Thursday, December 17, 2009

NBC News Update on Polar the Service Dog

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When a paralyzing accident forces you to change how you live, sometimes it takes a four-legged companion to get 'day to day' life back to normal. Service Dogs of Virginia matches people with pooches, but in the recession donations are down.

With a watchful eye and a wagging tail, Polar can open doors or pick up dropped cell phones with a simple command.

"I'd be going down the road and I'd drop my phone," said Luke Morris, who owns a service dog. "And I had to go all the way home, get mom to come get my phone, or I couldn't get the door open and he solves all that. It's so nice."

About a year and a half ago, Luke Morris dove into a river and broke his back. He has limited movement in his arms, and he cannot move his legs. Service Dogs of Virginia, based in Charlottesville, gave Luke a yellow Lab named Polar for only a small placement fee.

"I like it," Morris said. "It's wonderful to be able to have him there and I don't have to worry about anything."

"Every little thing we take for granted, Luke has to think about now," explained Luke's mother, Linda Morris. "Polar can do those things for him."

"We want the dog to make huge difference," Service Dogs of Virginia founder Peggy Law said. "They will be a best friend but also a ticket to independence."

And that ticket is not cheap; it costs the organization about $18,000 to train Labs and Great Danes to be constant companions, guardians and helpers for people in need.

"Certainly the economy has taken its toll on us as a non profit," Law said.

The group relies on donations as well as families willing to foster these pups till they are ready for intense training.

"It's a gift of love to raise a puppy," Law said. "You do have to give them up, then you see a beautiful partnership."

These Pooches are helping people in a simple yet powerful way.

"Luke's had amazing support from friends and family," Linda Morris exclaimed. "Just having the dog there to do things and help and just be a companion is wonderful."

The group trains dogs to help people with mobility problems, diabetes, even children with autism.

Michelle McCarthy, Owner and Director of Training for K9 Home Schooling raised and trained Polar from 10 weeks of age until his return to Service Dogs of Virginia at 16months of age.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Puppy Socialization-Make It A Priority

There is a critical socialization window for puppies, it's birth to 18 weeks. This means you have to make socializing your puppy a top priority. They need to meet and greet ALOT of people, walk in new environments, be exposed to new sights and sounds, meet and play with other puppies and dogs, etc. I encourage people to enroll in a puppy class as soon as your puppy is 10 weeks of age. It's not too early to start training and the socialization gained in class is priceless. If you get a Winter puppy, buy warm clothes and get outside! It's tempting to hide away in your home for a few months until the weather warms, but by doing this you will deprive your puppy of much needed exposure, and you won't get it back after the socialization window closes. Here are some helpful tips to get you started. Walk your puppy in public places everyday, don't restrict your outdoor time to your backyard. Let your puppy meet and greet a variety of people. If you don't have kids in your home, go to places where kids are, parks, friends, neighbors, outside Toys R Us. Go for rides in the car, visit your Vets office and let the staff give your puppy treats. The bottow line is, get creative, have fun, and let your puppy expand his horizons in a safe and positive way.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Future Landscaper!

Is your dog trying to get to China by way of your backyard? Many dogs are diggers much to the dismay of their family. Why do dogs dig? Well there are many reasons, boredome, recreation, hunting and because it's just fun! The good news is there are things you can do to redirect this annoying behavior. First, provide your dog with a 'digging pit'. This is an area specially designed for your dog or puppy to dig in. It can be a kiddie pool filled with sand or a sectioned off area of your yard. You can bury some of his favorite toys or bones. If Fido wonders off to another area of your yard, you can quickly lead him back to his digging pit and reward him for digging in the appropriate area.

If you have a dog prone to digging, you need to provide adequate supervision. This means, don't put Fido in the yard alone, he will quickly become bored and you got it, START DIGGING! Provide your dog with appropriate toys outside, this will help deter digging out of boredom. I recommend using food dispensing toys, they are interactive, require brain power, and keep your dog entertained and less likely to dig out of boredom.

Play with your dog outside, they will be less likely to dig if someone is tossing a ball or throwing a frisbie. There are few dogs that enjoy just hanging out in the backyard alone, keep them busy!