Meggs refuse to prosecute the hospital on the misdemeanor of wrongfully removing her and her service dog, his comments were ignorant, dismissive, and offensive. Here’s the link: