Princeton takes on the world

photo(9)a
Princeton is well on his way to becoming a service dog. Over the past few weeks we have continued to work with Rebecca Fouts, a trainer from Access Canine Solutions. Princeton learned how to walk nicely on a leash and got accustomed to his service dog vest. He also learned some puppy manners like “leave it”, “wait”, and he has started learning how to heel. A few weeks ago, Rebecca took us to Staples for Princeton’s first public access trip. There was a lot of planning and training that led up to this huge milestone in Princeton’s life. Before a service dog goes out into a public place that isn’t pet-friendly, 3 important steps need to be taken: temperament testing, socialization, and training.

The Temperament Test

No dog is born a with the impeccable manners and reliability of a service dog. However, to a large extent, service dogs are special dogs from birth. Puppies that get chosen to go into service training need to be driven, confident, non-aggressive, and relatively calm, even from birth. Just like how people have a variety of personalities and capabilities, dogs are born with strengths and weaknesses that make them right for different kinds of jobs.

You're cute, but are you service dog material?

You’re cute, but are you service dog material?

The temperament test is generally given when the puppy is 7 weeks old. The go-to temperament test for service dogs is the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test. This test is given by an impartial participant and it allows the breeder and the trainer to get a good idea of the puppy’s personality, strengths, and weaknesses. No test can predict with absolute certainty what a puppy will be like as an adult, but the Volhard is a pretty good indicator of personality and drive. The Volhard is a combination of five tests:

  • Social Attraction – The tester gets the puppy’s attention with noise and movement. The puppy is scored on whether it comes to the tester and the confidence it has if approaches.
  • Following – The tester stands up and walks away. The puppy is scored on whether it follows with confidence or not.
  • Restraint – The tester gently rolls the puppy on its back and holds it there. The puppy is scored based on how much it struggles and on the attitude it has while restrained.
  • Social dominance – The puppy is allowed to stand and the tester strokes it from the head all the way down the back. The puppy is scored based on how it responds.
  • Elevation dominance – The tester gently elevates the puppy off the ground for 30 seconds. The puppy is scored based on how it responds.

Since the puppies in Princeton’s litter were going, in a large part, to working homes (service dog training, hunting training, etc), they were given an additional test to determine their “obedience aptitude”. This test is done 4 or 5 parts depending on what the breeder and the potential families are looking for. Princeton took the 4 part test. This included:

  • Retrieving – A crumpled paper ball is thrown in front of the puppy. The puppy is scored on how much interest it shows in the ball and whether it picks the ball up.
  • Sound sensitivity – A sharp noise is made on the floor near the puppy (like a metal bowl falling). The puppy is scored on whether it startles and how it recovers from the sound.
  • Sight sensitivity – A towel is dragged in front of a puppy or an umbrella is opened. The puppy is scored on how it reacts.
  • Structure – The puppy is scored on its conformation and how it holds its body.
I see a future agility champ!

I see a future agility champ!

Princeton was also given a hunt test with live quail and was checked thoroughly by a vet for any congenital defects.

Temperament tests given to shelter dogs and older dogs are different and more in-depth. An older dog may have been traumatized by past events, so it is crucial to have a more thorough test.

Socialization

As a service dog puppy grows and hits developmental milestones, it is very important to expose him to as many new experiences as is reasonable. By the time the puppy is 14 weeks old, it will have developed many of its ideas and attitudes about the world and any traumatic events that happened during that time will be committed to its behavioral memory. Because of this, the quality of experiences is just as important as the quantity. Not only do we expose the puppy to many different things, we do so in a positive way. The key is for the puppy to have as many positive associations wih his environment as possible. Also, during this time the puppy learns how to react to his environment. Socializing your puppy helps him grow into a dog that is calm and comfortable in a variety of circumstances, even ones he has never experienced before.

Cool and calm on a college campus

Cool and calm on a college campus

In the first 4 months of his life, we exposed Princeton to a huge variety of people, places, and things. Some of these included:

  • Different types of people – Princeton met old people, young people, people with different hair styles, people with different clothing, disabled people, babies, people of all races, etc.
  • Different types of food – Princeton was exposed to all sorts of yummy treats as well as cooking smells.
  • Different surfaces – Princeton walked on sidewalks, stairs, carpets, tiles, blacktop, gravel, marble, sand, grass, even see-through grates and manhole covers.
  • Other Dogs – Princeton went to a puppy play-group where he met dogs of all shapes and sizes
  • Working equipment – Service dogs need to use a variety of different equipment. Princeton tried on vests, walking harnesses, a head collar, a pinch collar and he even got to interact with (but not wear) Daphne’s heavy mobility harness. He was also crate trained during this time.
  • Moving things – Princeton walked around an idling bus, walked on the sidewalk next to moving cars, sat while bikes, skateboards, strollers, lawnmowers, and balls rolled by, and walked next to a shopping cart.
  • Pet-friendly places – Princeton walked around a college campus, strolled along the campus of a middle school, checked out an outdoor mall, played on playgrounds, ran through woods and fields, hung out at a bus station, and, of course, visited the vet.
  • Different sounds – Princeton heard bowls clatter to the ground, he listened to different types of music, idling engines, and heard several different types of alarms and sirens.
  • Transportation – Car rides, train rides, a plane ride, and a ride on the elevator
  • Handling situations – Princeton got baths, was combed out, and was hugged and loved-on by strangers.
  • Anything else in the environment that could be scary to a puppy – We walked past statues, took him outside on the porch during a storm, and basically exposed him to anything and everything we could think of.

Some puppies, Princeton included, go through a fear period where they get scared of things they weren’t scared of before. Princeton’s fear period lasted about 2 weeks. During this time, we toned down his socialization outings and stuck just to normal walks, puppy play group, and playtime in the yard. Puppies during their fear period are more easily traumatized. Over-exposing a puppy to external stimuli during a fear period could cause behavioral problems later on in life.

Training

Service dogs have important trained tasks that help their disabled handlers, but they spend much more time learning how to behave in public. It is important that a service dog is able to work and behave in public places that aren’t pet friendly. Ideally, a service dog should be as invisible and unobtrusive as possible. Silent, but confident.

Daphne being "invisible" at a restaurant

Daphne being “invisible” at a restaurant

Under United States law a service dog is only required to be housebroken and not an unreasonable nuisance (eg. they can’t bark in movie theaters, beg for food from customers in restaurants, or jump up on people) as long as they are trained to help their handler mitigate his/her disability. However, proper service dog handling requires a lot more training than just that. Ideally, when working, a properly trained service dog will:

  • Focus more on their handler than the environment
  • Walk nicely on a leash
  • Remain quiet at all times
  • Lay down for as long as they have to without shifting about excessively
  • Ignore environmental distractions
  • Avoid any sniffing of the environment

Before we even thought about taking Princeton into non-pet-friendly public places, he went through a basic obedience class. He learned how to sit, down, and walk well on a leash. He got accustomed to wearing his service dog vest. He learned to keep his barking under control. He came when called. He started to be able to leave distractions alone. He even learned how to potty on command. When we finally took Prince out in public for the first time, we kept it short. Our first outing was no more than 20 minutes long. We sat outside Staples for 20 minutes and let him potty and relax. We walked through the store with only training in mind. I kept my full attention on him at all times.

Teacher's pet

Teacher’s pet

In the past 3 weeks, Princeton has been to Staples, a shoe store, and Bed, Bath, & Beyond. He even worked next to Daphne once. So far, all of our preparation is paying off. He’s a delightfully well-behaved little guy when out in public. He doesn’t sniff too much, he ignores people, and he focuses on me when asked. Right now, we’re not asking him to look professional. It’s still important, for socialization purposes, for him to pay attention to his surroundings when working. We let him sniff a little and even take a bit more leash that we would expect of a graduated service dog. When he does come back and pay attention, he gets a lot of cheese and praise. Princeton is loving his work and training so far. While there is a little luck involved, we also set him up to succeed by preparing him for the big, crazy world. DSC_3284

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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