Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pekoe- A Service Dog in Trouble

In honor of International Assistance Dog Week, I want to tell you about a very special dog and his person.
Pekoe is a 6-year old black Standard Poodle with bright brown eyes and soft fur. His person, Vince, is a quadriplegic after an accident 16 years ago.  I met Vince and Pekoe a few weeks ago when Vince contacted me about some behaviors Pekoe was exhibiting.  I learned a lot about their relationshp, how it started, what Pekoe's favorite things are (food, food, and food), about Vince's accident, and also that Vince used to be an NFL and CFL football player 'back in the day'.  He played for the Packers, and I told him I was a Vikings fan - thankfully he didn't fire me!  Vince's incredible attitude and humor, despite his circumstances, inspire me, and his love for his dog is unwavering, just like anybody else who adores his dog.
It's not uncommon for service dogs to become protective of their humans.  Being responsible for someone, like Pekoe is, can be very stressful and the 'job' comes with a lot of pressure.  About 2 years ago, Pekoe started become reactive when he saw another dog.  For whatever reason, he deemed dogs a threat to himself and Vince, to the point where Vince had to stop taking him with him when he went out.  Unfortunately, not being able to take your service dog with you when you are quadriplegic can be heartbreaking.  Not to mention, Pekoe is Vince's constant companion and they are two peas in a pod!
Pekoe and Vince
When Vince first contacted me, I wasn't sure if I could take on his case. I had never worked with a service dog before and had no experience with working dogs in this situation. But Vince was very convincing and I truly wanted to help him.  So, I contacted my colleague, Jennifer Arnold, at Canine Assistants in Atlanta. She spent an hour with me on the phone explaining the nuances of dogs with wheelchairs and how service dogs handle stress. She gave me a thousand bits of advice to try, and it was all extremely helpful. After we spoke, I thought about it for a day or two, and ultimately realized that Pekoe is actually just like any other anxious dog I've worked with. He just needed to decompress and have some fun again.
I decided that we would go back to basics and let Pekoe just be a dog for a while.  While I have been trying different reward systems on Vince's chair (he can't deliver treats), I have been experimenting with Pekoe's commands, getting him to pay attention to Vince when he's distracted, and adjusting the way he works with Vince's wheelchair.  Vince can move pretty quickly in that thing!  It is very important that I use only positive reinforcement with Pekoe as he is already stressed enough.  No prong collar, leash jerks, or punishment for him- only love, praise, food, and allowing him to make choices.
Yesterday was our 6th session and already, Pekoe is less stressed and wants to work.  I introduced him to Rufus, my fake stuff Rottweiler from a far distance and he offered me lots of fun behaviors that we have been working on.  While Rufus doesn't move, seeing him was stressful, but Pekoe learned very quickly that Rufus is a predictor of really good things and this process will continue to help him learn he doesn't have to protect Vince anymore.
Soon I will introduce him to my dog, Paisley, and then go on a few field trips.  I am sincerely hoping I can get him back to the point where Pekoe can be a service dog again, as I think he truly enjoys it. I know Pekoe needs Vince, and Vince needs Pekoe-they make a great team. You know what's really cool, though?  They think I am teaching them... but in reality, they are really teaching me.
Vince, Me, and Pekoe!


Henry said...

I love dogs because it is very faithful
adopt a puppy

Edward said...

Keep posting more related blogs about the dogs,.
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