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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Anatolian Service Dogs

Ruya in quiet reflection.

Ruya is a great granddaughter of my first Anatolian, Sabah (Masallah Sabah Sarki). Like her great granddam, Ruya has always been a sweet, contemplative, long fused and bold girl. And like Sabah, she has sometimes done work for me in the capacity of a service dog. I tend to joke about my disabilities with friends, sometimes saying such things as I was "Made in Taiwan" (my birthplace) and that the warranty on some of the parts I originally came with has run out. ;)

Ruya's tasks when she is in her service dog harness, are to help me keep my balance (darned vertigo), help stabilize me when I get muscle spasms (motor neuron disease --original dx was cerebral palsy) in my legs and also she's a hearing 'alert' dog (not a hearing dog in the usual sense) so that if she indicates a sound of interest (I am deaf), I can look to see if we have an upcoming obstacle.

Due to circumstances not under my control, I haven't been able to get the mileage on her (or Boone for that matter) that I was able to accomplish with Sabah (see at left with my nephew, click to enlarge) and Aslan, both of them worked for me in the early 90's. Aslan went just about everywhere with me and since he didn't look like huge white polar bear, it was somewhat easier to accomplish daily tasks without quite the degree of attention Sabah attracted ("Eeeee!!!! Look Mommy! It's a polar bear! Let's go see!") and this increased efficiency caused me to prefer working with Aslan - through no fault of Sabah! From work (the blood and gore dept of a medical laboratory) to shopping, appointments, visiting friends, family and longer trips. I had so much freedom!

I am so looking forward to when the surmountable obstacles can be ironed out. (ahem, to hubby with sidelong glace at the "to-do list")

Kabul at a dog park partyAt left, and also in the blog template, here is a pic with me and James sitting with Kabul (in the party hat), who is Ruya's uncle. We were at a park with Cindy of Growlsburg Anatolians and were celebrating the birthday of her Anatolian SD, Sabrina.

Kabul was a very promising SD, a sweetheart, bold, happy, very loyal and confident, but his life got cut short in a freak accident when he was 3 years old. I still miss him so... :(

Take it from me, there is much more accessibility and ease of movement when one exchanges a clunky walker (can you hear it?-- clunk, scrape, draaaaaaag..., clunk, clunk, clunk, scrape, draaaaaaaag...) for a well trained service dog! As an example, upon finding all the handicapped parking spots taken (this is not a gripe but a "that's life, get used to it" comment) one has to use a distant spot where cars are crammed so tightly together that a walker cannot fit between the cars unless the walker is folded up to ease passage between the cars - which pretty much defeats the stability offered by a walker. A service dog helps navigate these tight spots; flow with ease through tight aisles and squishy store checkouts lines and make it easier to quickly navigate steps and stairways with comparative ease. (try carrying a walker up the stairs or down!) If I get tired or out of breath (leaky heart valves), I can stop and rest with my dog at my side, on the alert for me -- in case unwanted strangers think the handicapped are an easy target.

Navy photo, out in front of the building
A detail from a Navy hospital photo. Pic of me, in green and brown (sans ubiquitous lab coat) posing with Aslan. He usually stayed in the lab office or stockroom while I worked in micro and hematology. Workmates from the whole building would drop by HIS office to say hello. Many more knew him by name, than knew me. :)

All that said, I do get inquiries but I never recommend Anatolians to someone who wants to start with this breed as their first service dog. I think previous experience with Anatolians or other LGDs (Livestock Guardian/Protection Dog breeds) is a definite benefit to temper unrealistic expectations and instill a sense of reality to the person who contemplates an LGD service dog. I have had a few Anatolians that didn't make the grade due to conformation/soundness or stress issues. (If the dog doesn't enjoy it, they shouldn't be made to do the work, period.) I have some friends and associates who have found that one or more of their Anatolians have had a natural inclination to brace for them and give support when they are injured. There are a few people that have Anatolians deliberately trained to do service work and also have been proofed in various ways including with CGC, TD, ATT, various SD certifications.

Why aren't (more) Anatolians formally trained by service dog organizations? (We don't want that to happen to our breed!) Well, the major issue has to do with their independent character. Two decades ago, Jean King, founder of Independence Dogs, Inc. (IDI), started with Shantih, a Blue Yayla-bred Akbash (white variety of Anatolian Shepherd Dog) who trained and served as Jean's SD. A little about Jean is here. It is my understanding that while some of the Akbash trained by IDI worked out well, they did not have quite the success and acceptance that other breeds do. I also became aware that some Akbash breeders really had issues with the whole concept but I'm not sure how much that had to do with vendettas with Blue Yayla dogs and the kennel owner(s), or the idea of stock dogs being used in the cities, and plain old Akbash dog club vs club politics ("Spy vs Spy" from Mad Magazine, remember that?). But while issues about breed character are understandable at many levels, some of the ideas (from able bodied breeders) were not entirely accurate about an SD's life (one breeder described SD life as depressing, total drudgery compared to working out in the fields with livestock -- yeesh!).

The crux of the matter with program training is that it most usually involves transfer of a "trained" dog to a handler. The Anatolian is not a dog that immediately assigns authority to the next person holding the dog's leash. "Hey, Charlie, you have to earn my respect first!" This element of breed character doesn't go naturally for many SD users, who are just not very good at 'reading dog' and who may begin having problems at the outset, or may be having an especially bad disability day while their dog is still training, or who just have little natural aptitude to create and maintain a working partnership with such a dog.

Dogs that transfer their training well from the trainer to the handicapped user are generally the dogs most commonly successfully used in programmed-directed SD work. Labs and Golden Retrievers are especially popular. This is not to say that all members of those breeds are naturals nor that mixed breed or individual dogs from other breeds don't make excellent service dogs. I knew of a person who had no legs, got around via use of a skateboard (for longer distances) who used a pit bull terrier as an SD. This dog was ideal, as the dog was powerful, the right height, and had the innate enthusiasm, gameness and endurance to work all day by his owner's side. The training programs for service dog associations are quite rigorous. But independently trained by their primary keeper, Turkish dogs can do a very nice job, particularly in assisting mobility -- but I still don't recommend them for a newbie to LGDs.

While on the subject of Program (trained) dogs, there are many disabled people that have a dog with a natural aptitude for the job who can do whatever is required in their locale to be accepted as an authentic SD. On the other hand, the waiting list for Program dogs can sometimes be several years long. The ADA allows us to use dogs (and other animals - e.g., guide horses) to go into all areas of a public facility where customers are normally allowed to go. Dogs that are owner (or privately) trained to do the required work specific to the SD users needs, are part of the solution so we don't all have to get in line for a Program dog (CCI, Guide Dog, and other groups). I'm finding that more people with hidden disabilities such as bi-polar disorder, can qualify under ADA to use service dogs and their specific needs with their dogs are not as specialized as say, a guide dog's (dog for the Blind) training needs to be.

The main requirement is that the animals must be trained, not be disruptive, and if the handicapped person does not have the ability to control their animal, they must have a person with them who can. (examples are disabled young children who may forget themselves and not keep their trained service animal under control)

Another good read to enforce a sense a reality in using such a huge dog, is this page written by Leonberger SD user, Samantha. Leos are not LGDs but their size and elements of their character have some similarities with the sort of challenges an Anatolian SD user would face. Do check out the "Pictures of Fergus at Work". Isn't he handsome! :)

::: Related link regarding Americans with Disability Act, service dogs, accessibility and a mention of Jean King.

See this post, if you want to know more about Anatolians.

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Semavi Lady woofed at @ 1/30/2008 08:48:00 PM | Permanent link | (0) Comments

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