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Varah’s Vocabulary

This is a partial list of Varah’s Vocabulary that I am making for her new partner, and I thought that I would share it here. I will add more to it later, but right now we need to get ready to take Varah over for another in-home visit with her new partner, and today we plan to give them some alone time to get to know each other better, thus the need for a written list of the words that Varah knows and exactly what they mean to her.

Sit – Usual dog sit position

Lie – Usual dog lying down position. This is her default position for waiting under the table in a restaurant or to give her something to do if she is alerting or otherwise poking you, and you are already addressing the problem need a break from the “Touching”.

Touch – She pokes with her nose to get your attention to alert to your medical condition, but on her own she learned to do it to get my attention when she needs to go outside. If she wants to go outside, she will run toward the door and back to you between poking. It’s easy to tell the difference.

Stand – She rises to her feet to let you put on her Packs or to allow you to brace yourself on her shoulders to help you stand up.

Stay – Used to get her to hold a position such as Lie, Sit or Stand. Give command as: “Lie, Stay” or “Sit, Stay”

Heel – She should walk beside you, well focused on you, turning and stopping etc when you do. For myself, I do NOT require an automatic “Sit” when stopping, because lots of public places are dirty, or there may be water puddles or snow that I would rather she did not have to sit in…

Come – When you say “Come” she should present herself directly in front of you, making eye contact. For myself, I do NOT require a “sit” when she arrives.

Stand, Stay – She braces herself so that you can brace yourself on her to get up if you have fallen. Be sure to only put weight near her shoulders, above her front legs, and not lower on her back.

Take _______ – “Take” tells her to pick up something that is nearby and in sight, or has a permanent location. “Take Phone” “Take Socks” Etc.

Find _______ – “Find” tells her to go search for an item that is not nearby in sight, and which usually does not have permanent location. “Find dish” “Find ball”

Give – She will hand an object to you.

Tug – She takes an object in her mouth and pulls on it

Open – Usually by pulling on a cloth or rope tied to drawer or door that needs to be pulled open (she does however understand doors pretty well and knows that sometimes they open by pushing.

Shut – She pushes with her nose to Shut a door or drawer that is already open. She has generalized doors and drawers quite well and does cabinet doors and refrigerator doors as well as the ones that you walk through.

Go – Go directs her to walk. She will walk in the direction that you point.

Go In – “Go in” directs her to go into the space under a chair, table or bench or church pew to be out of the way, especially in a public place where she needs to wait. Also for crate or any other such area to which it would logically apply.

Up – Up tells her to go to a higher elevation, such as a couch or bed. “Go up”

Down – “Down” does not mean to assume a lying position, it directs her to go to a lower elevation if she is up on a bed or couch. You would say, “Go down”.

Paws Up – Directs her to put her paws up on something that you indicate.

That – “That” indicates an object for which you are not sure she knows the name. Point to an object and say, “Take That” to have her pick it up. Also, when teaching her a new object word, say, “That’s Monitor” for example, if you would like her to fetch your blood sugar monitor, (which I would recommend)   Then tell her “Touch Monitor” and “Take Monitor” until she learns the word. In the case of the monitor, find a good sturdy case with a handle on it to keep Monitor in, and keep an extra one in a permanent place that is easily accessible to her and teach her where it is.

Leave It – “Leave It” tells her not to touch or bother a certain thing.

Excuse Me – It means she is in the way and will move for you. It pays to be polite!

Rug – Can be a towel or blanket or an actual “rug” for her to lie on for a bed. It also provides a boundary that relieves stress if you need her to stay in one spot, but she doesn’t have to hold a certain position, only confine herself to the rug. It is like crating without the crate. Tell her “Lie on your Rug, Stay. Stay on your Rug”.

Wait – “Wait” is for when she needs to exercise some control, usually before she is about to do something that she knows you are going to ask or allow her to do, like not diving into the food before you put it down, or jumping in or out of a vehicle. However, she is trained to wait for your invitation before getting in or out of a vehicle, so it would be unlikely that you would need it for that situation at this point.

Flip Light – She uses her nose to turn on a light. If it is already on, “Flip Light” will get her to pull it down the other way, and she usually uses her front teeth for that. If the light is above her head you need to teach her the location and provide a chair or something for her to reach it.

Potty – “Potty” is the area that you have designated for her to relieve herself in, not the act of doing it or the excrement itself.

Pee Pee – Urine. This tells her to relieve herself, and it’s a good idea before going somewhere to ask her to do that. She will usually ‘try’ and manage to do a little bit even if she has already done it  recently.

Poop – Feces. Like the above, it reminds her to get on with it if she has to ‘go’.

Socks – She recognizes socks and can find them if you send her on a search, or better yet, keep them in a specific place so that she can fetch you a clean pair when you’re ready to put on your shoes. (Unless you just want to play the “Find It” game, which she enjoys)

Kong – She loves her kong!

Ball – She likes balls of all sizes and will happily go find you one if you ask.

Dish – She recognizes all bowl shaped containers as “Dish” and will fetch it for you, and especially loves bringing you her own so you can put something in it.

Stuffy – A stuffed animal. We usually name them “Stuffy Bear” or “Stuffy Rabbit” to differentiate between them. She especially likes the ones with squeekers, but will randomly perform a ‘squeekectomy’ on them!

Phone – “Phone” refers more to the container that I keep the emergency phone in to protect the phone, rather than the phone itself.

There are more which I will add later…

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Just Suppose…

Note: This post is mostly for those who do NOT have a disability. Those of you who do have such challenges are of course very well aware of the limitations and frustrations involved.

I usually advocate that people visualize only good and positive things for themselves, but for the sake of illustration I would like for you to imagine that YOU were to acquire a disability that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities. It would be impossible for me to provide a comprehensive list of examples, given the variety of unfortunate possiblities, but for our demonstration I will use some common disabilities that most people are familiar with.

Suppose that you could not hear. (That can occur for a variety of reasons, you don’t have to be born that way) You can learn sign language to communicate, but door bells, normal alarm clocks, and smoke alarms are useless to you. You cannot hear your child or spouse call your name, and you don’t know when someone rings the door bell.

What if you could hire an employee whose only job was to stay at your side and tell you when your baby cried or to warn you if the smoke alarm goes off, and to wake you in the morning when s/he hears the alarm clock?

Or suppose that you have diabetes. (That can happen unexpectedly too) You have to test your blood sugar level throughout the day and night, but sometimes the levels can still become unexpectedly high or low, even though the food that you have been eating seemed appropriate for the amount of insulin that you had. You can’t always tell when it is happening, and the situation can be life threatening.

What if you could hire an employee who had a “magical” ability to know when your blood sugar was rising or falling and could let you know precisely when it was at a level that is getting unsafe, but well before it is too late to do anything about it?

Suppose that you could not walk, (Yes, that too, could happen to YOU) or perhaps even if you can move yourself from place to place, it’s too painful for you to bend over and pick up an object from the floor. If you drop your pen in the middle of writing an important document and can’t otherwise get to another one, you have to hope that you don’t have a deadline, because it is just more than you can handle to get down there to get it.

What if you could hire an employee whose only focus is to wait upon you to the best of his or her ability, picking up what you drop, fetching items that you commonly use, helping you with some of your clothing, or bringing you a drink or snack?

Further suppose that this employee is completely non-judgmental, unobtrusive, dedicated and loyal, and loves you with all of his or her heart and their greatest joy in life is to be beside you serving you as best they can. You don’t have to feel guilty that they have devoted their lives to helping you live a more full and normal life. You love them too, and together you make a great team.

Yes, of course I’m talking about a Service Dog.  🙂

Service Dogs are excellent “employees” who do all of those things and more, enriching the lives of their “employers” and allowing a disabled person to overcome some of the difficulties of living with a disability.

Suppose again that you could not hire this employee because your income is limited by the very disability that you need the employee for…

One last supposition – Suppose that YOU could make a difference in the life of someone who lives with the reality of a disability such those just mentioned?

Here is your chance to help someone who can’t afford the cost of Service Dog Training.

We’d like to help as many people as possible who suffer from disabilities and who desire the Assistance of a Service Dog. If you qualify or know someone that does, you can help by referring them to us and/or make a donation by clicking the Donation button at the top of the page. Thank you in advance…..

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Varah Has Found Her New Partner!

We have found Varah’s new partner!  I will now tailor Varah’s tasks to best meet her partner’s needs as we take the time to let them get to know each other and learn to work together. We will do this part of the process slowly so that Varah does not get confused or upset.

Some of you who did not originally train your own dog will probably remember fondly the beginning of the relationship when you first met and began to work with your dog. That is usually an exciting time for everyone!

When it is evident that Varah is comfortable with her new friend, and shows signs of attachment and works eagerly for her, then we will begin the final transfer which will consist of an intense couple of weeks that we all spend together as the human partner is leashed to her new service dog while I supervise and give instructions on all aspects of living with a service dog and utilizing the tasks that Varah is trained to do for her.

So far they are hitting it off well!  🙂



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Clips of Varah

I’ll go ahead and post a video and a couple of photos of Varah below. I know they aren’t very good, (my son says I should wait and get better ones) but they are all I happen to have with me at the moment and I want to go ahead and post this now. I’m visiting and working in the Portland Oregon area at the moment and most of my photos are at home on my other computer, but this will at least give you an idea what she looks like….

Varah Getting Drink

Varah Getting Drink





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Video for Police Officers

Below is a video that appears to be for educating police officers about service dog laws and how to handle situations where either the dog’s partner or the business owner has called the police.

It’s a bit outdated, as the officer quotes the law as it was then in regards to service animals. There has since been a change to allow only dogs and miniature horses as service animals. They used to permit monkeys, but not anymore. I’m not sure why they vetoed the monkeys, because it seems to me that hands would be a useful feature in a service animal!  😀

The video is well done and portrays (presumably it is a reenactment) a disabled man in a wheelchair being denied access in a restaurant. I’m glad that some people do stand up for their rights and thereby the rights of all of us. I can’t say if I would have what is necessary to take it to that level under similar circumstances and  demand that I be served. I definitely wouldn’t enjoy my meal knowing that my presence was not wanted!

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ID Or Professional Trainer Is NOT Required For Your Service Dog!

The ADA does not require professional training  and, or, an ID  for very good reasons. Not only would the cost unfairly limit the number of people who could afford to have a Service Dog, but there is usually a long waiting list for acquiring one from a training facility, even for those with plenty of money. Besides, each dog still has to be taught to work with the individual that s/he is paired with, and that person must learn to continue the dog’s training enough to keep the Service Dog sharp on all of his tasks. On some level, all Service Dogs end up being “owner trained”, even if the original training occurred elsewhere. Just as it would be ridiculous for them to try to regulate and register every wheelchair and diabetes blood sugar monitor that is in use, disabled people may get canine assistance where they can find it. The only requirement is that the dog be trained to do tasks that mitigate a disability that the person has, which is reasonable, since that is the whole point of having a service dog in the first place, right?

Training a dog does require an understanding of dog nature and behaviour, as well as knowledge of basic techniques for teaching dogs to interact and communicate with us. It’s a lot like raising children. Many people these days turn their children over to “professional child trainers” otherwise known as school teachers, and lots of people hire professional dog trainers, (which is a good thing for me, since I am a professional dog trainer) but both children and dogs can be taught at home!  🙂

Just like children, dogs need to be educated. If children didn’t go to school and their parents raised them with no more instruction than many dog owners give to their dogs, the behaviour and abilities of the children would be a lot like that of the untrained dogs that we see.

You can’t ask a young child to go and mix up a cake without showing him how, and you can’t expect a dog to sit or lie down when you say so, (let alone to tell you when your blood sugar is dropping or going too high) unless you first teach him those things!  Similarly, I’ve seen 3 year olds who could mix up a cake from scratch and others who acted like they had no idea what their parents were talking about when asked to sit down on a chair…

My point is simply that dog owners are perfectly capable of training their own dogs, and it’s a good thing for the disabled that the ADA recognizes this. It’s my belief that most anyone (disabled or not) can learn to teach their own dogs to become not only polite members of the family and society, but intelligent, interactive and useful companions who help out around the house (in the case of a pet) or do more serious care taking when their person is disabled.

That is why I have dedicated this website to the purpose of helping people to train their own Service Dogs, and for free when possible. It’s also why I offer the first session free when I begin with a new client. Sometimes that’s all a person needs to get going on their own, but if someone needs more, I am happy to become their training coach for as long as needed. Also, if I can see that the person really needs help but can’t afford to pay, then I do it anyway, for free. So speaking of which, if you need help training your Service Dog but are having a difficult time financially and truly cannot afford to pay, then let me know. (I also accept tips and donations if you would like to contribute to helping me help others to have good service dogs)

Back to the point of this post – I’d much rather spend time writing about how to help people train their service dogs to be the best helpers and companions that they can be, leaving the issue of WHERE they perform those tasks and duties to the owner. Getting into the legal hows, whys, and wherefores is not my cup of tea.

One of my clients has some VERY serious disabilities, some of them are unseen, but others certainly are not. It is highly unlikely that anyone would mistake her for a non-disabled person, thereby even eliminating most of the need to ask the questions that are allowable by the ADA. (‘Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability’, and ‘what work or task has the dog been trained to perform’) Business owners can still ask, of course, but they rarely do when the disability is obvious and the dog is wearing something that labels it as a service dog.

In spite of all of that,  her previous trainer talked her into believing that it was required that she buy an ID for her service dog. The trainer not only gave her that erroneous information, but then steered her to one of the more expensive ID vendors that also put an expiration date on their ID and imply to their customers that yearly renewal is necessary. Why would a trainer do that? Did he really think what he said was true? (That is of course a rhetorical question, since we will probably never know…)

It seems, for the most part, that business owners these days are well acquainted with the laws and are quite accommodating and even friendly toward me and my service dog, and for that I am grateful.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been asked to produce paperwork or ID to “prove” that my dog is a service dog. On some occasions I had to just give up and show them an ID, but I first made every effort to educate them before taking the easy way out.  🙂

I still carry the card (I paid $20 for it) that I’ve had for years, just in case I’m in a hurry or might otherwise need to avoid some undue hassle, but please be aware, the only thing necessary is your word that the dog is trained to mitigate your disability. Also, PLEASE, make sure that s/he is fully capable of doing so before you say that s/he is. People must take us at our word, and in this, as in any other area of our lives, we should be trustworthy.

Some people feel that it’s wrong to use the ID’s at all, because it perpetuates the ignorance of the people who ask to see it in the first place. However, as I mentioned, I always give the facts first before I show it, and I give them the ADA phone number to call, (800-514-0301) but I am not a confrontational person, and if the card is necessary to let me peacefully get on with my business, so be it.  Also, it says on the back of my ID card, (I hand it to them facing that direction) “If you are being given this card, you have probably violated the federal ADA” and it gives the phone number and encourages them to call immediately.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you “must” have documentation to show. I carry a letter from my doctor when I travel by air because they have their own regulations about it, but that’s all you need. That $40 renewable ID (that at least one person I know of gave a good portion of her grocery money to obtain) means nothing at the airport, because they know that it is not required.

Click on the link below to download a publication by the ADA about the rights and regulations concerning Service Animals:


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Seizure Alert Dogs

What most people are looking for in a seizure dog is to be alerted to the seizure in advance so actions can be taken to prepare for the impending seizure. The last that I was aware, there was not a way to train a dog to alert to seizures. It’s something that a small percentage of dogs just naturally do, but nobody knows exactly how they do it.

A dog who exhibits this ability generally alerts 10 or 15 minutes before a seizure, which gives the person time to call someone, take medication, or even just lie down to prevent falls and such.

There are tasks that can be taught to a dog to help the person after the seizure has begun, (which is then called seizure response) and many seizure alert dogs are taught some of those tasks, but as for letting you know ahead of time, that’s something some dogs just do naturally.

Some people say that some dogs need 6 months or so of living with a person before they begin to alert to that person’s seizures, but I know that is not always the case.

One woman was to receive a seizure response dog (a dog that provides help after the seizure has begun) from a Service Dog program, with the hope that the dog would eventually alert as well. She was there at the facility, working with the trainer of the dog that was intended for her, and another trainer came through the room with a dog that was meant for someone else who had an entirely different disability. That dog broke away from his trainer and went to her and began interacting intensely with her and resisted being removed. She began having a seizure and the second dog planted himself by her and did not leave her side until the seizure was over. The dog meant for her did not even seem to notice! The story had a happy ending; she went home with the second dog.

One of my clients has a seizure alert dog who not only alerts to her owner’s seizures, but recently charged out of the room to another person who was having a seizure down the hall in the bathroom, and ran back and forth, insisting that her owner come and investigate. How did the dog know?!

If anyone has any more information about seizure alert (or response) dogs, please comment…

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Note: If the writing on this blog is too small, hold down your CONTROL key, (it might say “Ctrl”) and tap the “+” symbol until it is large enough for you. This works for most other websites also…   🙂

The purpose of this blog is to provide information to users of Service Dogs and those who think a Service Dog might be helpful to their situation. Feel free to contribute liberally with comments and guest posts with any information, tips and experiences that might be helpful to others with Service Dogs.

I am a dog trainer with 40 years of experience, but I no longer personally train other people’s dogs. Now I coach dog owners who are training their own Service Dogs.

Our coaching covers all aspects of living with your Service Dog. We can begin with any specific issues that you may be having, or if you’re new to Service Dogs, we’ll probably start out with an emphasis on training, both initial tasks that MAKE it a Service Dog as well as those which enhance your relationship with your dog and make him/ her a better companion, although there are many other facets of training, working and living with a Service Dog.  The fact is, we are with this being 24/7, so the better companionship s/he provides, the better, right?

I can assist you with whatever stage you’re at with your dog’s training:

All Service Dogs need to review their tasks from time to time! Tasks that are not used on a daily basis in “real life” situations need to be practiced so as to keep your dog sharp for when they are needed. So, even if you’re satisfied with the training that your dog has received, there are things that should be done to maintain it at that level. I can help you develop a routine to keep your dog sharp on all of his tasks.

If You Don’t Have Your Service Dog Yet:

If you have a disability and have decided that a Service Dog would be right for you, I can assist you with determining if the dog you already own is suitable for the work, or I can help you screen a dog before you acquire it, and then coach you as you train him. I will support you every step of the way!

Expanding Vocabulary and Developing Reasoning Abilities:

Special emphasis should be placed upon increasing a Service Dog’s vocabulary and developing his/ her reasoning abilities.

I will help you learn strategies for successfully relating to your Partner. Although there are general dog training basics that apply, Service Dogs require special handling.

In order to more effectively carry out their jobs, Service Dogs must be given responsibility and permission to think and make decisions on their own.

I will help you guide your Service Dog to learn how to make the transition from just mindlessly following directions to working independently and making good decisions in regards to performing his tasks when the situation requires that he think for himself. I can help you take your relationship with your canine partner to a new level of functionality, intimacy and trust.

I can help you bring out the full potential in your Service Dog to make him or her the best companion and helper that s/he can be.

My Experience:

I am an experienced dog trainer and certified Life Coach. I’ve trained dogs for a variety of purposes for over 40 years, but I now specialize in Service Dogs; My mission is coaching owners to bring their canine partners to a higher standard of excellence.

When I was growing up, some of my relatives raised and trained dogs for the circus (as well as for other purposes) and I loved to spend time working with them. One of my uncles used to brag that he could teach an intelligent dog to do anything that was physically possible for a dog to do, and he certainly did do some pretty amazing things with dogs. (To read a bit more about Uncle Joseph and his circus dogs, CLICK HERE to download my book  : )

I won’t make such a bold claim as my Uncle Joseph, but I will at least say that I’m a very good dog trainer and coach. Make an appointment today to see if you agree! 🙂


By the way, I used a “blog template” to make this blog, so the dogs that are pictured above are not to my knowledge service dogs, but who knows? They could be, since Service Dogs come in all breeds and sizes!  😀

Please comment, question and discus your experiences; feel free to jump in and offer advice! If you’d like to contribute an article on some aspect of training or living with your service dog, please contact me at webmaster (“at” symbol)



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