One of the questions that came up multiple times while going through the process of matching me with a Service dog was: ‘How are you going to know where the dog is and if he’s completed a task for you‘? This is a very good question. Having only 5% remaining vision presents a few challenges for me as a Service Dog handler. When I go outside during the day, those challenges are bigger because the daylight reduces my sight to 2%. In many situations I use my ears instead of my eyes. However, that’s not always enough. I have some hearing loss. A smart Service Dog might outsmart my ears.
There had to be a solution. Since I love challenges, I didn’t hesitate to take on the challenge of looking for the solution I needed. This time a little bit of thinking was all I needed to do. I remembered the years I spent studying at a college for the blind and all the times I volunteered to look after a Guide Dog when it’s owner needed a break. All the times I went with owners to take their dog on a free run. Many of the Guide Dogs had a bell attached to their collar. What a great way to locate your dog when you can’t see what he’s doing.
I contacted the Guide Dogs association in the UK and also had a great conversation with a group of blind and visually impaired dog owners on Facebook. Both parties recommended I use a falconry bell. The Guide Dogs association even provided a website where I could order them.
I was just a few days away from a second visit with Don and I needed the bell quickly so that he could get used to it before being placed. The website where I could order a bell, wasn’t able to deliver fast enough. Luckily with a little help from family, we found some toilet training bells. Basically large falconry bells which could be separated so that one could be attached to Don’s collar.
It amazes me how the most simple solutions make such a big difference. When I go with my buddy’s to take Don on a walk, I can hear exactly where he is. When I no longer hear the bell, I can ask the buddy’s what he’s doing and call him back if necessary. In the house, I know where he is. Just by listening to the different sounds the bell makes, I know what he’s doing. If he has an itch, the bell is louder and more frequent. If he lays on the floor, I hear the bell hitting the laminate flooring. If he picks something up off the floor for me, the bell is quieter and more controlled.
Of course it doesn’t work for every situation. Don is smart. After spending 10 weeks with me, he’s figured out what the bell is for. He also understands that I react in a different way every time it makes a different sound. Sometimes the way I react, isn’t what he wants.
Don wears a Martingale collar. Half chain, half material. It’s a loose fit collar which hangs comfortably on his neck. A deliberate choice made by Personal Service Dogs as it enables dogs to help their handler put it on and take it off. Don found out that this is useful in other ways. If he rolls on his bed, he can turn the collar around. Meaning that the bell rests nicely on the back of his neck where it no longer rings. The perfect way to get into mischief without me noticing. If the bell doesn’t ring, he can quietly get on the couch and take a nap. He can spend 2 hours there while I’m behind my computer. I don’t notice until I go to the couch to sit down.
I know that Service Dogs are meant to be smart. Don is top of the class.
Photo by NativeNatures