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So it’s September, and it’s also “service dog month!”

September is probably my favorite month out of the year. It’s the first “ber” month after the hot summer. Even summers in the North Georgia mountains can be pretty brutal sometimes, so us mountain dwellers always look forward to the approaching Fall. Not only do we have the changing leaves, ciders, football and comfy sweaters to look forward to – but some of us have a wedding anniversary and a birthday to look forward to as well.

Now for the real MVP and the star of this blog….. this girl

Many of you who follow me already know who this loveable dog is, who, if we are being honest has gained a bigger following than I have! And if you’ve ever met her, then you would see why. She stole me and my husband’s heart the day we brought her home, and still enamors us on a daily basis. She was amazing as a 4 month old pup – sweet, smart, and loyal. But, I can tell you that she hadn’t even stepped into her true glory and purpose until last year around this time. Last Fall I decided to begin training her for some service work. Even though I had no idea what I was doing or how to go about accomplishing this, I still wanted to try. Initially, I thought she might help with a few things around the home, and I thought that would probably be the extent of it. BOY was I wrong.

The day she learned to open the door and the fridge successfully – I knew she was way smarter than I had previously given her credit for. The same week she identified my medication bottle, and then successfully retrieved my medication from various places in the home. I had no idea we had a three year old canine who had a secret aptitude for service dog work living under our roof!

PUBLIC ACCESS

I had zero idea what I was doing as far as dog training went. I was a mega novice and in addition to that, I was a novice with minimal confidence in my ability to actually train this dog. I doubted myself. I didn’t wanna do anything wrong. I wanted to set her up for success, but I had no clue how to accomplish it. Despite the doubt, I knew the next step would be training her to task in the real world. The thought of taking this reactive, hyper-social, and vocal dog in a store intimidated the crap out of me. But I had to start somewhere. So, I tried Home Depot, then Walmart, then Ingles (our local grocery store.) It wasn’t flawless, that’s for sure. It didn’t go super great the first several times. She was all over the place, pulling, not focused on me, excited to be near other people – especially children.

I studied trainers, different training methods, dog gear, different tools, you name it – I studied it. I watched videos and applied everything I learned. It worked…. and it’s still working.

Now, looking back, I wonder how much more we could be accomplishing as a team if I’d started training her sooner. That being said, for Tippet to have learned everything she has as an adult, and to have scaled back her hyper-social reactivity in the measure we have? I’m beyond proud of her.

LASER FOCUS

This was taken just the other day on our trip to Walmart. A year ago, I didn’t have this focus from her. These days, I get to see these loyal loving doughy brown eyes looking up at me in every grocery store, hardware store, and even the vet. She’s learned to trust me, and value me more than her environment. It certainly wasn’t an overnight process.

This took time. This took months of dedication. This took practice. This took repetition.

SERVICE DOGS NEED SPACE TO WORK

It’s been a struggle to keep people away from us when we’re out, and, looking at her sweet face – you can see why. Trust me I’d love nothing more than for every person we come across to know the loveable, snuggly Tippertoes that I know. But I learned quickly that I can’t share her in that way. “Service-dog-in-training” or not , I learned that allowing her to receive attention, or treats from bystanders yielded her to believe that her environment and everyone BUT me, was more valuable than I was. And to be honest, that’s the truth for any dog. When the dog learns that everything good comes from the handler (the person holding the leash and giving the commands,) whether it’s treats, or playtime – the handler gains favor in the dog’s eyes. Once you have their favor, you then have their focus. An unfocused dog is a dog who is leash reactive, people reactive, everything reactive. All of this being said, one might understand why they say not to pet service dogs. Service dogs are still dogs. They’re not superior as far as being able to withstand certain environments, high talkers, loud cars, etc. Were they trained to be neutral to it? YES. And I do mean thousands of hours of training to achieve it. Service dogs aren’t robots. They can mess up, or be easily distracted. They need space so that they may be able to focus on their handler. With some handlers, their medical disability might be so severe, or extreme that if their service dog got distracted and didn’t give an alert – injury, or even death, of the handler is possible.

WHAT TIPPET DOES FOR ME

My medical condition isn’t one that puts me at risk of death if I “miss an alert” from Tippet. I don’t have sugar, or heart issues. I don’t get migraines. I’m not handicapped in the ways most people view disability.

What I have is a condition where tumors grow on my nerves. They’re not cancerous (that I know of) but they’re still tumors. They are still wrecking certain anatomical functions, and implicating certain organs. Tippet has always been instinctual E.S.A. – but it’s been the continual goal for her to elevate above the emotional comfort, and apply/direct her skills to fit my unique disability.

So far she does:
  • “Open the door” can open the doors, both from the inside and outside.
  • “Close” Is now able to close the doors, (from the inside, still needs guidance/gentle lead from me.)
  • “Seek meds” which is my medication retrieval.
  • “Go get daddy” Can get my husband if I need her to.
  • “Touch” Can open the handicap doors at the post office, and courthouse by “nose punching”
  • “Under” (If I were to hit the ground due to pain or fainting, this is where she immediately burrows under my legs to help blood circulation. In addition to this, with where the tumors are, even slight leg elevation takes pressure off the clusters of tumors that blanket my glutes and hips.)
  • “Two Paws” otherwise known as DPT, or “deep pressure therapy.”
  • “Close” This is the command for helping me close not just a door, but certain drawers in the house too.
  • “Block” which is when I send her behind me to give space between me and a person standing too close.
  • “Orbit” Otherwise known as “crowd control.” This is when she orbits around me, again, to create an invisible barrier between me and others. (We are still working on fluidity with this one.)
  • “Neuro-Response” (Which I don’t voice as a command, it’s more so her learning to study my movements so she can be aware of nerve spasms.) While she is attuned to flares already, the goal is that she will eventually be able to smell a flare coming in the same way other service dogs can smell hormone changes with sugar, or heart issues.
  • “Settle” (this isn’t for service work necessarily, but helpful if I need her to tuck out of a walk way.)
  • “Side by Side” Otherwise known as “heel…” (also not for service work, but a command she should know to stay by my side.)
  • “Back Up” Clearly, a command to get her to back up.
OTHER COMMANDS

Tippet knows some other commands too, but most of those are just stuff we use for “yard work” at home. “Front” is when she places herself in a sit-stay in between my legs. Most train this as “guard.” “Forward” is when she walks in between my legs, as I walk forward. This isn’t necessarily helpful for anything other than working her mind – and it just looks cool. But my hopes is that one day she will have the potential to be relied on a bit more for stability and more mobility assistance. My motor function for walking will more than likely decrease over time. In another year, I hope to get her in a setup with a counterbalance handle – which will assist in her helping me with mobility.

I won’t even be able to list all of the random words and phrases she knows – there’s a LOT. Needless to say, Dell and I need to spell a lot, or use nicknames for certain things, people, and places.

WE ARE ACTIVELY TRAINING EVERY DAY WE CAN

Tippet has accomplished a lot, and has overcome the bulk of her reactivity. She still isn’t 100% foolproof for service work, and, I understand that she may never “get there.” However, I can’t not continue to train and try to get her there. She loves everyone, and has no enemies. She has learned to tune out a lot of distractions.. but she still faces some triggers that need worked on. I’d say our biggest hurdle is being completely neutral to other dogs. It’s not an aggression issue, but rather more so curiosity. This presents as low-level anxious whines, never barking, and definitely never growling or lunging.

She has done a total 180. She isn’t the reactive dog she was a year ago. Heck, even just six months ago she wasn’t the dog she is today. I just can’t help but think about everyone that just gives up on their dog because they’re “too old to learn,” or “they’ll never be able to.” Whatever it is! I think people give up too soon. Or maybe it’s self doubt to actually train their dog. But take it from me, if you let intimidation control your efforts, you’ll never accomplish anything.

What if when Tippet turned three years old, and I happened to say the same thing? She would have never opened a door, or retrieved my medication, or any other working command she now knows and performs! Here she sits at the age of four, and is dismantling the idea that adult dogs can’t learn new things. Because even with all she knows and does, her mind is still ever eager to learn new things. Tippet gets two, to three rest days during the week. This helps her to get adequate rest and keep her mind sharp, and prevents burn out. Who doesn’t need a day off every now and then? But, if she goes more than two days without getting to do her job, she practically begs me to do “work” of some kind. She’s not above nose punching, and will begin talking…. and I do mean incessantly.

She and I have grown together. She’s shown me a lot about myself, and she has grown in ways that I never saw coming. To see her journey evolve into what it is now, has been the most amazing, blessing-filled thing to witness and be a part of. If you’re someone who has received love from her, then, you know how precious her soul is.

THE FAMOUS, AND ONE AND ONLY TIPPERTOES

So, in commemoration of “Service Dog September,” hats off to this stunning girl. She’s filled a role I never knew I needed. Couldn’t imagine life without her.

2 comments on “SERVICE DOG SEPTEMBER

  1. Aunt Pam says:

    You both are connected at the heart! Well written commemoration towards her and both of your accomplishments! One true love with her for sure! Blessed!!

    Liked by 1 person

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