Obsessively neat?

Koala, a black Lab, considers playing with one of everal toys
So many toys; so hard to choose

It’s always interesting to teach a dog a new skill and see where she takes it.

When I taught Jana that she could make choices, she started weighing in on where she wanted to go on walks. She’d put on the brakes, hard, if I tried to head in the “wrong” direction, for example.

Koala has built on many of her skills, adding new dimensions. She’s great at finding shortcuts to places that she and Deni walk to frequently. She quickly learns regular routes. Those skills come into play when they travel: She can find their hotel room after being in it once. She also uses her search skills — and her excellent nose — to find a trash can anywhere she happens to need one.

She learned to put away her toys some time ago. Cali has learned this as well. They both know to bring a toy and drop it into the toy basket. Usually, this is a mercenary exchange, with treats demanded after each successful toy drop as well as a final, larger paycheck at the end. It also requires considerable encouragement and cheerleading.

And Koala routinely gets her treat ball when it’s time for puppy lunch. When she’s emptied it, and when Deni asks her to, she brings it to Deni to put away.

Recently, though, Koala did something unexpected. She selected a toy, chewed it for a moment, decided that she wanted a different one — and put the first one away before choosing another. She did this twice before settling in with her third choice, an antler, to chew.

Has she become obsessively neat? Has she finally figured out that if she leaves her bones scattered on the floor, people trip over them (and if so, does she care)? Or is she worried about being unemployed while she’s in Montana, since Cali has a lock on the best two local jobs?

As I look at a living room scattered with Cali’s toys, I wonder whether there’s enough work to support two dogs in the toy-cleanup business.

Cali’s Job Search

A much-younger Cali struggles to hold a large pink stuffed owl
Cali is much bigger now and has an easier time putting Owl into his basket.

A few months ago, I wrote about Cali’s goal of becoming a visiting “therapy” dog.

Cali is, of course, perfect for the job, and we were about to schedule our supervised visit, the last hurdle to becoming certified. But then … a pandemic happened. Coronavirus has put all visits on hold indefinitely.

Cali was casting about for a job to tide her over. She’d been laid off from her newspaper-fetching job since the end of October, when the local paper wanted to more than double subscription prices.

Coronavirus takes away, and coronavirus gives.

The Missoulian called last week with a special offer to help people keep up with the news. We resubscribed, and Cali was able to get her paper-fetching job back. Good thing she was quick to apply, because Koala is coming back for a long visit, and we all know she would want that job too.

Koala is going to have to scramble, because Cali has taken over the toy clean-up job as well as the newspaper job. Cali now puts her favorite toys — Owl, Hedge, Duckie, and Piggy — into their basket every night before bed.

Chaser’s Legacy

Chaser, the border collie who learned 1,000 words

I’ve written about Chaser, the dog who had a vocabulary of more than 1,000 words (and who understood English grammar better than most …). The recent story of Whisky shows Chaser’s real legacy though.

Chaser’s dad was a professor. He trained her thoroughly, daily, meticulously. He knew that he’d face resistance when he wrote about a dog learning to understand human language, so he took detailed notes, tested her often, and made sure to have many others work with her to show that she was responding to the cues, not to some secret or unconscious body language cues.

Whisky’s story is different. Her people aren’t trainers or professors. They just played with her. A lot. And consistently asked her to bring toys by name.

That’s where most of us will trip up, by the way. I call Cali about 20 different names. I am supposed to remember to call Owl and Piggy and Duckie by name? To be fair, Cali does not have 100 toys, and we only use names for about five, so I really should be able to be consistent … But I digress.

What Whisky shows is that any dog can learn names for things. And even categories of things.

Koala is inspired by Whisky. She’s learning balls, bones, and toys as separate categories. She has many of each. She’s also learned that bringing them and putting them in her basket pays really well.

Cali is learning that too, but far more slowly. Cali actually does bring Owl, Duckie, and Piggy, plus Hedge, when I ask her to. Oh, and her tennis ball. And she’s learning about Bear. She’s very excited about the paycheck, though, sometimes so excited that she can’t quite tell where the basket is. She’ll toss them near the basket, but she’s getting better at getting the toy into the basket, at least by the third attempt.

Really, it’s not the dogs who have the limitations. It’s us. Chaser proved that, and Whisky is just hitting us over the head with it a little harder. Dogs are smart and love it when their people teach them things. In fact, here’s Cali now, telling me that it’s time for her next lesson.

 

What’s Missing from the Conversation

Alberta, a now-retierd yellow Labrador guide dog, leads DeniI wrote a post a few weeks ago about proposed new rules for flying with service and support animals. Lucky for me, most Thinking Dog readers are kind and thoughtful individuals.

Deni wasn’t so lucky. That could be because she had more than 2,000x as many readers as I generally do … in just the first 3 days (and no, that’s not a typo).

The comments on her article, and on the proposed rules at the DoT site, reveal much about our society. And why the concept of ESAs has been so badly abused. They follow several general themes:

  • People who hate animals, kids, anyone who writes about animals, and pretty much the whole world. (These are best ignored.)
  • People who think all animals should be banned from airplanes, including guide and service dogs, due to their own (or others’) allergies. (Not gonna happen.)
  • People who say they cannot or will not fly if they cannot bring their ESA.
  • People who use service animals and oppose any sort of behavior or health check or documentation.

What is missing from this conversation, as well as from the laws and proposed new rules, is attention to the animals’ welfare and needs.

Some of the people who can’t or won’t fly without an ESA could well be able to meet the legal threshold for a service dog. Others have generalized and severe anxiety or anxiety specifically about flying, so the presence of an animal is of comfort and helps them cope.

I am sincerely empathetic. At the same time, I think that’s a lot of responsibility to place on an animal, especially one that has not been trained to work under stressful circumstances. Public access is stressful for any animal, but especially one that essentially lives in a familiar home, rarely leaving except, in the case of some dogs and cats, for walks around the neighborhood. Airports and airplanes are about as stressful a situation as I can imagine.

I also worry that someone with severe anxiety would be stretched to the limit taking care of their own needs and would be unable to safely handle an animal, intuit and meet its needs, and keep themselves, the animal, and other passengers safe.

The untrained pets used as ESA are often terrified by the commotion, cramped quarters, noise, smells, and general awfulness of airports and airplanes. And that is exactly the problem: No one is evaluating the animals or training them to get used to public access. People with ESAs do not have the right to take them in public (the ADA gives that privilege only to people with both a disability and a trained service animal) and no training is required, so even if the people wanted to prepare their animals, they cannot legally do so.

Like other pets, most ESAs spend the majority of their time at home. Then, suddenly, they are taken to the most stressful place possible, by a person who is extremely anxious. As a living being with needs and fears, the ESA needs and deserves the protection of its person — a person who at that time is very unlikely to be able to provide that protection.

The law currently allows anyone whose mental-health professional (or internet store) supplies them with a letter attesting to their own need for the animal. Nothing addresses the suitability of the animal or its welfare, and nothing safeguards the public from terrified animals (mostly dogs) behaving like terrified animals: Growling, yowling, snarling, lunging, biting, peeing, etc. It’s a testament to how resilient and generally amazing dogs are that there have not been far more bites.

I am a former service dog trainer and am adamantly opposed to creating barriers to access for people with disabilities. At the same time, I do not think it is possible to protect public safety — including the safety of service dog teams — without limitations, such as a public access test and health requirements.

Public access with a service dog in a no-pets area is a privilege that does not include the right to endanger others or trample their rights. The ADA builds that in; a service animal that is dangerous or behaving inappropriately can legally be excluded even if the person has a disability and the animal is fully trained to mitigate that disability. The current ACAA rules on ESAs do not. And it is not reasonable or realistic to expect TSA officers or airline gate agents to be able to assess which animals are safe and which are not — and to be effective at barring those passengers and their animals.

There are ways to make health checks and public access tests easy, certainly no more complicated than getting a disabled parking placard in most states.

Thousands of dog trainers are capable of administering a CGC test, for example. A public access test could be similar, and it could be conducted by any certified dog trainer in a place the team goes anyhow, like Walmart or the supermarket.

Keeping your dog healthy and being able to show that the dog is vaccinated are minimal standards when taking your dog anywhere, even the dog park.

I don’t see these as huge obstacles or burdens. One comment I saw talked about the nearest Walmart being over an hour’s drive and said having to go to a testing site would be an enormous burden. If that person never, ever goes to that distant Walmart, or anywhere else in public with their service dog, they wouldn’t need to do the test. If they do go there, even rarely, doing a test there once every year or so is not a huge ask.

Airlines could help out by keeping paperwork on file, though, as they keep seating preferences and contact details for mileage club members. Asking people to jump through the same hoops every time they fly is absurd, especially for anyone who flies multiple times a year. Linking the health certificate and other info on the team to a flyer’s frequent flyer profile, with a flag for annual updates, is very easy in our digital age.

Allowing only trained, professionally evaluated animals to fly in the cabins of airplanes, and asking that other animals either remain in carriers that fit under a seat or that their owners make other arrangements is common sense. It respects the rights and safety of people with disabilities who have trained their (mostly) dogs and rely on those dogs’ assistance. It also respects the rights and safety of everyone else.

My comments are, of course, my opinions; reasonable people may well disagree. I think that Deni wrote a solidly researched article that presents a real problem and suggests viable solutions. I encourage you to read it, read the proposed rules, and comment. The 60-day comment period opened Feb. 5 and ends in early April.

Maisy’s Emotional Support Dog

Cali is thickly covered in sand
Cali learned from Jana how to completely cover herself in sand

Cali’s best friend, Maisy, a young poodle, is a bit shy. When she sees strangers, she gets nervous — especially if the people have a dog with them. Sometimes she can’t help herself: She barks at them.

Cali is the complete opposite. When she sees strangers, she thinks it’s the best thing ever. She wriggles with joy and drags her mom over so she can say hi.

Recently, I had the two of them on a walk. We encountered several other people.

  • The first time, Cali was busy looking for peanuts under a tree where our neighbor feeds the squirrels and, quite uncharacteristically, she ignored the person. Maisy looked nervously at him, then at Cali, and she, too, started sniffing around in the snow.
  • Next up, a friendly 20-something guy. Cali saw him from a block away and started getting excited. He reached out a hand to pet her and stopped to say hello. Maisy stuck close to me, watching carefully. She started a “woo…” but when she realized that Cali wasn’t scared, she stopped mid-woof. She stretched her nose out to sniff the guy but ducked back when he reached to pet her.
  • Finally, we met a third person. Cali again said hello, all wags and wiggles. This time, Maisy watched for a moment, then very cautiously poked her nose in to sniff — and say hello.

On the way home, we passed a couple of people who were shoveling snow, and, again, Maisy thought about barking. “Woo…” — and reconsidered. She held her head up and walked past, looking pleased with herself (while checking to make sure Cali was close by and still thought things were okay).

Maisy’s still nervous on walks when Cali isn’t there. But watching her watch Cali and think about how to respond was interesting. She showed me that dogs do learn from one another — I mean, learn something other than where the muddiest digging spot is in the back yard, how to deconstruct a toy, and the best strategy for rolling in sand to ensure maximum fur coverage.

And perhaps Cali has a great future as an emotional support dog — for other dogs.

 

HUD Also Tightening Rules for Emotional Support Animals

sign reads "no pets allowed. service dogs welcome."

The DoT is not the only government agency that is tightening its rules around service and emotional support animals. On January 28, HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, released a notice of its updated rules.

A quick review:

  • The ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, allows people who use service dogs to take their service dogs with them to most public places.
  • Air travel is not covered by the ADA. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) covers air travel. The Department of Transportation (DoT) announced proposed changes to the rules around travel with service and emotional support animals. Public comments will be accepted until mid-March.
  • HUD governs housing laws. The new rules have been announced without a public comment period.
  • The ADA public access laws apply only to service dogs (and some miniature horses); a person who has gotten an accommodation for an assistance animal that is not a service dog does not have the right to take that animal to public places that are not open to pets (for example, restaurants, stores, etc.).

HUD’s goal is to help housing providers understand their rights and obligations — and to help housing providers determine whether a request for an accommodation is legitimate.

Both the HUD and the DoT are reacting to dramatic increases in the number of requests for accommodation of emotional support dogs, including requests to allow a huge variety of animals, not always animals that are commonly owned as pets. They are also getting large numbers of requests with no or minimal documentation, including letters provided by online providers.

HUD’s new rules:

  • Adopt the ADA definition of a service dog
  • Treat service dogs and other assistance animals differently
  • Require that individuals ask for an accommodation for an assistance animal
  • Require that individuals provide “information that reasonably supports that the person seeking the accommodation has a disability” — and make the truth and accuracy of this information a requirement of the lease (that is, if the person is later found to have lied about having a disability, the housing provider could evict them)
  • Require that individuals provide “information which reasonably supports that the animal does work, performs tasks, provides assistance, and/or provides therapeutic emotional support with respect to the individual’s disability” with a similar provision about the accuracy of the information

Finally, with rare exceptions, housing providers do not have to accommodate animals that are not commonly kept in households as pets.

The document includes guidelines on what constitutes a “reasonable” accommodation and on how to document a need for an assistance animal that is not a service dog.

 

 

Daniel Was Robbed

A gorgeous golden retriever runs in the show ringI speak for Cali and for golden retriever fans everywhere when I echo the shouts on Twitter: Daniel was robbed!

Daniel is, of course, a golden retriever. Not just any golden retriever. He won Best of Breed and then won the Sporting Group at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. He lost Best in Show to a poodle.

Some of my best friends (and Cali’s) are poodles, but really. That haircut. And did the poodle hug her handler when they won? Or even smile? Did the poodle carry her own ribbon?

Of course not. That’s all so golden-ey.

According to the Washington Post, Daniel’s not bitter. When he got home, he did what goldens everywhere do to relax: He dug a hole in the back yard and lay down in the mud. Cali’s kind of guy for sure.

We’ll be rooting for you next year, Daniel.