Interview with a trainer at The American Canine Academy where Frijole was trained as a Hearing Assistant Dog.
A series of steps are involved in choosing a dog, getting it the appropriate training, and finding yourself with the right one to serve you as an Assistant or Service Dog. Fortunately, my husband Tom had a lead through a friend of mine at work who had a litter of puppies from a therapy dog. I brought, "Frijole," our little Mini-Pin/Chihuahua mix dog home and the process started from there.
Dogs that are trained to assist persons with hearing loss in their everyday lives. Their duties generally include notifying the hard of hearing or deaf person by alerting them to a variety of sounds such as a door knock or doorbell, alarm clock, oven buzzer, telephone, baby cry, name call or smoke alarm.
Our intention was to have Frijole trained as a Hearing Assistant Dog. As a puppy, he had some growing up to do first - he couldn't even jump onto the landing by the front door, which is only about 4 inches high, when I first brought him home; he weighed just over 1 pound. After he reached the age of 8 months and a whopping 7 pounds, as well as the abilities to jump on the couch and chase the cats, we searched for an appropriate place to train him. The place we found was the American Canine Academy, which is located in northern Denver. We found ourselves connected to Becca, a trainer at their facility.
The American Canine Academy, Frijole, and Previous Behavior
The American Canine Academy is one of Colorado's original Board and Train programs, having been in business since the year 1990. The program interested Tom and I because we live in a home on the 4th floor, Tom experiences various forms of disabilities, and I am out of the home five days a week. The tasks we want Frijole to perform include basic obedience, but also ones related to hearing assistance for Tom. Becca assured us these goals could be met.
Frijole is destined to be a service dog, yet he is still my, 'puppy-stuff.' We were both concerned about the amount of time he would be away, as well as the environment he would be in while he was at the American Canine Academy. The facility made sure he was taken care - they have professional trainers, but they also have vet tech's and dog behaviorists. The facility itself is climate-controlled and dual-fenced; there is a person on the site at all times, 24/7. Becca even sent us a picture of Frijole in his dog run to ease our concerns.
While Frijole was at the American Canine Academy he learned a series of commands. The commands he learned related to basic obedience are not only voice commands - they are associated with hand signals as well, giving Tom a great advantage where hearing impairment is concerned. One of the challenges Tom faces is, 'white noise,' or environments where loud or background noises, 'wash out,' the voices or other more important sounds his hearing aids are trying to pick up.
Before Frijole went to the Academy, he would bark at the door ceaseless. He would bark at other people and other dogs. He would chase the cats, who would then chase him (oh my...). On a leash, Frijole instantly became a little sled dog, fit for the Alaskan Sled Dog Frontier. Frijole was; in short, a wild little thing - cute though he is.
What First Attracted You To Working with Dogs Becca
Tom asked Becca a series of questions related to her work with the American Canine Academy. He wanted to know what first attracted her to working with dogs, and Becca said she has always loved dogs and wanted to work with them in some regard. Becca said, "For a while, I considered taking the medical route and becoming a veterinarian, but being involved in dog 4-H as a kid helped me realize that I really like the behavioral side of things a lot more (as well as experiencing an embarrassing moment when I passed out while trying to watch a dog be spayed at a vet clinic). After getting my degree in Psychology in 2007, I attended Triple Crown Dog Academy in Hutto, TX to achieve my dream of becoming a certified dog trainer."
Why Did You Choose to Work with The American Canine Academy
When Tom was very young, around 8 years old, he had a horse named, 'Billy,' and a pony named, 'Susy.' He also had two dogs - 'Tilda,' and, 'Stormy.' Animals have always been important in his life. With an understanding of Becca's love for animals, he also understands that Becca's training and experience could have found her working anywhere she wanted. He wondered what led Becca to the American Canine Academy in particular.
Becca responded, "During my interview with American Canine Academy, it was important to figure out if our philosophies and training styles resonated with one another. I felt like I could answer their questions with ease, that I was a strong candidate for what they were looking for, and that working there would provide me with the perfect opportunity to get a lot of hands on experience with a variety of dog breeds and temperaments. It was a win-win situation!"
What is Your Perspective on the Training of Service Dogs Becca
People with Disabilities use Service Dogs for many different reasons. The next question Tom asked was related to Becca's perspectives on the training of Service Dogs. Becca stated that she has heard it described that a service dog should be fairly, 'invisible,' while they are performing duties out and about in public. She says that what this means is a Service Dog's manners should be impeccable, and that they should adapt to their surroundings no matter where they are.
Becca also said, "Temperament plays a large role in the success of this, as well as the training of each individual dog. Just like people vary, some dogs are more cut out to do this work than others are. There is obviously a large component of obedience training that an ADA service dog needs to have, but then there are going to be additional tasks and jobs that a service dog may learn depending on what kind of aid he/she provides for the person with a disability."
Does the Size of a Service Dog Matter
One of the decisions Tom and I had to make concerning an Assistant Dog involved the size of the dog. Many Service Dogs come from breeds such as Labrador or Golden Retrievers, for example. Due to the fact that we live in a 4th floor home, as well as certain Home Owner Association rules forbidding animals who weigh more than 50 pounds, we chose Frijole. Tom asked Becca if the size or breed of a dog matters where training to become a Service or Assistant Dog is concerned.
In regards to the size of Service Dogs Becca responded, "With all of the various kinds of service dogs there are in our world today, their size and breed can vary a lot. A person with physical limitations likely needs a dog large enough to switch a light on and off or assist in a transaction at a grocery store, a visually impaired person may also need a large dog to help guide and direct them through a busy street."
Quite a pickle for Tom, who experiences not only a hearing impairment, but osteoarthritis as well. A larger dog might have helped him to remain more stable as he walks - yet Frijole is a wonderful Hearing Assistant Dog! On the other hand, a larger dog might have ended up dragging Tom around the block. Tom asked Becca about smaller dogs in relation to becoming Hearing Assistant Dogs.
Becca responded, "A person who is hearing impaired will likely do fine with a much smaller service dog, as they alert to hearing a noise such as a buzzer or a doorbell. There are advantages to a smaller dog, as they are more transportable and their care may cost less than some larger breeds. However, some of the breeds best suited for service dog work, such as the Labrador and Golden retrievers, are larger dogs. Regardless of a service dog's size, their temperament, drive, and motivation to work are going to ultimately play the biggest role in whether or not they are cut out to do the job."
Who Is Happier - Wendy, Tom, or Frijole
Upon his return from the American Canine Academy, Frijole is far calmer, although he is still, 'high on life.' He obeys commands, walks on a leash appropriately, doesn't bark at other people or dogs or treat them as if they are public enemy #1, and best of all... Frijole reacts to auditory cues and provides Tom with visual ones. We cannot begin to say how valuable these visual cues are.
The bond between Tom, Frijole, and I is very strong indeed. When we went to pick him up from the Academy and bring him home we found ourselves in a, 'learning experience.' Our little guy was a real trooper - he knew we were there yet when Becca, 'put him through his paces,' and showed us all that he had learned, Frijole performed magnificently.
Tom and I took turns giving him commands and also putting him through his paces and he did just as well. The learning experience was an intentional one on Becca's part; we had to learn Frijole's new capabilities, and Frijole had to learn that the handing-over of the leash meant following our commands too.
When we took him off of his leash...oh my goodness! Our little guy was all wiggles and love. Two days after he came home, Tom took Frijole to the vet where he passed a health check with flying colors. The veterinarian and his assistant were both very impressed by Frijole's ability to follow commands and remain calm through the examination.
Since then, Tom has taken Frijole to a number of different stores, to include ones that are noisy, and Frijole has performed exceptionally well - despite the environment he finds himself in. Tom even behaved, something I have to give him credit for, rewarding him with dessert (arf!). We ordered a Hearing Assistant Dog vest for Frijole and are patiently awaiting its arrival.