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

3 Common Communication Mistakes Dog Handlers Make


I was beginning to think I was the only one noticing, until a friend mentioned that she noticed that people are not communicating with each other as much these days. I know that might seem like an odd statement with all of us connected via social media, texting, and emailing all the time, but it really does seem that something is being lost in today’s media rich-world with personal communication. When communications break down between people, it can lead to hurt feelings, fights, distrust, and eventual disengagement between the parties. Not surprisingly, this also happens between our dogs and between our dogs and us. In this blog, I want to look at some examples of how to communicate better with each other and with our dogs.

As a trainer and instructor, I am in a position where I must be clear with my clients and students as to what I need them to do with their dogs in order to be successful in either handling the dogs or training them. What is more important in my mind is that we are clear in communicating to the dog what we want or need them to do for us.

One common mistake I see is that the leash handling is telling the dog one thing while the human is saying something opposite of the intent of the leash handling. When teaching the dog to walk on a loose leash what I most often see is people with a death grip on the leash and so much tension the poor dog is sure there is something wrong. When I mention this to people they realize the dog’s leash is taunt in their hands and give some slack only to wrap the remainder of the lead around their hand! If the lead is not totally loose and held in a relaxed manner the dog will not learn to walk on a loose lead. To show people what I mean I will take the lead from them, gently drape it over my fingers with my arm very relaxed by my side and take off walking. Many of the previously tugging dogs will simply go along and follow me, some might take off in which case I can grip the end of the lead before they jerk it out of my hand and turn around and walk off in the opposite direction from which they were headed. After 4 or 5 minutes of this, almost all dogs will begin to walk beside me with the leash very casually draped over my fingers. No tension (person) = no tension (dog).

Another common miscommunication I see is with the word DOWN.


Boo showing the “Down”


English is a difficult language for humans, let alone dogs that are trying to learn it. You need to establish one meaning for the word and STICK TO IT! I have to emphasize that last point, as this is where the problems really occur, if you teach it to mean one thing then start adding in nuances that you want the dog to understand. They just don’t well with things like that so keep it simple. I like to teach “DOWN = go into a position where your body is lying down on the ground.” I use OFF instead of DOWN for “get off the furniture or off me,” etc.

The last common miscommunication I see is people not reading their dogs correctly. With the medical alert dog training a key part of the training is to teach the dog to give a very clear signal that an “event” is happening with their person. For a diabetes alert dog this would be a change in blood glucose, for example. This alert needs to be clear and unmistakably related to the event the dog is trained to alert to. What often happens however is the dog is trying to tell the person what is happening and the person is not paying attention. If, for example, your dog never bugs you about anything and all of sudden starts to pester you, your first thought should be he/she is trying to tell you something. Many people miss this and believe the dog is trying to be a pest. I see this all the time with housebreaking issues with puppies but it is particularly critical with the medical alert dogs. To overcome this situation, start from the beginning of training to set limits on how and when the dog can touch you. You would not want an alert dog to have a trick of “give me your paw,” or a cue to go outside to relieve themselves by pawing at you. In training the medical alert dogs, save any bodily contact with you for their work. If this rule is adhered to, you can be assured if the dog then comes to you he is telling you something is not normal.

TabouliHeadstudyRecently I got a message from a trainer in my program about a diabetes alert dog. The message relayed that the dog jumped up on her person’s bed (which she is not allowed to sleep on) and started licking the mouth of her person and pawing at him to wake him up. He did not get up, but the commotion woke up someone else in the house who did get the person up. When the glucose level was checked, it was quite low. This was good communication on the part of the dog, clearly not the dog’s normal behavior, and easily recognized, as being a signal that something is wrong. This behavior was well rewarded and hopefully will continue as the dog transitions from training to living with her diabetic person.

If you have not taken the time to read up on dog body language andGolden_Doodle_Running signals, I urge you to browse some titles at the local dog book store or check out some videos on You Tube so you can become familiar with what the dog is saying to you. They certainly take the time to learn all the nuances of our body language, we owe it to them to try and learn theirs.

The Shocking Truth About Service Dog Trainin

By Debby Kay ©September 2015 all rights reserved

After a recent discussion about the complication of service dog training with a fellow pro trainer I wanted to devote this month’s blog to the topic. It appears that when we compared notes about discussions with other non-service dog trainers there are several common misconceptions about this type of dog training.

This will probably come as a shock to some people, but training a service dog is a lot more than teaching a dog to sit, stay, down, and come. It is true that service dog manners in public under all situations must be the very best possible in canine performance, but there is so much more to service dog training than good obedience training, and this is where I think many trainers might have a misunderstanding about this type of training. I would like to look a three points in particular that may help to clarify things.

The human element in any type of dog training is always one of the more challenging points for a dog to deal with, but the service dog trainer has an added component to this challenge and that is the medical condition of the dog’s handler. Depending on what this condition is and how the individual is affected can play a huge part in the long-term success of the team. Many of the illnesses that drive people to seek a dog for assistance are not as clear and uncomplicated as, for example, being deaf. Take the case of someone who has gone blind from having diabetes. This combination can create instances where a dog is being asked to do two jobs at one time and requires a special dog to handle the tasks. There can be complications from the diabetes that also have to be taken into consideration when a trainer is preparing a dog for someone. Both handler and trainer need to remember that the dog never replaces proper medical protocol. These dogs, however, are certainly a great additional asset to the people who comes to depend on them for many things to help make their life more comfortable. It is often difficult to keep the new handler’s perspective in focus on the fact that this wonderful new asset they have is still a dog, with all the mundane requirements of a dog, not the least of which is regular maintenance training.

There is another aspect of the human here that many of the dog trainers also do not realize and that is the very personal nature of service dog training. girl walking a service dog in a storeBy this I mean that you develop a very close and personal relationship with your service dog client and for some dog trainers this is an uncomfortable situation. This affiliation continues beyond the initially placement of the trained dog with the individual as you help the new team develop their bond with each other. Often you as the trainer will get caught up in their medical crisis and will have to be there to take the dog back as they grapple with all the complications of living with their medical issues. This can create a stress for the dog trainer that is beyond what they normally experience in their business and if unprepared it can create problems. I do not know of any way to avoid this, it is just something that a service dog trainer has to prepare for and accept as part of the service they will be providing to the client.

The final point I want to make about service dog training is that the obedience training and special task training that goes into these dogs is not like teaching a pet dog cute tricks. Often the special skills taught to these dogs are life-saving actions for the people who have them. They need to be performed by the dog all the time, under any circumstance, and often in the presence of a sick person who cannot guide them. When a trainer assumes the responsibility of the dog’s training they need to have a full understanding of the person’s need for each and every particular dog skill they will be teaching the dog. One thing I have learned in training service dogs is this will not be the same for every person. But more importantly, the dogs need to learn to carry out their tasks in spite of the person they are helping. For example, a person may be having a medical crisis and completely not be thinking of the dog at the time but will still need that dog to stay with them and perform whatever task(s) are appropriate. This is not something that is easy to train, and often for a service dog trainer it will mean training in the middle of the night or under other unusual circumstances.

Relationship with clients are very intense when you train service dogs.

Relationship with clients are very intense when you train service dogs.

In conclusion, to say you train service dogs if you are a dog trainer should mean you are knowledgeable enough about medical conditions to know how to train the dogs to best help the person they will be paired with and also willing to get more personally involved with the team. There is a lifetime commitment here that is indeed very special. As my friend and I concluded our discussion, we were sobered by the fact that this past year we both had lost clients who had become dear friends to their illnesses, a reminder of the somber nature of this work.

5 Things to Remember When Picking the Right Puppy for Service Dog Work

For those who follow the Chilbrook Labradors on Facebook you know that this month my litter of puppies from Gillie and Cookie has turn 8 weeks old. At this age they are starting to leave for their new homes which means it is time for me to decide which ones from the litter will be sorted out to be the next generation of service dogs. I am often asked how do you decide which ones to pick? I have 5 general guidelines when picking a purebred puppy for the medical alert service dog work that I would like to share with you. Some of this applies to adult dogs and even rescues but I am focusing in this blog on the pups.

The first thing I look at is the pedigree; who are the parents and what do they represent and bring to the litter in the way of temperament, structure and trainability. The pedigree when analyzed will tell you the approximate size the puppy will end up being. It will give you hints of possible working traits that you might need for the particular situation the pup will be in training for. The pedigree will also be your best indication of inherited health risks. When you study the pedigree compared to the public database at you can see production records and gather information to help calculate the inheritance of traits. I get pretty serious about all this and yes it does require higher math skills and probably is a lot more than the average person wants to know but at the very least you can look at a pedigree and determine the following:

  1. Do all the parents and grandparents at a minimum have health clearances appropriate for the breed. [1]
  2. How many of the dogs in the pedigree have produced working service dog offspring?
  3. How many dogs in the pedigree have some sort of performance title or have been tested and certified for some other job?

The more dogs you see in the pedigree that have produced pups that have qualified as service dogs at some capacity, the better. It goes without saying that the more complete the health clearances on the relatives in the pedigree the better chance that a pup from the litter will be healthy.

The next thing I want to do is get the pups out into an area that they know and just watch them interact. The more distractions, obstacles, and things that the puppies can interact with the better you will be able to see something about their character. Here is a short video of the litter interacting with their environment.

When I am looking at pups in this situation I want to see who instigates the charge into a new area, who is confident-clumsy-careful on new surfaces, obstacles or around new people or dogs present. How are they interacting with the things they find? Do they give it a once over and walk away? Or do they stay and engage, exploring all the angles of whatever they have encountered. How many times does it take to learn a new behavior? If they fall or have a negative experience what do they do? I want a pup that is bold but not too bold, confident but not a bully, one that is a thinker and is not satisfied until they have learned everything about a new encounter, and one that is not too sensitive-who recovers well from anything that happens.

The third area I look at is how those same pups act now in a totally new environment. I will look for all the same things and compare to my notes from the previous area. Consistency of character speaks volumes to me and rarely do I find that a pup that is the same in all the testing situations will ever fail me in training.

Once I have done the above with the litter, I will bring the pups inside one at a time to a small area, preferably one they don’t know. Before the pup comes in, I will put out a smelly container of canned cat food someplace in the area where it is not too obvious. It is best if you can put it under a plastic milk crate or something similar. I bring the pup in, put it down, and say nothing. What I am looking for is the pup that once it gets its bearings, the nose starts and it just has to track down that tempting smell. The pup that does not stop until it finds it and then persists at trying to figure out how to get the food out from under the crate gets high marks here.

The final test is what I call the snuggle test.

baby cuddled against a young pup

The Snuggle Test will determine a lot about a future SD

We are all finished and it is just me and the pup, do they come and snuggle with me and settle down for a nap in my lap or beside me, or do they go off someplace away from me to do so? How does the pup look at me, what does the pup do to get my attention? A puppy that sits and looks at me in a thoughtful way, interacts by snuggling when I talk to them will get high marks from me in this area. Medical alert dogs are such a part of someone’s life they have to have that connection with people from the start to make the best results from the training. Sure, training and feeding a dog will help it bond with you but if the pup is connected to people strongly from the beginning before any training you are just that much further ahead. You can always pick out a headstrong independent dog with this little test and if nothing else, just being able to avoid a dog like that makes the test worth doing.

[1] This information can be found on the website under the specific breeds

Evaluating Medical Alert Dogs

I recently hosted an intense hands-on workshop at my kennels for dog professionals that want to train dogs to help people with medical issues. Most of the trainers were there to learn more about the diabetes alert dog program but we also had trainers interested in seizure alerting (not to be confused with response dogs), Crones disease alerting, and allergen detection dogs. In order to make this workshop the most meaningful for these trainers I brought in a bunch of dogs at all different levels of training for these various detection jobs. A good part of the dogs came from a request I put out to those service dog users I knew. We would offer free training for their dogs, for the time of the workshop, to help anyone having problems. There was a great response and we got dogs at all levels of proficiency; half the dogs at the workshop ended up being owner trained.

Dog trainers usually have strong personalities; this comes from many years of taking charge of unruly dogs. But this group of trainers proved to be more than what you might think of a dog trainer in general, they were truly educators. It became very apparent early into the workshop that everyone was here because they cared passionately about the dogs and they truly wanted to use their skills and abilities as dog trainers to help educate people who were now asking the dogs in their lives to do more than sleep by the fireplace on a cold night. It was quite moving when people came to pick up the dogs how much time these trainers spent with the owners to help them understand the issues the dogs were having and what to do about it. The owners shared with us how very difficult it is to manage their conditions and train a dog at the same time. This sharing was valuable so trainers could devise exercises to fit a person’s life style and abilities, and show them things they could easily incorporate into their daily routine. The learning went both ways and was one of the best exchanges I have witnessed.

Overall the owners did a great job with the training of their dogs. As we worked the dogs both in the classroom and out on the streets however patterns appeared in the dog’s behavior that were clues to a few deficiencies in their training.

Pulling on the leash and lack of attention were near the top as two big problems. When we randomly passed off scent samples to the handlers to see if the dogs would alert in the new settings, the owner-trained dogs had more trouble focusing enough to find the scent sample when there were high distractions. Once the dogs were stopped and worked a little with the high distraction, they were able for the most part able to settle down enough to work a few repetitions of finding the scent sample.   The high distractions proved time and again to be the undoing of many of the dogs. It took work on the part of the trainers to get the dogs to settle down. I can understand this concept of working in public with some really strong distractions is something most people training their own dog would not think to do.

I made a short list to help people remember when they are out training with their dogs to look for some of the following circumstances, then work your dog there until the dog is comfortable and reliable in alerting there.

  1. In the store in a narrow isle where people are going by with shopping carts.
  2. In a store with machinery operating, such a lumber yard with forklifts.
  3. On the streets near the fire station when the alarm sounds.
  4. At a train station.
  5. In a park where there are a lot of pigeons and squirrels. I throw out treats for the critters first and get them all around eating when I start training with the dog.
  6. At a ball game or other sports event.

Simple things like this are so valuable to the dog’s education. If the dog is not relaxed in a novel environment they are not going to have the focus to be able to do their job at detecting whatever smell they are trained to alert on. This type of training is something you need to practice at least 4 or 5 times a week with your young dog. If you are raising your own puppy, after a year of constant exposure to new places, sights, and sounds your dog would be exposed enough that he should do his job no matter where you take him.

The pulling on the leash problem is something that should be avoided while training the new puppy. They should learn from the beginning not to pull on the leash either by you stopping when they get to the end of the leash and not moving again until they return to your side, or by letting them hit the end of the leash while charging out away from you. Stopping short like this usually gets their attention and they will return to you, at which time you reward with a nice treat and kind words. Quickly, pups will learn where the best spot is for near you. Practicing loose leash walking with the younger pups in many new areas with loads of distractions ensures they do not get so excited when going places they pull on the leash. It takes a lot of daily practice.

A group of service dogs walking down a town street

Learning to loose leash walk in town with lots of distractions

If you are training your own dog you are going to have to make the time, even if that means you make an appointment with yourself. Later when you go back to these places with a scent sample for training your dog should have enough focus so as not to miss the presence of the sample.

We also saw the dogs coming in with a wide array of equipment some of which was very ineffective. I remember when I was a youngster in my father’s workshop. He had at least 8 different types of hammers. I could not understand why so many until he explained that each one is designed for a different job. The same is true of collars, leashes and harnesses. I would not expect an owner trainer to understand the differences any more than my father expected me to understand the different types of hammers. This might be an area though where an owner handler can benefit from working with a pro trainer; they will know the equipment that is best for your dog. Be prepared to change equipment too as the dog continues to grow and develop. For puppies a well fitting buckle collar, appropriately sized 6-foot leash, and a 20-foot light line are a good start. Having a treat bag that you can snap on when you pick up the leash to take your puppy out is also something to consider when you are buying equipment. My pouch has a separate area for my clicker and treats and another zippered place for keys and pick up bags.

Speaking of pick up bags, it is important that your dog know how to eliminate on command, on a leash, or on pavement. If you are training your own dog and starting with a puppy, make sure you walk your puppy on a leash when they go outside to potty. Put the act of them doing something to a cue word, praise and treat when they are done and clearly convey to the pup that you are very pleased with them. Teaching the pup to go on surfaces other than grass is simply a matter of taking them to a new area (gravel, sand, pavement) and giving your cue word, waiting patiently then praising profusely when they finally eliminate. This will be a lifesaver many times over when you are traveling or going places where grass may be off limits or non-existent. It is a simple element easy to forget to teach.

We all felt the workshop was successful, the trainers learned new techniques, the dogs benefited from experienced hands on their leash, the owners that generously shared their dogs with us got some terrific free advise and training, the trainers got priceless feedback and knowledge on the lives diabetics and others living with chronic diseases experience, and many new friendships were made. I feel very grateful to work with such a dedicated group of trainers who really care about helping people get the best from their relationship with their working dog and to know so many dedicated owner handler trainers as well. Many of the pro trainers are diabetics or have family members that are diabetic or suffer from some other disease that has drawn them to working and training with service dogs. All of them have decades of experience in training and living with dogs. Everyone had the same goal as I do, which is to share our knowledge of dogs with those who need help with their dog. Keep up the great work everyone!