7 Awesome Things About the Pupper Being 1

Nothing can prepare you for a puppy. I’m an obsessive researcher, I thought I knew everything there was to know and that I was totally prepared to be a dog parent.

Let me admit right now how arrogantly wrong I was.

Winnie was 12 pounds of crazy. Potty training, teething, exercise, all of this was frustrating and exhausting, and on top of it all, the pupper didn’t even seem to like me that much. And she finally finally finally seemed to chill out, and then the dreaded adolescence hit. Nothing can prepare you for adolescent either. Teenage attitude is the same in every species, it turns out.

So Winnie is 1 now, and while I obviously loved her before, she is 100% more lovable now that she’s more grown-up. She’s smart and funny and has more personality than should fit in her 60-pound body.

And so, I present to you here 7 awesome things about Winnie turning 1, with pictures included.

1. learning tasks- Winnie is in training to be an Autism Service Dog for me, and the one thing that defines a service dog is that they do specific tasks to help with symptoms of their handler’s disability. This is a picture of Winnie doing Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) to help me when I’m overstimulated. She acts like a living super warm breathing weighted blanket. Some other tasks we’re working on are medication reminders, sound alerts, and general obedience like public access!

2. a great snuggler- Some puppies are snuggly right out of the gate, but Winnie was definitely not one of them. She had a tendency to overheat when she was little and was she wasn’t hot and sleepy, she didn’t stop moving long enough give so much as a kiss. It was hard back then because she (like all puppies) was so much work, and she didn’t really show any interest in me at all. Luckily, she’s grown out of that so much that that, everything I do must be checked out and Winnie approved.

3. poses for pictures- Let me tell you that up until the pupper was about 6 months old, 98% of pictures I took of her were just a big black blur. Getting her to sit still was a miracle in and of itself, and her staying where I’d put her long enough to get a picture took a second person and a whole lot of treats. Now the percentage is more like 50%, which is a massive improvement, and her outtakes get funnier and funnier as she gets older. I’m immensely proud of both of us that we get this picture for her 1st birthday!

4. plays independently- Puppies take so much attention folks. They can’t pee by themselves, they can’t sleep without assistance, they can’t be trusted alone with anything, ever. One thing I didn’t know about puppies was that they don’t really know how to play with toys right off the bat. And it seems like Winnie was a bit of a slow learner because she really needed help figuring out how to play with toys until recently. It has been so amazing that we get to give her toys, and she’ll play independently (the toy in the picture is Erik the Viking, from Barkbox). I think she’d still rather play with us, but we’ve all got a nice balance.

5. takes long naps- Puppies are supposed to sleep around 20 hours a day, which sounds really awesome. It really isn’t. 20 hours in 2 or 3 hours chunks is NOT the same as 20 hours where they’re waking up every half hour or so. She’s also gone through stages of being both very good and very bad at sleeping through the night. At the moment she’s sleeping great, which means we’re sleeping great, which means everyone is happy!

6.  can be left alone- For the first month or so after Winnie came home, we literally could not leave the house. We either had to bring her with us or go out one at a time. You don’t realize it, but being stuck at home, not getting to see friends or go to activities really takes a toll on your mental health. It took longer than average for Winnie to be okay with crate training,  but thank goodness she has. These days she happily goes into her crate (or her ‘fort’ as we call it) when we leave, eats her peanut butter treats, and then sleeps the whole time we’re out. We can hang out with friends, go to the movies, even go pumpkin picking! We still bring her along to dog-friendly places, but having a choice is nice, right?

7. her farts don’t kill- There’s no nice way of putting this- when Winnie was a baby, her gas could clear a room. It smelled like she had pooped every. single. time. she. farted. And she farted a lot. We tried a lot of things, some of them working better than others. Turns out that Winnie doesn’t tolerate wheat-based kibble very well, which is ok because Jess’s Celiac wasn’t a fan of the wheat either. Sadly, we also found out that the pupper is SO DAMN lactose intolerant. No pup cups for Winnie, but it’s been worth it. She still farts, but they’re normal dog farts, and we can all live with that I think.

It should not come as a surprise to you that I welcome any pet photos from dogs to rabbits to fish, I am not picky about the cuteness.

7 Things People Don’t Know About Service Dogs

The general public sees a dog in a vest and the thought never crosses their mind about why the dog is wearing it. Up until recently, most people assumed that every vested dog was a guide dog, and that was that. It’s better now. A little better, anyway. People are a lot more educated about service animals, but the majority still can’t tell you the difference between a service dog, an emotional support animal (ESA), and a therapy dog.

These are misconceptions I’ve noticed while researching, or when talking to people about Winnie.

1. Service Dogs and ESAs Are Two Separate Things-

Emotional Support Animals have been in the media a lot lately, and as usual, it’s been making everything more confusing than less. Let me clear it up right now, there is no such thing as Service Peacocks. This is because Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) are totally different things. Emotional support animals are for just that- emotional support. They help ease their owners’ anxieties and phobias, but they are not a psychiatric service animal. EAS’s are not covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (the ADA), instead, they are covered by the FAA, if their owners are trying to bring them on planes, and the Fair Housing Act (FHA), if their owner needs to live in a place where pets are not allowed. Planes and Housing are the only places where ESA’s have rights, and to get these rights, the owner needs a letter from a doctor, and sometimes extra paperwork. *note* individual airlines are starting to crack down on ESA’s in planes, which should spark some interesting discussions.

2. Getting a Dog Doesn’t Work the Way You Might Think-

The media would have you believe that there’s only one way to get a service animal. You realize you need help, you get in touch with a charity that trains cute little puppies into perfect service dogs that are delivered right to your door for free. You bond with the dog immediately, and all of your problems are solved. This is so not how the process works. For one, service dogs are almost never free. The average cost of a dog is $20,000. And if you do find a charity that gives away dogs, their scope is very narrow. Combat Veterans. Blind People. Autistic Children (but never adults). And regardless, there are waitlists. A two-year waitlist to even be assigned a dog, plus two years of training, you might not see your service dog for years. Because of all these factors, people sometimes decide to train their own dogs.

3. Some People Train Their Own Dogs Instead of Going Through a Service-

The law says that people have the right to train their service animals. This is a huge decision. Training a service dog is a lot of work, and as someone with a disability, it’s even harder. Self-trained service dogs also wash out (which means fails as a service dog) at a much much higher rate. Self-training also doesn’t save money, which is an upsetting surprise for a lot of handlers. Dogs cost money. Food and toys and vet bills and training materials and specialized trainers and service vests. Self-training means you don’t need $20,000 right at the beginning, but over the course of the training, you’ll still be spending at least $20,000. Self-training is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I am self-training Winnie mostly because no programs who work with autistic people work with adults. I also have had dogs before, and I have Jess at home to help. I do think, after 3 months of puppy-hood, that if I get another dog when Winnie retires, I’ll be seriously considering a service.

4. Service Dogs Aren’t Required to Wear Vests-

You will always be able to recognize a service dog by its vest, right? Wrong! There is nothing in the law that requires a service dog to be identifiable in any way (this is because the Americans With Disabilities Act is really big on privacy). So why do most owners put their dog in a vest? The honest answer is that it’s easier, and by easier, I mean that if you’re in a public place with a dog who isn’t wearing a vest, people will harass you. In fact, even if they are wearing a vest, and someone decides that you don’t look “disabled enough”, they might harass you. I think we’ve all experienced “disabled enough” before here.

5. There is No State or Federal Registry For Service Dog-

You might have seen a service dog walking around with an ID or certification papers, and listen to me now when I tell you that it’s all crap. The only requirements that make a service dog a service dog is that its handler has a disability that requires an assistance dog and that the dog is trained to do tasks for the handler. The dog may be asked to leave a public space if it’s not well behaved, but that’s slightly different. So, to get down to it, service dogs cannot be certified, and asking handlers to provide paperwork or asking invasive questions isn’t legal. Any company that says that they can provide papers, or certification, or identification are just looking for money.

6. Service Dogs Aren’t Just Well Behaved, They’re Trained for Specific Tasks-

Service dogs look like the most obedient dogs in the world, and while this is true, obedience is the least of what they are trained for. The things that make service dogs more than just well-behaved pooches is the idea of tasks. Service animals are trained to do specific things. A guide dog has very different skills than a diabetic alert dog, and these skills are called tasks. Tasks break behaviors into little bits, like a guide dog can be trained to lead their handler to a specific place. Tasks are required, period. Generally, 3 is the minimum. Using Winnie as an example, she’ll be trained to do Deep Pressure Therapy, to sense when I’m getting overstimulated and lead me to a quiet area, and to interrupt my harmful body stims. This is just for me. Another autistic person might have their dog do an entirely other set of tasks. Everyone is an individual, and that’s one of the things that makes training a service dog so complicated.

7. Service Dogs Can be Any Breed, From Chihuahua to Great Dane

Picture a service dog for me. There’s a golden retriever in your mind’s eye, isn’t there? That, or a doodle of some sort. And there’s a reason for that. Labs, retrievers, and poodles are all very well suited to being services dogs, because of their temperaments and learning styles. This does not mean though that other breeds aren’t up to the job (although some breeds are more suited than others). Any breed as long as they’re smart, trainable for the handler’s needs, and polite and non-reactive can be service dogs. So, while German Shepherds make good guide dogs, smaller more portable dogs like chihuahua and Shih-Tzus might make fantastic seizure alert dogs. An informal note about this though, using a non-standard breed can and will make people pay more attention to you. It’s just a thing.

So, there was a lot of information! Do you feel smarter, or just tired? Anyway, if you’ve got questions, or you think I forgot something important, or if you think I’m just plain wrong about something, drop me a line, and let me know!

Winnie: Tricks and Treats

This one’s going to be super media heavy, guys, just a heads up.

So, I’ve been talking a lot in this series about Winnie and about Service Dogs, and I figured now’s the right time to show instead of tell.

Winnie is currently solidifying her obedience skills, and sometimes that can feel kind of frustrating because it can seem like she’s not learning anything “useful” yet. I fall into that trap sometimes. I think everyone does. But it really helps me to be able to see how the skills she’s learning now will turn into tasks later.

Oftentimes tasks are made of multiple steps, each which need to be trained individually before they can be put together. So, while the skills Winnie is going to show you may seem simple, keep in mind that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Here’s a highlight of Winnie’s basic commands:

Sit-

 

Sit is the classic command. It’s the first thing that most puppies learn how to do, and Winnie is no exception. She figured out that sometimes when she sat, magic food would fall from the sky, so she’d wander around, sitting randomly, hoping the food would come. It was adorable. Sit is a lot different for Winnie these days, it is used as a polite way to say ‘please’. She has to sit to get food, or treats, or pets, and because of it, she’s learning that she has to be calm, even if she’s excited about something. She can’t do it calmly yet, especially when what she wants as to see people of dogs, but she does manage to stay sitting while her tail whips back and forth and her butt vibrates.

Down-

 

Down is Winnie’s default move. It’s very difficult sometimes to keep her from going right into a ‘down’ from other commands. Which can be hard, when we don’t actually want her to be down, but it’s also good because when I’m at school and at work, down is going to be in the position that she’s in. So down is the first step. Right now, she’s not in the formal position that will be required from her later, but it’s a great stepping stone to build on.

Stay-

 

Stays are my personal hell. They’re probably Winnie’s hell as well, but since she can’t talk, I’ll never know. What I tell myself and what I’ll tell you is that she’s still a baby. She is five months old, and her self-control abilities are almost nil. They’re actually better than most puppies her age. Stay is definitely up there in the top 5 of skills that will be important when she’s working. I need to be able to stick her somewhere and trust that I can move around without her getting excited and bounding off. The combination of down and stay, (often called a down-stay command in the training world) will help her handle public access as she gets older.

Touch/Target-

 

Touch is one of the most important and most used commands when it comes to training service dogs. It’s a simple concept, you ask the dog to target, and they touch your hand, or a pole, or a ball on a stick, etc. Simple right? Say you want to walk nicely next to you, you can just walk with them targeting. If you want her to touch a part of your body, you just target your knee. This likely be a part of most of the commands that Winnie will learn.

Leave It-

 

The first time your 9-week-old puppy tries to make off with a poop bag, you realize very quickly that she doesn’t understand what “NO NO NO STOP DAMNIT” means. And you realize that “NO NO NO STOP DAMNIT” makes a terrible command, because you’d look like a lunatic saying it in public. This is where Leave It comes in. Leave it means, essentially ‘ignore that’. When Winnie was very little, we used it to (try) and stop her from eating garbage on her walks. But as we’ve all matured, Leave It has changed in a wonderful way. Winnie is a social butterfly to a fault, and all she wants in life is to say hi to every human and dog she can see. So, we use Leave It when we can’t stop and visit. And (mostly), she moves on. As we move toward more public access skills, Leave It helps her learn what is and isn’t ok for her to sniff or touch. This skill will likely never become part of a task, but it goes towards her general temperament and manners skills, which are just as important.

Look-

 

I don’t think anyone can know how many ways ‘Look’ can be used until they try to train a dog. I honestly thought that it was kind of silly when the trainers at puppy kindergarten introduced the concept. Why did it matter if the puppy looked at you all the time? Now, Jess did point out that my issue may have been an autism thing, and that just because I didn’t care about eye contact or looking at peoples’ faces, it doesn’t mean that Winnie didn’t either. So, I have half-assed it for a while; look, guys, I’m only human. But as Winnie started doing more complex things, I started to see the value. When she looks at me, she’s checking in with me. She’s asking ‘” is this okay?”, “am I doing it right?”. We’re communicating in a way that makes sense to her. I still find it uncomfortable sometimes. It turns out dog eye contact feels just as weird as the human version. I knew there would be extra training challenges because I’m autistic, but I think we’re getting through this one ok.

This is just a handful of the things that Winnie can do so far, and she’s learning more every day!  Do you have a favorite trick or command that your pet knows?

 

The Winnie Project

I think most of us have every intention of posting regularly, and if you’re anything like me, posting on a schedule (oh Monday and Wednesday posts how I miss you!) However, we also all know that life always finds a way to intervene. Life in this case for me is school and the puppy. But this semester you and me and this blog are in luck! I’m taking an English course that calls for a blog project. I was given the option to make a new blog or the use this one, and I thought I’d use the project do a series of posts involving media, which is something that I don’t do often.

Media, you say? What on earth could you use media for that has anything to do with autism. Or mental health. Or disability? Or anything? That brings us to my previously mentioned other life distraction: Winnie the Service dog.

It’s been 3 months since I talked about her, which seems crazy, given how she smushed herself into every corner of my life. And I’m going to be honest, this isn’t always a good thing.

I’m a cat person. I’ve always liked dogs, and while that’s still true, I think I can say with confidence that I. Don’t. Like. Puppies. Are they cute? Yes! Are they fluffy? Usually! Are they often biting little jerks? YES.

Luckily, the internet came through for me. There is a subreddit (r/puppy101, for anyone who’s interested), that introduced Jess and I to the concept of Puppy Blues, which is essentially post-puppy depression that leads you to hide from your puppy in the kitchen, crying about poop. Most new puppy parents get puppy blues, and they do eventually fade. Now, for us, eventually meant weeks and weeks, but we’re at the point where I finally like the puppy. Most of the time, anyway.

I credit training to be a huge part of the improvement in her…pleasantness.

Training has also exposed her to a lot of really important things, like having to focus around other dogs, about having to be quiet even when she doesn’t want to, and how to listen, no matter where she is or what she’s doing. She also learned enough to get her first American Kennel Club (yes, the dog show people) training certification. Guys, as of last week, Winnie is a S.T.A.R. Puppy!

And that’s not all! Breaking news reports that after an intense evaluation by a trainer, our own little Winnie-poo (and by extension, me, of course) was accepted into a local program that helps owners who are self-training service dogs. They do all sorts of training events, and gives us access to trainers who have tons of experience with service tasks, let us network with other owners and their service dogs, lets us go places where we wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

So that’s where we are right now. Thanks to this blog project, you’re going to get to hear from me a lot more, and therefore more about Winnie! Coming up will be a List Day about what people might not know about service dogs and after that a post full of pics and videos showing what Winnie’s learned so far, and how she’ll build on it in the future!

Lastly, I know I always open it up to you guys if you have any questions, or want to share your experiences, but I’d also like to ask if you’ve got any experience about being a blogger or a writer (or both!) that you’d like to share to do so!

P.S. For the duration of the Winnie Series I will be including a puppy tax- the most adorable of photos of Winnie, in hopes that the cuteness will make reading about her so much worth it.

Winnie the Service Dog

Sorry I haven’t been around too much, school has been getting busier and busier as the semester goes on, and wait, there’s more!

I’ve had some trouble getting the college to stand behind my accommodations, aka, they saw my diagnoses, declared that there were lots of things they do to make my educational experience fairer, and then tried for months to avoid doing those things.

But sure that’s not all?

Stay tuned next week to see the post about the shocking end to my trip to the audiologist!

But seriously, you clicked on this because you saw the title, and I’m fine with the fact that you’re only here for one thing:

My girl, Winnie.

Jess and I have been talking for months now about the idea of a service dog. The discussion started back in August, in the first few weeks of classes, because she realized that she was getting worried about me being away from her all day, which is legitimate because while I do really well in public, I depend on her a lot to be my backup.

She can tell when I’m about to faint, when my blood sugar is low, and that’s just the medical reasons. She can tell when I’m overstimulated many minutes before I can, and can spot a meltdown from 100 paces. This means that she can intervene before I accidentally get lost or hurt myself. I don’t like to admit it, but things eventually can and do go wrong if I’m on my own without any backup.

Hence the dog. We combed through lists of tasks services that trained dogs can provide, to Autistic people, people with physical health, and people with mental health issues, and we quickly realized that I’d be safer and that she’d worry less if I had a service dog.

There was only one problem.

Going through a company that trains service dogs is hella expensive. And charities that provide dogs to autistic people? Really only cater to kids. So we made a really huge and life-changing decision- to train one ourselves. And don’t look at me like that guys, there’s a lot of resources out there, and we live in a big city with lots of resources! And if she doesn’t have what it takes to be a service dog, we’ll certainly love her anyway!

So, please forgive me if there’s a bit of extra puppy talk in the near future, but I also hope that as I learn about training Winnie to be a service dog, so will you! And if you think that Winnie is just too cute not to see all the time, we’ve made her an Instagram account. You can find her by searching for winnieintraining, or by clicking here @winnieintraining.

(and what the hell, here’s one for the road)