Thursday, January 22, 2009

He is my Rock

I have been training Rock as my personal service dog (also called an assistance dog.) He just turned 2 and I have realized that I will never be able to graduate him to full service due to his over excitability with cats. It's called a prey drive and his is very strong. Long story short, I've not been able to work with him on this. It doesn't mean I can't, or won't. It means that I haven't. Regardless, I'd never let him go. I always intended to keep him for myself. Oh, prey drive makes him great at playing his favorite game, frisbee. :)

Other than the cat issue, I think I've done a good job, he will 'brace' to help me or my husband get up from a seated position. He is a true ambassador to the German Shepherd Dog breed. I can take him everywhere. He is incredible and has never failed or disappointed me. We take him to our favorite restaurant, he goes directly under the table and lays at our feet. Last night, as we were leaving, he came out from under the table and a guy says "Hey look, there's a dog in here." Which speaks volumes as to Rock's behavior. Rock has such a warm and personable personality. He's used to being pulled on and yanked and smothered by children as I socialized him constantly very young. It doesn't phase him. It's very rare when anything does. The people at the restaurant adore him. He has become a fixture, if not a mascot.

After dinner, we went across the street to Walmart to pick up a couple things. Sometimes we are met with people saying "Oh hell no!" and literally running the other direction. Then there are nights like last night, where he was welcomed warmly. He does get a little overwhelmed when he has too many people come up to him at once, so I have to make sure he knows everything is ok. I keep my own energy in check, and reassure him by keeping his lead loose and and my voice calm. That is my job, he needs to know that while I need him to work for me, I am there to make sure he is protected as well. I sit him down and allow one person at a time to come over and say hello to him. It's incredible for the little children to experience. Some of them are very afraid at first, he's bigger than many! I have him sit and I praise him, and explain to the child how to properly approach a dog, not on the head ('because that would be like somebody bopping you on the head to say "hi!"), but by the side of his face up to his ear, slowly, allowing the dog to sniff (and not being scared), because that's how he says "hello". At the same time I get the opportunity to teach little children about dogs in general. How they should never run up to a strange dog. Never approach a dog from where he can't see you. That they should always ask permission to pet someone's dog. And of course that they are such a big responsibility, because you "have to make sure they stay clean, they need a lot of exercise, they have to have good healthy food, play time, proper training so they are nice to people and other animals, a warm place to sleep in winter and a cool place in summer, and teach them how to go potty outside, and how to sleep in a crate and take them to the vet. And it's very important to make sure they get fixed so they won't be a mommy or daddy, and well there's just so much to do with a dog, so you must make sure you can do all that! When they're ready, ask their mom or dad to take them to the SPCA and find them the right dog." So, yeah, the speech is kinda there...

I also get to talk to the parents too explaining to them about the several patches and how most dogs they see wearing a vest will have patches that say "Please Don't Pet Me I'm Working" or "Working Dog On Duty" while Rock has on "Service Dog In Training Please Ask To Pet Me", so to please keep an eye open for that when their children see a dog in public. I also get to explain that service dogs aren't just for blind people, as that seems to be a common misconception. Service dogs can be helpful to people who have physical problems with walking or standing, they can be helpful for people who have seizures often recognizing the oncoming symptoms before the person does, necessary for medical alerts (people with mental conditions for example), and people who have difficulty hearing. Dogs are also used for Search and Rescue (SAR) and of course, when most people see Rock, they immediately think (and I often overhear a parent telling a child) a "Police Dog".

Rock is an Ambassador to the GSD breed. I have worked with many dogs in the last 15 years, 10 of which was intensely concentrated on rescue/rehab/rehome. The last 5, almost 6 now, have been more selective due to my own physical limitations. Which is where Rock came in. We needed each other. We need each other still. Every animal I have ever had has taught me something. Rock is a big doe-eyed dork. But he's my big doe-eyed dork. I wake up and he's there waiting for his kiss on the nose and ready to start the day. Everything in life happens for a reason. I guess the pain I had to go through put me on a path to him. No regrets. Guinness Rockin' Rocket, you're my dork dog, you are my Rock.