What Does it Take to Become a Service Dog


April 2020

We know that those of you who work in shelters and rescues want to know what we look for when we select candidates for our service dog program. Maybe there’s a local program that similar to ours, or maybe you have a great dog who you think would be good for us. 

In this episode of the Individual Animal, Bernice and Nikki take us through the process from beginning to end.

Here are some important terms you should know:

Service dog candidate: A dog we select from a shelter that we bring back to the Farm where we spend more time with the dog and get to know who they are.

Service dog in training: We’ve decided to train this dog for specific service dog tasks. We have a general idea of what type of service dog (hearing, psychiatric, mobility) the dog will be. After weeks of training, we match the dog with a person with disabilities.

Service dog: Once the dog is fully trained, they go to live with their person as a service dog!

About a month ago, Regina and Bernice chatted on FB Live about the program. You can watch their conversation below.

Apologies for the echo on Regina’s voice. We had technical difficulties we couldn’t correct.

Dogs who don’t make it all of the way through the program are adopted by loving humans or go to our grantee Sector K9 to be trained as police detection dogs.

Interestingly enough, one of the most important things is to remain objective and think about the job you hope the dog will do. This means that we don’t pick dogs because we think they are cute or because we’ve fallen in love with them – we all know how easy those things are to do with a dog!

Obviously, we look at the structure of the dog to make sure their body is sound. (We do further health screenings once the dog is back at the Farm.) Confidence is important when picking a potential service dog. We do not select dogs who show any sort of fear. Tolerance is important, as well. Service dogs need to be tolerant of all situations and people.

The team also looks for dogs who are friendly, but not too friendly. A service dog needs to be comfortable in situations with people, but they always need to stay focused on their person. A dog who is too distracted by people will likely not work out. Likewise with a dog who is overly-friendly to other dogs.

But the best person to explain all of this is Bernice, so scroll back up, listen to the podcast and/or watch the video!

Read the podcast transcript
Selecting Service Dogs with Bernice.mp3

Nikki [00:00:00] Welcome to The Individual Animal. A podcast about dogs, people, and discrimination. I’m Nikki. And my co-host Regina, unfortunately, is sick with a sore throat. So she’s not going to be able to record with us today, unfortunately. But we’re going to do a follow up to the Facebook live we did. It’s got to be about a month ago on how we select our service dogs that Bernice and Regina talked about on our Facebook live. So if you’re interested in seeing the video portion of that, you can go over to our Facebook page and check that out.

But today, it’s me and Bernice’s talking about the same topic. And we are talking about our service dog program. And if you’re not familiar with that program, it was created to challenge and debunk the negative stereotypes that come with the label “pit bull” and the dog that people perceive as “pit bulls.” So we select dogs from shelters across the country that showcase the traits that we’re gonna be talking about today. And train them to be service dogs. And through that work, we’re showing that no matter what the dog is labeled or what a dog looks like, dogs, if they have the personality, can do the work of purpose-bred purebred dogs and that each dog is an individual. So that’s why we started this program. And firstly, Bernice, Hi Bernice, sorry.

Bernice [00:01:35] Hi Nikki. Hi everyone.

Nikki [00:01:36] I’ll just introduce you and just keep talking here. I wanted to talk about how the process is for us to select service dogs. So we usually pick a spot. We try to find an organization that has a lot of dogs for us to choose from. And we get on a plane and we fly down to X location and we go right from the airport over to the first shelter. You know, we spend half a day there. I would say, like, how long do we really spend with each dog?

Bernice [00:02:16] Yeah. So that we’ve changed a lot over the past couple of years. In the beginning, we were going in and we were in quickly like in an out and sort of making fast decisions so that we could get to as many shelters and as many dogs as we could. We also at that time had the adoption partner with the Dutchess County SPCA, which we no longer do. So at that time, it didn’t really matter if the dog was more of a pet quality dog at the end of the day. As time has progressed, what we have discovered in the last few times we’ve gone down is that we spend much more time in just one shelter. So the last time that Ashley and Acadia went down, they spent the three days just with the one shelter. Yeah. So they took the dogs out and did a lot more with them. Put the dogs back. Came back the next day relooked at the dogs, then took the dogs that they were allowed to. Because when we’re going into him and municipal shelter, remember some of these dogs aren’t fully vaccinated. So the shelters won’t allow them to leave. But the dogs that were allowed to leave, they actually took them out and took them to Home Depot and PetSmart and things like that.

Nikki [00:03:32] Oh really?

Bernice [00:03:32] To see how they react. Yes. And I would say of that set of dogs, that was probably the best set of dogs that we have pulled so far.

Nikki [00:03:47] OK.

Bernice [00:03:47] So the longer you can take to get to know a dog just like us. I might be really pleasant today and tomorrow I might not, so.

Nikki [00:03:56] Yeah, and we don’t always have the time to spend depending on if we’re there doing something else and or just popping in and popping out or if we’re really dedicating our time to have, like Ashley and Acadia, to spend more time looking at a dog.

Bernice [00:04:15] In an ideal world, the dogs would be coming to us through the folks that already are in facilities so that we can go in and then just re-check and see, like, is this really as advertised? And the hope would be that eventually, we would get to the point where we had enough people on the ground in different locations where they could select a dog and just send it to us because we’ve all come to the same agreement on what might work. But that’s been a really big struggle for us. And when I’ve spoken to other organizations it’s been a large struggle for them as well.

Nikki [00:04:55] Yeah. And that’s why we want to have this conversation, because even with the time that we’re spending and we did get a really great group of dogs, we’re still, I think on the Facebook live we talked about Huckleberry, who was Brin when we talked about him on the Facebook live and Drax. The two that had come from that trip with Ashley and Acadia. So do we have updates on those two?

Bernice [00:05:23] We do.

Nikki [00:05:23] OK.

Bernice [00:05:24] First, I want to apologize to everyone for the snoring in the background. It is not me or Nikki. It’s actually creature. Creature is a dog.

Nikki [00:05:32] I toned out.

Bernice [00:05:33] We can do nothing about the snoring. But I do realize that other people are aware of it. So sorry. Creature is on the podcast as well. He was not introduced, so that was rude. So I’m sorry what was the question?

Nikki [00:05:50] Huckleberry.

Bernice [00:05:51] Huckleberry and Drax. Yes. So Huckleberry is still in the program and he is, his training is going amazingly well. He’s an amazing dog.

Nikki [00:06:04] Cool.

Bernice [00:06:05] We do believe that we are going to make placement with him, but his handler does not know that yet. Because of all of this corona virus craziness, we’re sort of everything has been put on hold. And we can’t do the interactions with the handler right now. So that will hopefully be announced sometime soon. Yeah. And him and his person will get to meet each other.

Nikki [00:06:33] So does this person. No, but we just haven’t.

Bernice [00:06:36] No, no, no.

Nikki [00:06:38] That’s exciting.

Bernice [00:06:39] Yeah. So it will be. Yeah, it’ll be a very cool, it’s gonna be a really pretty cool placement. It’s a different placement than one we’ve done before.

Nikki [00:06:47] Oh I don’t know anything about this I’m excited.

Bernice [00:06:51] It’s going to be fun and interesting. So yes he is well in progress. We had decided on Drax to place him as a pet.

Nikki [00:07:04] And why.

Bernice [00:07:05] Just because he never let go of that really outgoing like I need to be friendly to everyone. And that’s a wonderful trait to have in a dog. And gosh, if he had any ball drive or hunt drive, I would have loved to send him down as a K9, because the dog is a great example of what a really wonderful dog should be. But you can’t be assisting somebody when you really just want to say hi to the cashier. And the amount of training that would have to go into him wasn’t worth holding him back from going home. And we always try to take into account is it kinder to the dog to let the dog be who he is and let him go home and find a different dog or to put the investment in. And we had decided that we had put enough investment in. And he’s just much happier being that friendly, wiggly guy. So.

Nikki [00:08:08] Fair enough.

Bernice [00:08:08] Nice life, buddy.

Nikki [00:08:09] Yeah. Yeah. And I think we mentioned it on the Facebook live. But I think it’s important to continue on to that, to say that while we go over these behaviors that we’re looking for, the behaviors we’re now looking for, to say just because we aren’t looking for the these specific behaviors doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with a dog. It’s just not what we’re looking for in a service dog, which is an extremely hard thing to find, whether you’re doing it, looking for shelter dogs or whether you’re training dogs that were bred to do the work. Would you agree?

Bernice [00:08:45] Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s hard to find in a shelter. I’m not a big believer in evaluations as a whole. And now we’re sitting here saying we’re evaluating these dogs and to some to some degree.

Nikki [00:09:00] Yeah.

Bernice [00:09:00] But really what we’re looking for is the lack of aggression, the desire to work without an overexuberance to work, and a friendliness to most things.

Nikki [00:09:14] When we were looking for service dogs, we’re looking for the cream of the crop. I would say that’s not the best wording .

Bernice [00:09:22] Well, you know, I think that most reputable organizations are doing that as well.

Nikki [00:09:28] Yeah.

Bernice [00:09:29] Or if they’re not, they should be. Because the thing that we have to remember is that while these are pets as well. This is medical equipment. And you cannot have faulty medical equipment. You cannot have your medical equipment want to go after other dogs or.

Nikki [00:09:46] Yeah, yeah.

Bernice [00:09:48] Whatever that bad behavior or naughty pet dog behavior might be. You can’t have that in a service dog. It’s unkind to the person you’re giving the dog to.

Nikki [00:09:58] Yeah. And I just think in order to meet our mission to try to end the negative stereotypes that “pit bulls” face, we have to make sure that all of our dogs that are going on to the world and being service dogs are always on their best behavior.

Bernice [00:10:12] Absolutely. Absolutely. And one of the things that that we do later in the program, so while the dogs are trained directly at our facility at Animal Farm, there’s a whole lot of training that happens with the actual handler. Erich Steffensen, who is our programs manager, spends a minimum of three months and sometimes longer, depending on the handler and the dog to make sure that the handler and dog team can do everything they need to do out in public in the home. And then we reevaluate that as time goes on before the dog actually graduates. So The dog lives with his handler before he actually graduates as a service dog.

Nikki [00:10:59] So getting back to what we wanted to talk about, which is we really are hoping I am hoping that we can find shelters or organizations out there that are interested in collaborating with us and working with us and learning through this podcast, through the Facebook lives, through speaking with you personally. What are the personalities that you are looking for? What behaviors are you looking for in a service dog? And we’ve, when we started getting into this and started going to shelters more, we, we’ve tried to do this with other groups. Right? Like you’ve spoken to other people. We’ve tried. And I want to before we get into what things you are looking for, I want to get into what have we seen go wrong a little bit with the selection process and what have people selected in the past thinking it would be a good fit and why it wasn’t. Can we talk about that a little bit?

Bernice [00:12:07] Yeah. So that’s a tough one because one of the things that I tell our team is if you are unsure at all, don’t open the kennel, because once you open the kennel, you’re invested. And that is real, whether anybody wants to believe it or not. And what happens when folks are working in the shelter, they have no choice but to open that kennel. So they’ve already worked with that dog. They’ve already seen, you know, even the very worst behaved dog on the planet loves somebody. Yeah. And is good with somebody. And I think as human beings and human beings who want to work with animals, I think that we fall in love with these animals and we sort of forget about the other little pieces that happen when the stranger walks up. So it’s not, it’s just the way that life works I think, in the shelter. I think we just get sort of stuck.

Nikki [00:13:06] Yeah. Yeah. And I think, too, when the dog is seeing you every day, he’s going to act a little bit differently than he is because we’ve had people suggest dogs to us, great dogs like go check them out and we wouldn’t even take them out of the kennel because they’re a bad dog just because the way that they were reacting at their kennel. But maybe this person has never seen that because they are dealing with the dogs being rock stars and playgroups and in the yards and on walks.

Bernice [00:13:35] Right. And they were the first person to walk down and save the dog from the kennel and take it out. They feed the dogs. They do all the really great things that.

Nikki [00:13:44] Yeah.

Bernice [00:13:45] And then they sort of either forget, even if they had a bad reaction in the beginning, I think you forget or you think oh well maybe that was a bad day.

Nikki [00:13:52] Yeah.

Bernice [00:13:52] But bad days are going to happen.

Nikki [00:13:53] Yeah. And I’ve seen a lot of people try to select dogs for us because the dogs are really, really good in playgroups.

Bernice [00:14:02] Yes.

Nikki [00:14:02] And why would that be a problem?

Bernice [00:14:07] The opposite problem of Drax is not necessarily a problem.

Nikki [00:14:11] Yeah.

Bernice [00:14:11] It’s not necessarily a problem. It can be a huge benefit. Pepe who is one of our service dogs was a playgroup rockstar.

Nikki [00:14:20] Yes.

Bernice [00:14:23] The challenge that we did have with Pepe is Pepe really still does love dogs. He just is a much easier going dogs so he’s easier to train that you don’t get to have it. Then, say, a personality like Drax, who I want it, I’m gonna go get it.

Nikki [00:14:40] Yep.

Bernice [00:14:41] So a play, is not that a playgroup Rockstar is going to be not a great dog. But if they are so much more into dogs than they are people, then we have an issue. Unless their personality is so easy going that you can train them to prefer the person to the dogs.

Nikki [00:15:03] So one thing that I think that I do when I, say so, I don’t select dogs, but I get to go sometimes and watch and, you know, put my suggest that every once in a while. But I have the problem where I always pick dogs that I think are really, really nice. Those like really nice dogs are so, they seem so calm and I’m like, oh, this is going to be great. Like this dog is going to be perfect. And then what happens when I open the kennel and bring the dog to Bernice’s? Do you remember what happens every single time I pick a dog, the dog gets out of its kennel pancakes to the floor like “I’m too scared to do this job can you put me back?” So I think there’s something that I’ve heard you say maybe you can elaborate on as you want a dog to be confident, but not too confident.

Bernice [00:16:04] Yeah.

Nikki [00:16:06] And definitely not too soft.

Bernice [00:16:07] Right. Right. It’s a dance and it’s hard because some of the dogs that look confident in their kennels, if they’ve been there long enough, sometimes they do look much better in the kennel. Then once you open that kennel door and they have to deal with what’s on the other side. But those dogs, if I were the one opening the kennel, as soon as I saw the pancake, I put the dog back.

Nikki [00:16:31] Yeah.

Bernice [00:16:32] Just because once you take the dog out, I don’t care who you are, you start making excuses. Well, he’s really sweet. Well, he can do this, well he can do that. And I’ve learned all through having to adopt out lots of really sweet soft dogs who cannot work.

Nikki [00:16:50] Yeah.

Bernice [00:16:51] That it’s just not worth it. And there’s nothing wrong with those really sweet dogs. Most of those really sweet dogs make fabulous pets.

Nikki [00:16:58] Absolutely.

Bernice [00:16:59] Because they’re not going to cause any trouble. So. Yeah. I mean what you want is that friendly dog. I even like a dog that might jump up to say hi to me. Which I know for a lot of people is like, woah I don’t really like that, but I like a dog who tells me who he is right up front. But then he’s got to be fairly easy to leash up. He can’t be, you know, diving all over me and grabbing me when I go into the kennel. And I want him to walk out like he just doesn’t care.

Nikki [00:16:59] Yeah. Yeah. So when we’re together doing this, you’ll pick a dog and we’ll put it, like we’ll go in the room, put it in the room and i’ll be like this dog is such a pain in the butt. This is not a Service Dog. He’s being super annoying right now. And you’re like, yeah this is a good choice. and I’m like what, are you kidding me, okay. And then like the dog gets back and goes on to be a service dog or occasionally a detection dog.

Bernice [00:17:55] There is a fine line between detection dog and service dog because again, you need that desire to work.

Nikki [00:18:03] Right.

Bernice [00:18:03] But when that desire to work gets too high now we’re now we flipped to the other, flip to a different job.

Nikki [00:18:09] Yeah.

Bernice [00:18:10] And there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with that.

Nikki [00:18:15] Another thing I was thinking about is that sometimes the shelter person that’s has these dogs in their care aren’t looking at the whole picture of the dog. Which I think we touched on a little bit. But so these, this is a fantastic dog that they are intrigued. They want to send us videos, they think it’s gonna work out really well. But then they say, but the dog is great with people, wants to work, but the dog say gets in a fight sometimes in the yard with the other dogs.

Bernice [00:18:44] That’s a no.

Nikki [00:18:44] So that’s a no right.

Bernice [00:18:45] That’s a no.

Nikki [00:18:46] So you’re really, when you’re thinking about what dogs would be good for us. If you’re interested in collaborating with us, it would be you really got to look at the whole picture of the dog and make sure that all the boxes are checked, not just most of them all. All of the boxes need to be checked.

Bernice [00:19:01] Right. Right. Dog-friendly, dog tolerant but dog selective usually does not work out because now we have another training issue that we have to get through before we can actually start training the dog to be a service dog.

Nikki [00:19:16] Yeah. And that full picture can be anything. I just used the dog dog stuff as an example, but it could be.

Bernice [00:19:22] Sure.

Nikki [00:19:23] Cats or I don’t know. There’s lots of things and we’re gonna go over them. But I think it’s important that they look at the full picture of the dog’s personality. So unless you have any other ones that you can think of off the top of your head of, oh let’s talk about your conversation really quick that you had yesterday. We have somebody that’s really interested in collaborating with us.

Bernice [00:19:47] Yes.

Nikki [00:19:49] And you finally got to speak to him over the phone. So can you talk a little bit about how that went and how you explained to him what we’re looking for and what his questions were?

Bernice [00:20:00] Yeah, I mean, the great thing with him is he’s local, so it makes it much easier to work on what things we want and don’t want in a dog. And the part that I think is really important is because he’s local. He’s from, volunteers for a shelter in New Jersey. He realized by the end of our conversation, the dogs that I want for service dogs are dogs that leave his shelter sometimes before he even gets to meet them. So you have to, a shelter has to want to make a difference in the image of the dogs and hang onto that dog for us to try out up this end of the country, which is why a lot of times we just fly south where there’s a heck of a lot more dogs and a lot of the dogs that leave shelters up here are overlooked.

Nikki [00:20:57] Right.

Bernice [00:20:57] But we’re happy to work with shelters anywhere if they want to meet that goal of making a difference. And you know what? Using that as media for your shelter.

Nikki [00:21:07] Absolutely.

Bernice [00:21:08] As well. It drives me crazy that shelters don’t use it enough.

Nikki [00:21:12] Yes. Yes. So What I think we should do. So put you on the spot, I just thought about this. Is I want to pretend that we were all going close our eyes and pretend that we just got off the plane. We’re at a shelter and we’re ready to do our initial walk through. And what I usually do is just watch, observe you and what you’re doing. So I’m just going to pretend that I’m seeing you do these behaviors. And I’m going to ask you, like is like, what do you think about this or why did you do that or what does this mean? Is that a fair game to play? Or is that.

Bernice [00:21:54] I think if we can figure out how to do it. Sure.

Nikki [00:21:58] Okay. Let’s see how it goes.

Bernice [00:22:00] I’ll play whatever game you want.

Nikki [00:22:02] OK. So here’s the first one is we’re walking through the kennel and the dog in the kennel has all four paws on the floor head down. And I wish we’re hopefully eventually going to come out with a video. So that’ll be a little bit easier. So I’m doing my best to describe these behaviors. But what I’ve seen is a dog play bow at the bottom of the kennel. So feet at the bottom, head at the bottom, they look like they’re ready to play. That to me was like, oh, like maybe this might be a good dog. He wants to interact with us. And then Bernice walks by and I’m like do you want to take a picture of this Kennel card Bernice?

Bernice [00:22:48] So so a play bow is a maybe, but play bows don’t necessarily mean what people think they mean. Sometimes a play bow is like, I don’t want any trouble.

Nikki [00:22:57] Yeah.

Bernice [00:22:58] And so you have to look at the whole dog, like is the dog play bowing and ears or pinback and tail is down but I’m still bowing at you. I’m not even going to bother if the dog looked really like wohoo I want to play with you, play bow, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. I might stop and see what else was there and how his interactions were, how the interactions were like. Do you stand up when I put my fingers in? Do you engage when I stare at you? How do you feel about that? That’s what most adopters do. Just before we even go further, I hate, I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate that humans walk through buildings where there are animals in cages. I think it is very unkind and the worst way to look at animals. But this is.

Nikki [00:23:50] How it’s set up.

Bernice [00:23:51] How it’s set up and how life works. And so but if I see a reaction in a kennel for a pet dog I don’t, I don’t care. As long as you’re not trying to tear my head off like you, I might pull you out no matter what. But as a service dog, your reaction has to be stellar and it has to be stellar on my second walkthrough as well.

Nikki [00:24:13] Mm hmm. Now, what if a dog is barking?

Bernice [00:24:17] Depends on the bark.

Nikki [00:24:18] Right.

Bernice [00:24:20] Depends on the bark. I’m OK with a friendly.

Nikki [00:24:22] You are okay. Some barking.

Bernice [00:24:24] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, service dogs have different jobs too. You have to remember. So you’re a pushy barky idiot might make a really good hearing dog.

Nikki [00:24:34] Mm hmm. Other things that I noticed when we were walking through is if, is two things you would be really happy if we were walking through and there was a stranger walking through with us that the dogs didn’t know. Cause you’re going to learn a lot from that. And then you would be really ugh if somebody was walking through that fed, the dogs every day. Can that be helpful for these folks to maybe get somebody, get their partner that doesn’t work at the shelter to come through and see how they react instead of having them walk through?

Bernice [00:25:17] Absolutely. Complete stranger, no leashes. You should not be wearing a leash around your neck because that means good things to the dog. I may feed a dog on this second round if I still like the way the dog’s reacting. But on the first round, I’m not going to offering food.

Nikki [00:25:35] Yeah.

Bernice [00:25:35] It’s just I just want to see your raw reaction to a stranger coming through. I’m super excited. If there’s a big man coming through. If there’s a man in a uniform. Totally makes my day. And if there’s little kids with people. Oh, yeah. You know, I’m always happy to employ them.

Nikki [00:25:59] Remember we were in Georgia that time were like can we borrow your child for a minute.

Bernice [00:26:02] I don’t remember which shelter that was but yes, those people were wonderful.

Nikki [00:26:06] Yeah, they were very helpful. And then second walk throughs, you’ll remember certain dogs, see different behaviors maybe you’ll see behaviors in dogs that you weren’t sure about the first time that you like the second.

Bernice [00:26:21] Yeah. I don’t know if you remember that dog that one of the staff in Agusta had recommended. And he was lovely.

Nikki [00:26:28] Yeah.

Bernice [00:26:29] He was lovely on the first pass through. But on the second pass through, the dogs had been fed. And remember, he charged that kind of beautiful kind of chunky dog.

Nikki [00:26:39] Big, big, big boy.

Bernice [00:26:41] Yep. And he went for the dog next to him.

Nikki [00:26:43] Oh yeah.

Bernice [00:26:44] While the food bowl was out.

Nikki [00:26:45] Yeah.

Bernice [00:26:46] So. Things change when different things happen. Right. And quite frankly, you can’t do that. And resource guarding isn’t predictable in a shelter. We get that. But I can’t now take that chance because I’ve seen it and there is a chance that it could transfer. And when you’re out, when an owner is out having his dinner with his dog and another dog walks by. We can’t take that chance.

Nikki [00:27:13] Right. Right. It may never present itself.

Bernice [00:27:16] It may not.

Nikki [00:27:16] It might at one point in his life.

Bernice [00:27:19] Yes, absolutely.

Nikki [00:27:21] All right. So once we do the walkthrough and select the dogs we think might work. We usually take them out of their kennel, either bring them to a yard or a room or whatever is available at that shelter.

Bernice [00:27:34] Yeah, sometimes it’s a hallway.

Nikki [00:27:37] Sometimes it’s a hallway.

Bernice [00:27:40] Whatever. We can get.

Nikki [00:27:43] We had already talked about like the initial getting the dog out of the kennel and how it reacts when he gets out of its kennel and if it pancakes.

Bernice [00:27:51] Yep. No pancakes. A no going after other dogs that are in the kennels is a no. And I get it, it’s really stressful, right, because some of the other dogs are going at.

Nikki [00:28:02] Yeah.

Bernice [00:28:03] The dog. But I want to see a dog that just wants to just get out. Go ahead. I’m gonna give you the whole leash and I’m not holding the dog tight and that’s where you get a lot of dogs get defensive. I let them have the whole leash. Yeah. I will let you drag me out of here. I don’t care. I would prefer you drag me out of here and away from this chaos. And then we’ll deal with it later.

Nikki [00:28:23] So the dog is pulling me out of the kennel. That’s fine.

Bernice [00:28:27] When other dogs are yelling at him. Absolutely. Absolutely. I would prefer that reaction.

Nikki [00:28:31] OK. Anything with like getting the dog out of the kennel. Like that action. Do you ever see anything there besides, like barking, like obvious stuff?

Bernice [00:28:44] I mean pancaking or being a real hard mouth. Those are things, so like the extremes, but stuff in between I’m not, I don’t get too concerned with as long as it all appears friendly. So I don’t care if you jump on me I don’t care.

Nikki [00:28:58] OK, so once we get the dog into the room, I noticed that you usually let the dog settle down for a little bit. So.

Bernice [00:29:05] I know that’s hard for you.

Nikki [00:29:09] I really like to pet dogs.

Bernice [00:29:10] No touching.

Nikki [00:29:11] I’m the worst. I’m doing better, working on myself.

Bernice [00:29:19] Yeah, I like to see what the dog wants to do once it’s in the room. So I just like to sit there and see like, of course, the dog needs to sniff everything. I’m going to ask the dog for things when it’s in an area, especially if we’re outside in a yard.

Nikki [00:29:32] Yeah.

Bernice [00:29:34] You gotta give the dog a couple of minutes to acclimate. Take in the smell, see what’s been there. But what I want to see within a short amount of time like, maybe a minute and a half to two minutes. Is that the dog comes and checks in with people.

Nikki [00:29:50] OK.

Bernice [00:29:51] If the dog completely ignores me for longer than not. Probably just gonna let the dog have a good time for a few minutes and put it away.

Nikki [00:29:59] Because then it maybe is not going to want to work for a person. Is that where you’re at?

Bernice [00:30:03] It’s just.

Nikki [00:30:05] Is that a little far fetched. A stretch.

Bernice [00:30:07] I mean, it’s so hard because now we’re talking about animals that who knows where they came from? Who knows? We just don’t know a whole lot. But it’s a heck of a lot easier to work with a dog who wants to be with people and who wants your attention.

Nikki [00:30:25] And when do you incorporate food or toys into the equation? When we’re doing stuff like that.

Bernice [00:30:33] Once the dog checks in, I may see like, you know, how easy you are to lure into a sit. Like what things you already know? Are you taking treats? And it’s so hard in a shelter. Right. Because now do I have a dog with kennel cough? Because now I’m at another deficit. Because even if I like the dog, is it worth taking the dog? Because the dog may not be as advertised if the dog’s not well. So many things that come into play. So once the dog checks in, then I’m okay. You know, working with with some food doing handling. When I’m handling though, I’m not feeding.

Nikki [00:31:14] OK.

Bernice [00:31:15] So if we’re picking up feet, if I’m picking you up in the air, this is not training. This is like how are you going to react in the real world when I grab your foot to cut your toenails? How are you going to react when every ounce of your being, like you’re lifted in the air. That’s so scary to be lifted in the air by a stranger. How are you going to react to that?

Nikki [00:31:38] So what do you look for? So I pick up the dog. What are you looking for out of the dog? When I do that.

Bernice [00:31:46] So in an ideal world, I want to see a dog that’s nice and calm. I’m fine if the dog wants to spin around and lick your face. I’m not OK. If the dog gets super squirmy. If the dog displays any head whipping or any level of aggression. But usually, we can see some of that before the dog has even been lifted in the air. I mean, anyone who’s been with me, you know, like I’ve said, lift the dog and then I say, no, stop. Changed my mind put the dog back down. Don’t lift the dog. So just a nice, you know.

Nikki [00:32:25] What about. So I’ve seen dogs lifted or I’ve lifted dogs and thought I was like a really good reaction. And you go to that dog scared.

Bernice [00:32:36] Sure. Sure.

Nikki [00:32:37] So how do you know that?

Bernice [00:32:38] Again, you have to look at the whole dog. Are my ears pinned back? Am I licking my lips? Like what? What’s the whole dog doing? Is my tail tucked? Am I happy? And one of the other things that people get, the dog might seem, appear fine even to someone like me. But when you put that dog down. And that dog gets the zoomies, that’s nervousness. So people are like yay, look, I did this and look at the dog, oh, how cute. He’s running around. He’s Zooming.

Nikki [00:33:06] Hes excited!

Bernice [00:33:07] Yeah, no. You just made him really uncomfortable. So I like to see that dog when you put him back down that either hangs around or leans into you or he’s just like, whatever, did you want anything else or can I go about my business?

Nikki [00:33:25] And then we talked a little bit about hard mouth, soft mouth. So that’s something that you check to with the dogs like you with it.

Bernice [00:33:35] No, I did that. I actually did that. So. So what Nikki is talking about is her and Cassidy went and picked a dog once. And they sent me video, which is super helpful. It’s so much easier to be the person on the outside looking at the video. And when you guys lifted that dog, I saw a squirmy, uncomfortable kind of weird. She didn’t make me comfortable, but I’m looking at a video. Yeah. So that’s why I said do a teeth check. So you and I miscommunicated.

Nikki [00:34:10] Yeah.

Bernice [00:34:11] Nikki comes with us. But Nikki is our like, amazing office run everything, but she’s usually one of our backup people. So I gave her the instruction to do a teeth check. And so she sent me this really adorable video of her giving the dog treats. And the dog had a soft mouth. And that’s not what I wanted, what I wanted was to see what the dog would do when you actually took her by the muzzle and lifted up her teeth to take a look at her teeth. And when they did that, she got snappy. And so.

Nikki [00:34:46] So this is a really good example of how we can tell you all these things. You could tell everybody all these things. And there’s got to be miscommunications along the way.

Bernice [00:34:56] Yes. And I don’t want to see the person who, I don’t want to see the kennel worker who knows the dog lifting the dog.

Nikki [00:35:03] Right.

Bernice [00:35:03] Means nothing.

Nikki [00:35:05] Yeah. I think that that’s a really important thing to mention, is that if you think that you have a dog that might be good, send somebody else in and have them listen to the podcast so they know what to look for and then send them someone that doesn’t know the dog.

Bernice [00:35:20] And have them video it.

Nikki [00:35:22] Yes. Because we’re not going to make any decisions without videos anyway.

Bernice [00:35:25] Right.

Nikki [00:35:25] So.

Bernice [00:35:26] Right. It’s pretty expensive to get on an airplane and really not very safe right now.

Nikki [00:35:30] Yeah. And then so toys I know that you sometimes will try to see how they are with like the tennis ball to see if they’re confident enough to be a detection dog.

Bernice [00:35:45] Which I’m not really usually looking for.

Nikki [00:35:47] Right. Right.

Bernice [00:35:48] But, but the toys also retrieve is a really important thing for a balance dog. So a dog that would retrieve that song over the top is a really great dog for us to bring back.

Nikki [00:36:01] Yeah. And what’s not good for a balance dog? A bad backend.

Bernice [00:36:10] Yeah, a lot. A lot of our flunkies as balanced dogs have flunked out because of little back end issues that as a pet just wouldn’t really matter much. But as a dog that has to assist a human being with a lot of daily tasks, the dog’s body really has to be pretty perfect. So they are the hardest dogs for us to find.

Nikki [00:36:35] And what about like health stuff? So New York State, we can’t transfer any dogs in that have heartworm. And kennel cough is kind of a tough one because you don’t know how the dog’s gonna react, but that’s always good to get video of anyway, I would say. Would you say you’re OK with.

Bernice [00:36:54] Yeah. I mean, there’s different degrees of kennel cough, too. You know, I mean, there’s kennel cough that really doesn’t affect your behavior, that much. Then there’s kennel cough.

Nikki [00:37:03] Any other like health-related things that would be definite nos or considerations? I don’t know.

Bernice [00:37:11] Yeah, I mean, health things are a problem because you need a dog that is healthy and can be aware. So I can’t use a deaf dog, obviously, because the dog has to be completely aware of its environment at all times. Any kind of health thing that would put the dog itself at a deficit is unkind to the dog and to the human to then ask that dog to perform a job and a job every single day.

Nikki [00:37:45] Yeah. Yeah.

Nikki [00:37:47] And if you have a dog with severe allergies that needs a bath every day, that might not be a good dog for a mobility dog. It’s going to be hard to get him in the bathtub everyday.

Bernice [00:37:57] Correct. And it’s unfair to ask somebody who already needs an animal to assist them to then do that much assistance for the animal.

Nikki [00:38:06] Right.

Bernice [00:38:07] And have the expense of the type of food and things like that you need for a dog with allergies.

Nikki [00:38:16] And then I think we didn’t. I mean, I feel like this kind of goes without saying, but, you know, we’re lucky enough here where you’ve got the chickens and the goats and so we’re able to.

Bernice [00:38:28] Cows in horses.

Nikki [00:38:29] Yeah. Cows and horses. And to be able to see how the dogs do with other animals. But I think that’s something that you would probably need to know before you made a decision.

Bernice [00:38:41] We at least like to look at the dog with a small dog, preferably a fluffy one. And whenever possible in a cat room. And I know that makes a lot of cat people really upset, but it takes two seconds. And, you know, there’s no guarantee. We have plenty of dogs that do just fine in that cat room. And then you bring them back and it’s completely different when that cat goes running across the room.

Nikki [00:39:09] So with a small dog on leash, off leash, does it matter? Preferably?

Bernice [00:39:21] In most places, I just look at it on leash because I don’t know these animals and I’m not going to put some small dog at risk for my benefit.

Nikki [00:39:31] OK.

Bernice [00:39:31] But on leash, I want to see how the how the dog does with a small dog on leash.

Nikki [00:39:38] OK.

Bernice [00:39:38] Because, again, you don’t have to play with everybody. You just have to be decent.

Nikki [00:39:43] Yeah. And what do you have to look like?

Bernice [00:39:49] So that’s a really loaded question. It’s a really loaded question. We started out saying that if the dog is labeled. Well, first we started out saying they had to be.

Nikki [00:40:07] A “pit bull.”

Bernice [00:40:07] A “pit bull,” and then we started saying, OK, everywhere we go “pt bulls” look different. So a “pit bull” and you know, texas might look like a Labrador in New Hampshire.

Nikki [00:40:21] Right.

Bernice [00:40:23] And so then we started saying the dog needed to be labeled as. Now, since we have so many really great shelters have gotten rid of labels. We’re basically saying large dog that people might think is this.

Nikki [00:40:42] Or any dog that’s going to face that might face discrimination.

Bernice [00:40:46] Yes.

Nikki [00:40:46] So if a dog is perceived as a Rottweiler or a chow or there’s so many. The list is a mile long. So.

Bernice [00:40:55] The list is a mile long.

Nikki [00:40:59] So we don’t discriminate.

Bernice [00:41:02] We do not. We do not. And we would even take a small dog that was discriminated against in certain areas like, you know, something that somebody might consider to be a Chihuahua. But clearly his jobs would be limited to hearing and psychiatric because he won’t be a balance dog.

Nikki [00:41:21] Right.

Bernice [00:41:25] No matter how nice he is. We don’t we don’t discriminate. But the majority of our dogs, people would consider to be “pit bull” type or “pit bull” mixes?

Nikki [00:41:37] OK. Do you think we need to add anything else? Have I missed anything? Anything you want to add?

Bernice [00:41:44] Not that I can think of. No, I mean, everybody follow Huckleberry.

Nikki [00:41:52] Yeah everybody follow Huckleberry, I’m excited to hear more about this. And again, you know, nothing on here was like an absolute thing.

Bernice [00:42:04] Yeah. Everything is a baseline and it’s so, so hard to select the dogs. And one of the things that you have to really keep in mind is, you know, trust. Trust your gut. Even if the dog is showing you everything really great. But you’re like, something about this dog makes me uncomfortable. Trust your gut and the dog is just a no. Send it home as a pet.

Nikki [00:42:30] And what how should people go about like if they want to collaborate with us? Where should they start? What do you want them to email?

Bernice [00:42:38] They can email. Yeah, they can email us probably info@Animalfarmfoundation.org and Animal Farm Foundation is one word.

Nikki [00:42:48] So email us that info@animalfarmfoundation.org. And I would say e-mail us the videos. That’s what, I mean.

Bernice [00:43:02] Yeah if you’ve already got the videos. But if you’re unsure and you just want to have a conversation we’re happy to do that too.

Nikki [00:43:09] OK. Yeah, that makes sense. All right. Well, thanks for listening. I hope there’s a ton of people out there that want to collaborate with us on this because we’re excited to start placing more service dogs and yeah.

Bernice [00:43:23] Yep.

Nikki [00:43:24] So thank you very much.

Watch One of Our Handlers Talk about His Service Dog

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