I’ve had private emails asking me when I would put a new blog post here. Well, here it is! And I want to just say that bringing home a service dog is almost like bringing home a new baby! Life is NOT what it was, and never will be. And I’m GLAD!!
Emmy is a real wonderdog! I’m up 15 minutes earlier to take her out to “do business.” And I want to say that one of the best little gadgets I received from PAALS was a small blinking light that attaches to her collar. Our backyard is fairly large with several trees, a stump overgrown with English Ivy and Virginia Creeper, and a wooden shed that is going to fall apart soon (we’ll take it out at that point). Before sunup, and after sundown, I can’t see my black dog against the black shadows! That little blinking red light is very visible, and I know exactly where she is at all times. IF, for some reason, I needed to go get her, I could find her in an instant. Cetacea Blinking Lights run about $9 and have replaceable batteries. You’ll need to get the replacement battery from Radio Shack or another techno company – it’s one of those big flat ones.
The morning “feeding frenzy” is at about 5AM. Emmy is sooo funny – she accompanies me to the basement (I go on my stair-lift) where I measure out her food very carefully (more on that later). Then we go into the room with the treadmill. She sits on the floor at the end of the treadmill, and I put her food bowl on the treadmill at the head of it. She sits very primly and very still. The only thing that breaks up that prim and proper image is the long drool that comes from the left side of her mouth! It is just hysterical!! I tell her “OK,” and she rushes onto the treadmill and begins gobbling. I pet her and reach down into her bowl and mess with her food to help slow her down. I tried putting a big KONG chew toy in her pan, but it didn’t slow her down at all. Even the introduction of her Nylabone didn’t slow her down. So I mess with her food and slow her down from about 15 seconds to 45 seconds to clear the bowl.Once she’s through, she is still in feeding frenzy mode, and will lick that empty pan for 10 more minutes if I let her, so I interrupt her, put her into a “sit” and gently rub her breastbone and talk to her softly until she is less obsessed, and can pick up her pan and give it to me.
During the day, I work with her on various cues. But I still have my “real” work to do – reviewing medical-legal cases. They often require long periods of concentration, and I reluctantly have to rebuff Emmy when she comes and puts her head on my laptop’s keyboard. Except when I sense that she needs to go out. And I’m getting better and better at that. We are settling into a schedule that we each can “work around.”
What is she doing for me? It’s hard to make a vivid enough case for the importance of small things. I have a “bad back” as well as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia (fibro). The bad back limits me bending much of the time. Some days and some times of the day are “better” than others, but certain disks are simply dried up and crumbling. Facet joints are overgrown (hypertrophied) and the ligamentum flavum (which supports this area) is inflamed. So bending down is difficult at best. the RA affects my knee and hip joints, (as well as my finger joints and wrists and elbows and shoulders, etc). That makes bending down hard, too, and squatting is impossible. I walk with a cane. What if I drop my cane because my fingers don’t hold it well? This happens several times a day. At home it isn’t as critical – I keep 5 or 6 canes around, plus I have a selection of reachers. But what if I’m out – walking into the grocery, walking through a lobby to the elevator at a client’s office building, walking into the mall? Strangers have been kind enough to pick it up for me many times. I’m fortunate that we live in a part of the country where courtesy still exists. But I’ve been in the middle of a large lobby when no one was around – empty expanse – and dropped my cane. I’ve stood there, teetering for as long as 10 minutes waiting for someone to come along and help me. There are myriad times when something needs picking up – keys, cellphone, portable phone, etc. Emmy picks them all up for me and puts them into my hand – without my needing to lean over very far. My back feels better already! Don’t denigrate these small actions! They are critical to my continuing to be independent.
What else? She can “nudge” a light switch to turn it on, and “paws” it to turn it off. So she goes ahead of me and turns lights on and off as needed! Helps my shoulders on days the RA has flared or the fibro is miserable. She will “brace” and let me lean a little weight on her shoulders to help me get up out of a chair, so on “bad” days I’m not “trapped” in a chair that I can’t get up out of.
I used to worry about getting in and out of the bathtub/shower. What if I fall and can’t get my cellphone (which I usually leave on the counter)? Emmy is being trained to activate a K9 “Ablephone.” It is designed to be used by an assistance dog – heavyduty. It can also be used as a regular phone – just lift the top that holds the K9 button, and there is a large-key keypad. The phone can be programmed to call any number, but I’ll program in 9-1-1 because there will ALWAYS be someone there. I need to go to Gwinnett County Police Services building to register the phone and introduce Emmy to them. But until Emmy is hitting the button 95% of the time, I see no great need as yet.
What else? She will carry a small basket to the Ol’ Curmudgeon and back. She will “Find someone” (the Ol’ Curmudgeon) when I cue her to do that, barking to get his attention and bringing him back to me.
All these are very important functions for a mobility service dog, and Emmy fits the bill.
Now, about the food thing. Emmy must stay at a very good weight – not fat and not skinny. She needs to maintain her muscle tone. So her food must be restricted to a certain amount. That amount is 3cups a day of Nutro Natural Choice Lamb Meal and Rice Formula. But she “works for food.” That is, she gets treats for doing her actions properly. Those treats must be deducted from her total volume. Generally, that means 1 1/4 c in the morning and again at night, with 1/2 cup as treats. If we will be working on new cues or working intensively on one cue, OR if I am going out and need to ensure her attention, That may go down to 1 cup in the morning and 1 cup at night with 1 cup of treats spread throughout the day. Treats? We use lamb and rice rolls, sliced and chopped up. We started out with Natural Balance Lamb and Rice Roll in SC. When we got back, we couldn’t find it at first, so we purchased the Pet Botanics Lamb and Brown Rice Roll. Ingredient comparison doesn’t reveal any major differences, although I tend to lean more toward brown rice than white rice. Emmy likes both, so I see no problem using either or both interchangeably. In addition, she can have one string cheese stick (chopped up), and some baby carrots (chopped up) in her treat pouch. But the entire volume has to be counted against her entire day’s food amount.
For special training, I may add a small piece of hotdog. This is a “jackpot” kind of treat. When she does something spectacular, I give her the piece of hotdog. It’s a surprise for her, and it’s a real incentive. Right now, I’m using it to train the treadmill. At this point, she will stay on the treadmill for about 2 seconds after I turn it on. When she hits 3 seconds, she’ll get a piece of hotdog. Then it will need 5 seconds. Eventually she’ll get the idea, and stay on it for 1 minute, then 4 minutes, then 10 minutes. At that point, she should be in good shape to use the treadmill for regular exercise. This will help keep her well muscled, active and energetic. She’ll walk or trot on the treadmill for about 10 – 15 minutes at a time 2-3 times a day when she is fully trained. She will only need to be treated at the end of each session at that point, but I probably will give her the occasional intermittent surprise. This will encourage her to work harder. working harder will produce treats!
Well, that’s life with Emmy at the moment. Soon it will be time to go to the Vet to get her checked over and her ears treated (she seems to have a mild infestation of ear mites – a frequent problem in this part of the country). More on Thursday!
In the meantime, however, here are a few pics of Emmy!