It’s time for the second Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, can you believe it? For details, visit L^2’s post about this round, as she is our current host. The topic for this addition is ‘Decisions’. I have thought long and hard about what to write, since my first carnival post discussed my decision to get a guide dog. I decided to write a bit about decisions I made concerning how life would be with a sixty-five pound lab, since I’ve always been a cat person. 😉
For some, the biggest fear in the decision to train with a guide dog is probably something like, can I really trust a dog to get me across a six lane intersection with speeding cars driven by people texting and talking on cell phones? Or, will my dog really run me out of the way of that darned silent hybrid car? Or, will my dog really get me home once we start to venture out? Or, what will happen if I get us lost, I mean, I can’t afford a fancy GPS, what happens then? Or, will my dog really refuse to step off a curb that’s really disguised as a thirty foot drop?
Sure, I had those thoughts. My biggest fear though? How will I keep my dog from eating cat droppings?
If you were a reader of my blog back when Jayden was affectionately called ‘Insert’, you’ll most likely remember all the things I worried about. If you were a member of the guide dog e-mail list I was on, you were probably one of the people who’s answer to just about every question was, wait until you get your dog. Should I get a kennel? Wait until you get your dog. Should I baby gate the room where the litter boxes live? Wait until you get your dog. Should I put the cat food up high? Wait until you get your dog. Do you know how maddening that answer was for someone like me? I’m a planner. I don’t like the what ifs in life and I will do everything in my power to eliminate the unknown. Getting a guide dog has broken a lot of the desire to control life, let me tell you.
When the service rep from GDB came for my initial interview, I asked him those very same questions about dog proofing my home. His answer? Don’t constrict your movements around your home and change everything in relation to your cats until you get your dog. In other words? Wait until you get your dog.
I asked my instructor towards the end of class, during our transition meeting, because I just wasn’t satisfied with wait until you get your dog. I had my dog. My instructor’s answer? Much more to my liking. He made sure I understood that cat food is harmful for dogs because it’s higher in protein, etc etc etc. To me, it seemed like he was on the same page. Finally, some validation! I was pretty sure I’d begin the dog proofing when I returned home with Jayden. I had him now. I didn’t need to wait anymore.
GDB recommended that my dog be restricted in the home for about two months. I had discussed this on the guide dog list, and it seemed everyone had different experiences with this time frame. Some went exactly two months, others did not with disastrous results, some waited a few weeks, some went beyond the two months. The horror stories about some of the dogs scared me to death.
When GDB asked what I wanted in a dog, I had no preference for color, sex or breed. My major requirement was good house manners. I did not want to fall victim to counter surfing or a torn up mattress, or delicates being chewed up. Because of my auto immune disease, I explained, I need a chill dog who won’t take a lot of maintenance. My fatigue levels just won’t permit a crazy dog. Once again, I was more concerned with having a dog in the home than trusting my life to one. For some reason, I just knew the latter would be fairly easy, and it was, after some transitioning.
The day I arrived home from GDB, it was cold, windy and rainy out. It was March in the desert, and I felt like I hadn’t left California. I entered my apartment with Jayden on a long leash since I had just relieved him after our flight home. Upon walking into the entry way, I heard my boyfriend say hi to Timmy, the cat, and I felt a strong lunging motion on the leash in my hand. Thank you, hitch hiker’s grip! Jayden received a strong leash correction, a firm NO! and the command to sit. Timmy ran and hid. I think he might have come out three days later. All the cats, three of them, vanished for quite some time.
I believe to this day, that the correction given to Jayden in our first minute in his new home, showed him I was boss and lunging after cats would not be tolerated. Even now, after Jayden has made best friends with the cats, he never lunges after them or chases them. He cuddles with them and loves them.
That first night home, I fashioned a tie down in my bedroom using the cord GDB had given me by wrapping it around the leg of a solid oak dresser. It would work perfectly for the time being, since I hadn’t gotten a kennel. I hated the tie down at night however, after a night at school when Jayden woke up with a shriek; he had gotten tangled in his tie down. I knew a tie down at night would not last long and within a couple days, I had gotten a kennel which he picked out. Wait until you get your dog. No really. Because your dog will tell you which kennel is comfortable for him or her. The first few were too small and he wouldn’t go in. The one we bought was all Jayden’s choice, after he walked in, turned around, and lay down.
I felt much better at night, knowing he had plenty of room and would not get tangled up. The only thing I didn’t like was that once he was in there, I couldn’t touch him. Our nightly ritual was fun however. After nightly relieving, Jayden would happily go into his kennel because he knew I’d be giving him a few pieces of kibble. A handler at GDB had suggested this when she showed me how to use a kennel. A few pieces of kibble just keeps the experience positive.
During the day when we weren’t working or doing obedience or interacting, Jayden was on tie down. After I had gotten the kennel, I wrapped the cord around the couch leg. This didn’t give him much room however, so I eventually clipped the leash to the tie down. The school had recommended not using the leash for this purpose, in cace the dog chews it, but Jayden hadn’t shown any signs of chewing so after the first experimental day with the leash, that served as his tie down. He was able to stretch out on the floor or even get up on his designated spot on the couch. Jayden immediately knew that if the towel was down, he was permitted to lay there. At first it took inviting from me, encouragement that he was allowed, before he’d climb up. Eventually he understood that it was ok. Now that couch is basically his, but that’s a post he wants to write for you.
So what about the cat food? I had left it on the floor in the kitchen in its usual place. I would walk Jayden near it while he was on leash since for the first few weeks, if he wasn’t on tie down, he was on leash by my side. If he made any inclination to approach the food, he got a mild correction. Soon he was walking past it without a second glance. Same for the room where the litter boxes are.
Even though he showed incredible self control, I decided not to tempt fate. I wanted to let him off leash soon, because I just knew he was a great dog and could handle the freedom. I decided to put the cat food up anyway, using a dining table the humans don’t use. Before I got a baby gate, I put a brick behind the door of the cats’ room. This wouldn’t keep him out if he really wanted in, but it dissuaded him enough. When I received the baby gate, I mounted it in the doorway about six or eight inches off the floor, so the cats can go underneath it. These precautions were more just for peace of mind rather than a lack of trust in Jayden. I just didn’t have the mental and physical energy for the worry that he might possibly forget his manners and have a snack. I didn’t care if the cats got angry that the strange dog thing ate their food, I just didn’t want Jayden getting sick.
After about two weeks at home, I started easing in freedom while my boyfriend was home and could keep an eye on what Jayden was doing. For the most part, he just wanted to be wherever I was. However if he heard a car or a dog outside, he was free to run to the security door and look out. I was so happy he had that freedom and it was fun to experience it all as he realized he was free. He would lay by the door for a bit and then come running to find me, staying by my side until the next outdoor noise was too inviting. I’d hear his tags jingle as he walked and when he came back to me, it was always a mini reunion.
Not long after those first experimental days, he was completely free during waking hours. The only time I put him back on tie down was if I was going to shower. I think in those first few weeks, I took two minute showers, terrified to leave him. What if he got tangled in the tie down? What if he found a cat toy I hadn’t picked up and choked? What if a cat got frisky and scratched him?
Once again, I had no fear in the possibility of getting lost when we checked the mail, my only fears were of him swallowing something and needing emergency surgery.
These fears passed slowly as I adjusted to life with a dog. His house manners were and still are, impeccable. Thank you, thank you, thank you puppy raisers!
Night time was a different story for a couple of months. Jayden slept in his kennel until I decided to try letting him out at night. He had gotten sick not long after being home and there were a few nights that he messed in his kennel. I had left him out on those nights and nothing bad had happened.
When the time came to let him start sleeping outside the kennel, he was terribly confused. When he knew it was time for bed, he went right inside. I left the door open. He’d walk out and stride around the room, coming up to the bed as if to say, mom I’m confused. Where do you want me? Eventually I gave him an old comforter which he promptly fell in love with. He still gets kibble before bed. It’s just a little tradition I’ve kept and he always wags wags wags after nightly relieving. I hear him lick his chops before we head into my room.
Only about a month ago, he’s realized he can go back out to his couch even after I lay down to read at night. I love the fact that he’s gained independence and can happily be where he wants. There have been no issues whatsoever, to which I am so grateful to his puppy raisers.
Jayden is completely free in the house all the time. For the most part, he still stays near me, but sometimes I find him curled up on his bed in my room, or laying on his crochet mat under the breakfast bar.
The decision to give house freedom is a very individual one, and just comes down to what the dog is like. I feel very lucky to have gotten the dog I did. He takes no energy from me, none at all. The decision not to wait two months to let him be free turned out to be a good one. The decision to dog proof as far as cat food, toilet and toys was one I made at the time, not knowing if I’d keep it that way, but one I have stuck with, again just for peace of mind. There have been the occasional hairball licking incidents, but that’s to be expected when you live with a dog and three cats.
In closing, if you’re waiting for your first assistance dog and you’re wondering all about house freedom and dog proofing and kennels, you know what I’m going to say. Wait until you get your dog. Every dog is different and you just have no idea what he or she will be like when you bring him or her home. Unless that is, you train the dog yourself. Then I suppose you won’t necessarily have those questions.
If you’re working on making your decision to train with an assistance dog and all those fears are plaguing you, not just freedom questions, but service related questions, or if you’re wondering if you’re cut out to be a service dog handler, trust your gut and take the plunge. Just wait until you get your dog; your life will never be the same. Doors will open up, you’ll never be lonely again and you’ll suddenly have the courage to do the things you thought you’d never do.
Feeling a hole in your soul that you worry might never be filled? Wait until you get your dog!