Being Prepared

So much of the news these past few weeks has been focused on the natural disasters happening all over the Atlantic and Gulf areas around and offshore of the US that it got me thinking about how prepared are we for the chance of a natural or nuclear disaster striking us.


I checked our Disaster Evacuation Kit and everything looks good, but after talking to a few experts I realized there were a couple of things I overlooked and it those things I wanted to share with everyone this month.


Get your service dog use to seeing first responders in all types of gear.

One thing that is really helpful to include in your evacuation kit is a list of all your pets and their microchip numbers.  If you and your pets are separated, which could and does happen in spite of best efforts, then you have something that you can pass out to rescue groups and animals shelters.  These groups will be scanning recovered pets and having the information that certain numbers have a traceable owner are really helpful to them.

I never thought to check with my county officials to see if our county had a plan for evacuating pets during an emergency.  We do in fact have a plan in the county where I live and it tells me what the official plan of action will be with regard to my pets if disaster should strike.  I urge you to become familiar with your county’s plan BEFORE something happens so you know where to go with your animals, where to look for them if you are separated, and how to support you county officials handling animal rescue if you so choose to get that involved.

Another thing that cropped up in regard to the theme of this blog this past month as I put many more thousand miles on my van traveling about the country is how little time people prepare their service dogs for emergencies.  People who are self training as well as many non service dog pro trainers helping those folks seem to forget to add in the exercises I feel are a necessary part of a good service dog schooling.

One lesson every service dog should have is how to react in and around first responders, ambulances, and the not-seen-every-day equipment associated with these people.  All the first responders that I have spoken with told me that if a service animal is well mannered and cooperative they have no issue keeping the dog with its person.


Learning to handed off to someone else.

At the first sign of trouble though they will hand the dog off to animal control as their first concern is the well-being of the person.  What this means is you need to practice doing out of sight handoffs to another person the dog is not too familiar with in multiple locations, you need to have other people walk your dog away as you lay down and fake a crisis, you need to have other people be able to tell your dog to do something and they do it willingly.  If you don’t practice this, don’t be surprised if your dog won’t do it.

Another important lesson is how to remain calm in a cage. I know a lot of people do not like cages, crates, whatever you want to call them. However, there will be times when your dog may end up in one and for that reason you should at least train them to:

  1. accept the cage
  2. willingly go into the cage on command
  3. stay there with the door open until told it is Okay to leave

This is not as difficult as it sounds.  Try tossing a treat into the cage at the same time you say a cue word for the dog to enter.  I like the word ‘kennel’ which to my dogs means “go into what I am pointing at”.   As soon as your dog enters and turns around, close the door and wait for them to sit. When they do reach in and reward with a treat.  If they move or try to get out the door closes, if they hold the position they get a treat.  Soon enough the dog figures out that going into the cage and sitting until told to do something else is the way the game works. Mine will do happily many times, I think they rather enjoy the game.

I hope this finds all my friends everywhere safe and sound, in the meantime get prepared in case you do have an emergency.

Tabouli’s Traveling Tips for Flying with a Service Dog

By Debby Kay ©2017 All rights reserved

When you travel by air for the first time with a service dog there are a number of things you need to be aware of as airlines, airports and those associated with these services have many different ideas on what’s right about dogs.   To give you a first-hand view of what to expect and how to prepare, I asked one of my well-traveled service dog friends, Tabouli, for his list of things to remember for your dog.

T in line at airport

Tabouli likes to have his own bag with all his stuff in one place. This might mean an extra baggage charge depending on the airlines. T mat in airport

One way around all this is to have the bag sent ahead by overnight express mail. For the trip you won’t need much other than paperwork (particularly important for overseas flights) and collar, harness, and leash along with your dog’s vest if he wears one. One useful tip is to have a small TSA compliant combination slip lead with no metal on it for going through the metal detector.  Once you are through the detectors you can put on the regular gear.

Tabouli loves the window seat

T out airplane window

Looking out the window at 30,000 feet

because people don’t step over him and since he is a small dog that sits on his person’s lap he gets to rest his head on the arm rest.  Small dogs like small children can sit in the lap and should also be buckled into the seat belt. There are some easy to use devices available online like the EzyDog Seatbelt Restraint for under $10.

One thing Tabouli told me he didn’t like were the service dog relief areas at the airports. They are mostly indoors when available and for a well housebroken dog like him he can’t bring himself to using it.  If your dog is like him then be sure to give your dog lots of time to walk and relieve himself outside before you get to the airport. If I know a puppy is going to be traveling, then I teach them as puppies to use Piddle Pads and to evacuate on command.  To help the dog feel more comfortable you may want to restrict water and food intake to a minimum prior to the flight.

One thing Tabouli experiences a lot are really crowded trains and buses as they are moving from airport terminal to plane and parking lots. T crowded busIt helps if you practice taking your dog to crowded places before you get to the airport so as not to stress your dog out. Catch a bus or subway train as part of preparation for your trip so the dog has at least some experience before the first trip to the airport. Dogs needs are really simple when traveling, the main thing to remember is prepare them by training in places similar to airport situations as much as you can before you fly. Go for walks during rush hour at busy stations or similar places, go to crowded city stores or events, but best of all if you can get to the airport to practice before you actual travel that will go a long way towards alleviating stress for your dog’s first flight.

For more information on flying with dogs visit K9Wings.  Safe travels everyone and a special thank you to Tabouli for sharing his insights.

T on boat

Science and Dog Training.

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

Summer, for me, is a time to enjoy a cool drink on the porch during those relentless hot afternoons that the East coast of the United States experiences. It also gives me a chance to catch up on reading books I’ve meaning to get to. I’ve noticed a trend lately where many people are now referring to science in their writings but not always in ways that do either the science or dog training justice. I am also seeing a lot more trainers advertise “science-based” training and I feel this is a topic that needs clarification.

I was educated and trained as a research scientist and worked many years in the laboratory, and later in administration of several Federal research programs. Working in this environment teaches you to observe, how to identify things that don’t make sense or work to accomplish what it is suppose do. As scientific discoveries are made, others build on those foundations and continue to move the science forward. This is not cheating or stealing others’ work, it is using knowledge of what was discovered, tested, and shown to be a true fact and moving forward and expanding upon that knowledge. That is the way it works in science.

Certainly, many things studied in the scientific community have greatly advanced dog training, dog breeding, and overall dog ownership. While this is true, there is also misuse of this information on many fronts. The biggest misuse I see is taking a work or its conclusions out of context. Scott and Fuller were two major contributors to our understanding of socialization and its impact on dog behavior among other things. So many times, I hear people say you cannot separate


Pups chasing their mom

a mom and her puppies before the age of 49 days because that is the magic number they published. There is no problem taking puppies earlier or later depending on the circumstances and the breed involved. In fact, since that early 1960s work by these two researchers, many others have looked at the various aspects Scott and Fuller established and have elaborated on it, improving our understanding of dogs even more.[1] What has not happened is dog lovers keeping up with the changes in the science.

Many trainers are so eager to try new things regarding scent training, for example, that they don’t bother to completely test their theories out before advertising that dogs can do this, find this, or alert to this or that. So many times, I have seen trainers claim that dogs are sniffing out a medical condition in a person only to test and discover that the alerting the dogs are doing is based more on their keen observations and less on discernable scent changes. I don’t feel it is proper to claim a dog can detect something by smell if you cannot properly isolate or capture the components of the scent for the condition you are asking it to alert to. How can you prove that the dog is alerting to the smell if you can’t even prove you have the stuff he is supposed to be smelling?

While on a recent trip to California to learn more about some bacteria that is causing concern with farmers, one of the first things I ask is can we get a good source of the bacteria? Will it be consistent with what is causing the problem? Also, I need to be assured before I start any new scent detection project that the sniffing will not harm the dog. I hope to be able to obtain some grant money to continue researching the effectiveness of dogs in helping to isolate this bacteria. In the meantime, I will continue to learn as much as I can about it before I ever begin to teach a dog to sniff for it.

I know the average person does not want to spend time reading through very long, dry, and often complex scientific papers to extract a few pearls of facts to use to improve their dogs’ lives and training. However, you can take away from science a few things when training your dog, regardless of what you are training for.

  1. Scientists are good observers and look at all angles of their subject. Watch your dog and observe what he does on his own. What makes him happy? How does he entertain himself? How is it different when you are in the picture?
  2. Don’t keep doing things that don’t work. If you are in a training program and your dog’s behavior is getting worse or he is extremely unhappy, stop and re-assess.
  3. Don’t be afraid to test a theory out, but get all your facts first. Ask for help from more knowledgeable people if you are out of your comfort zone.
  4. Show respect for the work of others, but keep things in context. Not all methods of training work with all dogs or breeds—and you have to keep that in mind. Most trainers are honest and will tell you they don’t work with certain breeds or with dogs that are not, for example, food motivated. Also don’t mix methods and expect good results.
  5. Build on the work of others, but remember to share what you discover so the process can continue to grow for the good of our dogs.

Enjoy your summer with your dog(s) and remember to watch for signs of dehydration and heat stroke. Stay cool!

Arthur Jr sleeping

[1]Just one example recently published is:



3 Tips to Manage Summer with Your Service Dog

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved


Summer can spell disaster for a service dog if you don’t take a few precautions to insure their safety and well-being.  Heat and Hydration are two huge issues that many people over look for themselves so I want to bring these to attention first.   Even short coated dogs are still wearing a fur coat and all dogs “sweat” through their feet and tongues. So when you are walking on a sidewalk and see wet doggy footprints and your dog’s tongue is hanging fully out of his mouth and is bright red, you have a dog that is overheating. It never ceases to amaze me how many times I have stopped people with dogs to point this out and they seem oblivious to such obvious signs.  Should you see these signs, stop walking, seek shade or a cool place, and get your dog cool – not cold- water.

SS_WV_July2016_ - 219Hot sun on black pavement can create a situation where your dog’s pads can get burnt.    The same for very hot sand at the beach.  If you have to walk your dog out in these places you may want to try protective boots for their feet.  I carry an umbrella to protect me and my dog from the sun too, if you do this make sure to have one big enough to cover you both.  Also if you put boots on the dog don’t forget to take them off as soon as you can. Remember that dog’s sweat through their feet and the boots will not allow for cooling.

About water during the summer, the key is to keep it cool and not ice cold.  I remember one person at a dog show on a very hot day feeding their dog ice cubes and icy cold water to keep him cool and the dog was very sick that night.  They will be panting very hard but cool them gradually and don’t force ice down them. It is much better to put cool towels over their neck to bring the temperature back to normal.


Try to walk in shady areas when you can.

Many people forget to swap out their winter service vest with a cooler lighter one for the summer.  I suggest a harness with straps rather than a cape that will trap heat.  If you like the cape look and want to keep it, try a cape made of mesh material instead.  Depending on your dog’s tolerance of heat you may just opt for collar tags and no vest. Remember the ADA does not require a service dog to wear a vest.


Be aware of pavement temperatures!

A few other suggestions are to keep your outside walking errands to early morning, early evening after the sun goes down or of very short duration.  Avoid things like outdoor concerts or events that are in full sun with no shade or on hot streets.  If you must go, try and plan breaks where the dog can cool down before you continue.

I let me dogs spend a good deal of time outside at home so they acclimate to the weather outside. They have access to shade but learn to adapt to the temperatures with less stress.  By keeping them fit and trim they can also deal better with the heat.  Fat overweight dogs of any breed or age cannot deal with the temperatures outside as easily as a lean fit dog.

This summer promises to be a hot one, take care with your dog, whether service or companion, so you both can enjoy the time you have together.

Dog Manners Matter– 5 Tips to Improve Your Public Appearances

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

I am seeing more and more so called service dogs appearing in public with very poor manners and feel the image they are giving service dogs is not a positive one. So I felt for this month’s blog I would offer up 5 tips for making the image you portray in public a little more positive.

One issue for many dogs living in our urban culture is controlling the urge to rush over and greet another of their species when they pass on the street.  Dogs are sociable and they love to greet new dogs, sniff butts and get the latest scoop on where the other guy has been.  Humans often handle these urges in the wrong manner causing their dog to become more dog reactive in many cases.  For service dogs in particular, they need to stay focused on their job and must exhibit exemplary manners at all times so there can be no interaction with other dogs in public while “on the job”.   To teach your dog to be less reactive you need to practice around other dogs.

a group of service dogs prating manners in a store

Practicing in public with other dogs is important

The best way to do this is pick a dog friendly store, such as a pet shop, and find a few willing friends with dogs to help.  Everyone goes into the store at different times and mills around, passing each other often as they go up and down isles.  I have my students periodically sit their dogs while they pretend to shop and the other dog passes by.  The SD should not move or attempt to interact with the passing dog. If the SD tries to interact, the handler should try to preempt the move by asking the dog to “watch me”.   If the dog is properly trained to look up at the handler on this cue, then they should look up thus missing the dog walking by and maintaining the sit stay.  If your timing is not too good it might take a bit of practice on your part to get this down but it is one worth practicing.  Soon when your dog sees another dog approaching he will be looking at you and not the other dog.

Eating out with a dog can be a challenge too. When you go to a restaurant or bar try to find a table out of the way or in a corner so the dog can relax without being near a lot of foot traffic.  Some people carry mats so their dogs can have a “place” to stay on. This is great for several reasons; it reminds the dog not to move from the defined place but also keeps him clean from dirty floors. Training for this can be done then at home by putting the mat in various places in the house and practicing longer and longer stays on it.  If the dog moves off the mat, replace them there firmly but with no anger and no second command. Start out with short stays and work up to longer stays, always vary the amount of time when training.

service dog resting under table on place mat

showing a good stay on his place mat.

Shopping carts seem to be an issue with many dogs I witness in public. First off I don’t believe the dogs should be riding in the cart. Even my Chihuahua Boo when we go shopping at the nursery for plants does not ride in the cart. He maintains his position by me as we peruse the isle for new additions to the garden.  This is just an exercise you need to practice and that practice should be in public.  I find stores with cart collection spots outside in the parking area, go by and grab one and practice in the parking area as well as on the sidewalks outside the store.  It might take several weeks of practice before the dog gets comfortable walking with the cart but with repetition, praise and an occasional treat for a job well done they will soon get the idea.

Walking in crowds where people have shopping bags swinging about is a situation where I have seen dogs bolt, bark or worse snap at the offending shopper and their bags.  Training a dog to be non-reactive in this situation is a matter of conditioning.  I will start with many shopping bags on the ground spaced just far enough apart that we can walk through them. I will weave around while having the dog heel beside me but will also practice stops where the dog has to sit with the bag actually touching them.  When they are confident with this I will have friends come by and pick up the bags and now walk about the area as I weave with the dog between them.  As the dog becomes more confident I will add in the final test and that is to have all my friends and myself and the dog squeeze into a small space about the size of an elevator.  You can make that space with barriers if you don’t have an empty closet to practice in or an elevator handy.  The idea is the dog is just go with you and not be bothered by people and shopping bags.

brown dog sitting next to shopping cart

Learning to be clam around carts takes practice

The final tip for those seeking to polish their SD performance in public concerns jumping on people. I know everyone is proud of their dog and it is great that the public wants to pet your dog but once you allow this your dog will expect to be the center of attention in public. That is opposite of what we want and need from a SD. A well trained SD should be ignoring the public and focusing on their person. They have a job to do and cannot do it if they are greeting the public.  Be firm with people not petting your dog; explain he is working and needs to focus on his job.  During training I use every situation I can think of to set the dog up with people distractions.  This might include children at the playground, people calling the dog, people rushing up to the dog and speaking in an excited high pitched voice.  I ask my helpers that if the dog gets to them before I can divert him, they should turn around and ignore the dog as soon as he approaches. At that point I call the dog back to heel and ask for a “watch me”.  This is another point of manners training that just takes a lot of repetition to get the dog to ignore whatever the other people are doing while he is on duty.

Service dogs are allowed special access where other dogs cannot go and feel if that is the case they should have exemplary manners above and beyond the annoying untrained pet dog. I hope if you are training or have a SD you will continue to train all the time perfecting those manners so everyone admires your team and you set the example for others to follow.

Whats in a Name?

by Debby Kay, all rights reserved

Several things have happens in the past couple of weeks that suggested I write this months blog about the meaning of names, in particular breeding names. I get many phone calls each week about puppies and choosing a dog for certain jobs and as a result I hear a good many stories about calls to breeders, kennels, and pedigrees.  One of the more common comments I also hear is “…its all so confusing!”

A kennel name can be one of two things.  The most common thing you will see today is for a person(s) to set up a kennel business which has to have a proper name to operate under and obtain a business license.  Then you can have the breeder who has chosen a special word, either contrived or one that has a special meaning to them that is used as a prefix when registering a dog or litter of puppies. The business name and prefix may be the same, but often they are not. Some people will use their own last names for this purpose.  As long as your name is unique this can be a good way to promote your breeding. The whole idea with a prefix when breeding is to identify where a dog comes from, so especially when reading a pedigree someone who is familiar with the breeding kennels for a particular breed can tell what to expect from a particular pedigree.

A prefix on a dog’s name should stand for something; the values and ideals of the breeder. Every breeder has their own interpretation of what makes up the ideal of the breed they are working with. That viewpoint is a very individual and personal thing which is why breeding names are not used again when a breeder passes away or decides to retire.  This is not always something that is covered by the laws, it is done on an honor system.  In today’s climate I often see people snubbing this age old tradition while seeking to cash in on someone else reputation. Not cool and in my book a red flag.FiKissesPup

For those people who are buying puppies or dogs all this can be difficult to sort through.  It is helpful to find people who are happy with the dogs they have bought from the kennel you are checking out. It gives you a chance to see if they had a positive experience as well as check out the dog and see if that is what you are wanting.  Make sure also that the name(s) on the business license are the same as the breeder’s name on your dogs registration papers.  Check the paper trail. Not difficult to do and worth the small effort as in the case a year ago when a person thought they were buying a puppy from an advertised kennel and the breeder was someone else altogether, not the kennel owner who was making it appear that they were selling the puppy from their own kennel stock.

The other thing I hear a lot is people looking for English Labradors or American Labradors. Well folks the truth is there is one breed known and registered, it is the Labrador Retriever.  These contrived terms are mere marketing ploys and are NO GUARANTEE that you are getting something in particular.  In other words those adjectives mean nothing at all.  There are many styles of Labrador Retrievers just tell someone what you are looking for, look at the photographs they post on their websites or send you, and then finally look at the parents face to face to be sure this is the style you want. The pups will generally be very similar to their parents.  If you have tall thin boned lanky parents you will not get a heavy boned block headed puppy from that breeding. I’m not saying like begets like all the time but the trend in a breeding is to be similar to the parents and extremes from their style is not something that is likely to happen.

Take your time shopping for that new puppy or dog, do your research and ask lots of questions.  If someone is not interested in answering your questions you should take that as a hint and go elsewhere. There are many breeders out there, it may be difficult to filter through them but this is a lifelong partner you are bringing home, take your time it will be worth it in the end.




Adventures from South Africa

By Debby Kay © 2017 All rights reserved

As our Land Cruiser slowly inched across the rocky terrain the sun began to rise to take away the evening chill.  Soon the driver stopped by a daunting cliff making like a natural rock terrace overlooking the reservoir.  This was the main water source for all the animals for miles around.  Carefully they filed in to get their fill before heading out forging.  It did not seem like there was much here to support life yet hundreds of animals, many of them quite large, called this home.

Our guide laid out a cloth, mugs of hot coffee, and tins filled with fresh baked muffins and cookies.  Even my dull sense of smell was aroused with the waifs of blueberry and warmed raisins. I was not the only one however that took interest in the feast before us.  From the crevice of a boulder emerged an elephant shrew, so named for their proboscis like extension of a nose. eshrewsmThe shrew was nervous about the human presence but we all held quite still and soon he got enough nerve to come closer to the bit of crumbs the guide had tossed on the rock. Using his “trunk” he carefully sniffed the crumbs before snatching them up then scurrying away.  As if a signal, a chorus of several different species of birds soon appeared to get whatever the shrew had found so inviting.  The parade of marauders made for pleasant entertainment during our coffee break.

After cleaning up we began to trek down through this mountain gorge to the other side to an overhand of rock about the size of a midsize sedan.  At this spot the sandstone had cleaved in such a manner that it made a curved semi cave like shelter with large boulders to either side as further protection from the wind and weather.

As I took that like step then looked up, before me was a mural of 10,000-year-old bushman cave art.  We studied the figures one by one as our guide talked about the lost culture of the nomadic hunter gathering Sans tribe of bushman.  Here was the story of a hunting party and some of the events surrounding it. These people traveled with the migrating herds and changing seasons over a large area of southern Africa. They had learned over time all the natural signals for the coming of rains, the main signal that young will be born and there will be an abundance of food.  As the tribes moved about on these migratory routes they seemingly had favorite caves they frequented where murals were left to mark their passing.img_6375

Over my limited days here I looked at other cave drawings and learned more about survival in this forsaken land of extremes. The strategies adopted by the smallest of carnivorous insects, birds, plants, even the endangered fish of the area were all evolved to fill a niche that somehow maintained a rich diversity of life in spite of the semi arid conditions.

The area where we were studying the cave drawings was also home to a preservation program for the nearly extinct and quite rare Rock Mountain Zebra.  These stunning creatures live in small family groups with one stallion and a handful of mares.  The battles between stallions can become quite brutal and we saw one fella lose a tail over his fight to keep his ladies.  These sentinel males will stay in the background always alert to danger and will run at the back of the herd as protection against any attackers.

Weaverbirds caught my attention with their lovely woven orbs of a nest decorating the trees as iimg_6362f for the holidays.  The males will spend days preparing just the right home in
hopes that a rimg_5975eceptive female will approve it and allow him to mate.  It seems the skill is learned and they will get better at it as time goes on, in the meantime a male lacking sufficient skills might be a bachelor for several seasons until he gets things right. This whole ecosystem is harsh and unforgiving, anyone who lives here fights daily for existence but they have learned to use the strengths of others to increase their chances for survival.  I spent the hours I had here watching in awe at all these dramas unfold.  As I learned and studied life both present and past in the area I was reminded how the lessons of the Bushman’s land echo the lessons of our own struggles in modern society.

I would not be true to my nature if I traveled and failed to observe and report on the indigenous dogs of the area.  I was particularly keen to learn about the native dogs of Africa where many modern breeds that I judge at shows claim as the continent of their origins.  As it turns out there is a dog here known all over the continent as the Africanis who until relatively recently was left to evolve without the muddling of the gene pool by humans.  These dogs I learned evolved from the primeval Levantine wolf stock and were untouched by human manipulation for over 7,000 years. They are what I envision as the dogs that early humans formed a hunting pact with which transformed both the canine and human’s survival to today.  I regret I was not able to go out with the local tribesmen on a hunting party however I was fortunate enough to add a rare book to my collection documenting several decades of study of the Africanis by a well-known African canologist[1].

img_6427The thing that will strike you about these dogs is the how remarkably well built they are. There are no poor gaits, any poor structure has been weeded out long ago as evidenced by the perfect, effortless trotting I watched from every dog that I saw.  There is more uniformity than you might think for a race that nature selected.  The sizes do have some range to them but that is more dependent on the region where the dogs come from and appears to be an adaptation to that local environment. As I have noticed with other breeds in colder and more mountainous environments the dogs here have shorter and heavier of bone with denser coats to ward off the cold relative to the plain dwelling dogs.  The plain dwelling dogs are normally of the racier body build with longer, thinner legs.  Ear types will vary but the large prick ear seems to be the most dominate.  If there is any pressure from humans on the selection of breeding stock at all it will be against those dogs that molest stock that the tribes might tend.  The dogs are expected to tolerate the stock and leave it alone. Their job of hunting is quite specific and any dog that persists in pestering stock is taken care of without reservation.  Food is scarce and sacred in this harsh bush country and stock is precious for survival.

The main purpose of my trip was to help a new charity get off the ground in medical alert training of dogs.  As it turns out one of the dogs that will be entering the diabetes alert program here is a rescued Africanisthumbnail_fullsizerender I think she might do quite well, her nose never quit sampling the air the whole time I was evaluating her for training.  I was able to look at several other Africanis at a local rescue shelter that I also felt had potential.  I will be very keen to learn of their progress as training proceeds with the local trainer.   My month in South Africa has been a wonderful blend of work and study with a splash of sightseeing, wine sampling and beach combing.  I’ve come away with an even stronger conviction that the dogs we so love, that help us daily with their special skills are a precious gift from nature.  They very well could have chosen to not partner with early humans and I am sure as I saw from the Africanis, they would have done quite well.  Certainly much better than humans left to their own.

[1] The Story of the African Dog by Johan Gallant, University of Natal Press, 2002