Sunday, December 4, 2011

Service Dogs

Longtime readers know I like a good arguement.  The other day my greyhound adoption group received this email:

To all Greyhound Adoption groups I know,

Please check out this short tv clip and see for yourself how much pressure this big man is applying on the poor greyhound's back. This greyhound will end up with spinal problems and pain, there is no doubt in my mind.

I cannot believe that this group thinks or believes it is okay to put so much pressure on a greyhounds back. This infuriates me!

They claim that GPA is supporting them. I cannot believe that any GPA group would support this abuse. This greyhound will have nothing but spinal problems and pain in his years to come.

Have we forgotten that we are there for the greyhounds and have to be their guardians?

Please write to this group that you are not supporting this training method or the goal they have to give out greyhounds as service dogs.

Click Here to see the video she is refering too (sorry there is a commerical).  Well, I disagreed so I responded:

I'm on the board of Southeastern Greyhound Adoption. I disagree with your view. The man is not putting any pressure on the middle of the greyhound's spine. Instead, the pressure is over the greyhound's shoulders and hips and therefore the weight is being supported by the greyhound's legs. I would not expect that greyhound to suffer any spinal injuries from that.

Our group likes to see greyhounds pursue 2nd careers whether it be pet therapy, meet & greets, dog agility, obedience, jogging/hiking/walking companion, or service dog. In fact, we have one greyhound in our club that is currently a service dog. While some enjoy being couch potatoes... others benefit greatly from a new job. It is the reason we have removed "retired" from our literature and website.

Her response to that was:

I disagree with you and have several groups who disagree-this is not safe for a greyhound, you can check with greyhound savvy vets.

So I wanted to know more about their findings:

If its not safe for a greyhound, then it would not be safe for any dog. Why limit to just the greyhound?

What are the vets saying is happening to the spine when you put pressure on the shoulders or hips? What are the mechanics causing the injury and what is the injury? I think your claim needs to be backed up by something a little more substantial. I did a search for service dog injuries and couldn't find anything.

I know your heart is in the right place.

See, I was even trying to be nice!  Then she says:

If you do not know about anatomy of a greyhound, you should not be into greyhounds.

Ha! New adoption prerequisit - Greyhound Anatomy classes. Seriously, is that the best she can do?  When you have no facts and a baseless claim, insults are the next best thing.  My response:

You are funny. :-) Due to my understanding of anatomy, I was able to explain why a greyhound is physically able to perform the service job without injury. But being open minded, I gave you the floor to explain your understanding. Instead of doing that, you insulted me... so I have to assume you know a lot less about anatomy than you think you do.

Since she still had no facts, she responds:

I have no time and better things to do than to go into meaningless e-mails.  Hope you understand.

Of course, she doesn't. Hopefully she will use her time to research the facts. If you do receive this inflated, factless email, please make up your own mind before you automatically support it.  It is perfectly fine to disagree with me, but you better be able to support it with something other than emotion.


gyeong said...

As a scientist with a PhD, I wholeheartedly agree with your evidence/fact approach. You can tug at my heart strings, but empirical evidence will win me over every time.

jet said...

Not sure why she thinks Greyhounds are particularly delicate - they are athletes and that particular dog looks to be in very good physical condition. Maybe if it was an elderly dog or a dog with previous injuries it would be an issue but I can't see it effecting a healthy young greyhound to support that extra weight for the few seconds...

Hiking Hounds said...

The first thing I noticed in the video was that he put his hands and the pressure over the shoulders and hips, which like you said doesn't put pressure on the back. As long as the person was properly trained on how to do this and not too big for the dogs overall size and strength it doesn't seem like it would be a problem at all. Lots of service dogs are used for bracing. It doesn't seem like this person knows much about service dogs in general. Mine often assist me when I'm balancing to put on shoes for walkies. :-) I have a science background too and it is so frustrating to deal with people who don't look at facts and evidence when it's needed. I admire your willingness to try and correspond with her.

Unknown said...

What a fantastic clip of hope and inspiration for veterans and former racers! Thank you for standing up for "retired" Greys who are pursuing second careers. Hopefully most people who see that video will see the good in it, and not get caught up in an issue that doesn't exist (ex: spinal problems for the dog from supporting weight on his hips and shoulders).

angelofthemind said...

I see no problem with the way he's putting weight on the dog's spine at all. So long as the proper vet checks have been done, and the new handler were trained to do it properly I think it would be just fine. In fact, the way he's distributing the weight is better than many Service Dog teams using rigid handle harnesses.

The one thing he did say though that really made me wonder was that the dog was to "replace someone's cane." Noooo, no, no NO! That is a really, really bad idea. If a person with a disability has need for a cane (full time) they should not be replacing a cane with a Service Dog. You cannot constantly be putting your entire weight onto a dog, any dog. If you consistently need help with balance, sure! If you occasionally have problems where you fall over and need help getting up, or you need to briefly put weight on the dog, no problem! (So long as due precautions are observed.) But using the dog as a living, breathing cane? I most heartily object! All that weight, constantly placed on the dog, even if it's properly positioned, would be asking for trouble. The other thing is that there will be mistakes. People will accidentally put their weight in the wrong spot. It's an accident, but it will happen. Better if it only happens once in a very long while than very often because the dog is constantly used as a cane.

Now listening to what he said, he probably did not mean that the pup was meant as a constant cane, more like help with balance, or help up when needed, and for that it looks like it will work wonderfully! I was also very pleased to see that he was using a soft harness. Rigid harnesses often have plates to which handles are attached and that plate will dig into the spine of a dog if the handle is ever pulled back. Soft harnesses will break before the dog does.

How very cool that there are some Service Greyhounds! I hope he's placed with his new person soon. As for that lady, some opinion if you can't back it up with fact or at least some experience.

Sorry for the long post, I'm looking forward to hearing what other people think!

Tucker The Crestie said...

Well, to be frank, although I have volunteered for a greyhound rescue previously, they did not offer greyhound anatomy classes as part of our volunteer training. Therefore, it makes no more sense to me than it does to you why a (healthy, able-bodied) greyhound would not be able to perform service work just as well as any other (healthy, able-bodied) dog breed. One would think that anyone who loves greyhounds and wants to see more of them find a new vocation after their racing days are done (be that vocation as an agility or other sport dog, a beloved companion, or as a service dog) would be thrilled to see a greyhound succeeding in a service dog capacity. This seems nuts.

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Love all of your comments today! :-)

Angelofthemind, your explanation makes perfect sense to me... and I bet you haven't taken those greyhound anatomy classes either. :-)

angelofthemind said...

lol! Hardly, never even had the opportunity to work with a Greyhound rescue. My comment to her is; come on lady, common sense isn't all that painful!

Brooke said...

Lol! Funny you would mention this. I have gone round and round with Hero's trainer about his "training" of Hero. As you know, DeeDee is also a mobility service dog. I personally take the opinion that any pressure placed on a dog should be over the shoulders only, with at most light weight on the rear end. But others disagree, which is fine. However, you should not put your full weight on any dog - they are not built for it. And Hero should not replace someone's cane.

Furthermore, watch Hero stumble as his trainer puts his weight on him. A dog used for brace work must be taught to brace correctly. Stumbling like that is a good way for the dog to tweak its spine. Hero is not bracing correctly in the video.

To add insult to injury, Hero's school claims he is ready for placement, but as a mobility dog supposedly for someone who needs assistance even getting up from the floor, chairs, etc, he has not even been trained to do a basic retrieve (as his trainer states in the video). Why is this?

According to his trainer (who I have conversed with extensively), Hero's only task is to brace for someone getting up. IF he has a trained brace, that would technically qualify him as a service dog (though if he's simply allowing the man to push on him due to Hero's greyhound temperament and tolerance, it's not a trained task and he is not a service dog under the ADA). BUT, I have never heard of a program that trains service dogs to the bare minimum standards of qualification under the ADA. If someone needs help getting up off the ground, wouldn't that same person also benefit from a dog who retrieves? As you know, Jen, teaching a greyhound a retrieve is nowhere near impossible. It's not even that difficult to train a basic directed retrieve, and to be honest, I have never heard of a mobility service dog that did not have a solid directed retrieve.

I won't even go into the solid information I have from a program Hero's trainer used to be part of about his intentions, goals, etc. Suffice it to say they are questionable and nowhere near as honorable as he claims. I could go on with more proof of this, but I will stop there.

Basically, yes, greyhounds can make wonderful service dogs. I am in no way against it - I use one, lol! I've also spent all afternoon answering questions from someone who is interested in training one as her service dog. But like any breed, they must actually be trained. Personally, I don't believe Hero has been trained, and I know several service dog experts and programs who agree with me. In the end, it is both Hero and the veteran who adopts him who will suffer, and perhaps the reputation of the greyhound breed at large.

I'm sorry this got so long. I've just been round and round with Hero's trainer and wanted to offer my views as someone who uses a legitimate greyhound mobility service dog. DeeDee is trained to provide careful momentum assistance, counterbalance, and medical alerts, and can also do directed retrieves, help with the laundry, help unmake the bed, flip light switches, open and close doors, find and retrieve my phone on command in case I fall and need to call for help (something Hero should know if going to someone unable to get up on their own - that or how to use a K9 911 phone), and do a host of other things. And she's still in training! Hero stands still while someone pushes on his back, and they say he's ready for placement. See the difference?

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Excellent comment, Brooke! That's the kind of educated arguement I was looking for. I have to admit that retrieving seems like a really basic skill all service dogs should have. Especially if someone has back problems and needs bracing or balancing help... seems like a retrieve would be very handy as well.

I am curious why you don't think the rear should have any pressure placed on it though? The front end is already weighted heavier... so then to use only the shoulders to brace seems like you really compound putting the dog out of balance. But putting the other hand on the rear seems like it would evenly distribute the weight.

Again, thanks for the excellent info.

jcp said...

Interesting. I guess what I take take the most issue with is the language. Terming an assisted stand as "abuse" is laughable as compared to real abuse.
"Have we forgotten that we are there for the greyhounds and have to be their guardians?" Dogs through history have performed services beneficial to humans. The relationships is one of mutual welfare and benefit. This relationship is to easily forgotten. When properly trained I'm sure greys can be awesome service dogs.

Leah @ Exceptional Dogs said...

Part of what makes the person's argument so strange to me is that the guy in the video specifically says that he picked a greyhound because of how sturdy it is. Which makes the assumption that he didn't think about greyhound anatomy a little odd.

I have to say that I did find Brooke's comment about needing to teach retrieving as a basic skill pretty convincing, though!

Greyhounds CAN Sit said...

Very interesting discussion. It did seem to me that Hero would need to know a lot more than to stand still while someone uses him as a brace to be a Service Dog proper. Very enlightening comment from Brooke.

Do dogs chosen for this type of work get a full physical before being trained to make sure they are up to the task?

Brooke said...

Thanks, Jen. I appreciate you being open to what I said. I love you and your dogs, so I really didn't want to offend you, lol!

I have been scouring the web trying to find the exact reason why you're not supposed to put weight on a dog's rump like that, but I haven't been able to find it yet. I have found several service dog sites that teach that weight should only be placed on the shoulders to avoid injury to the dog, but I haven't found why yet, lol. It's just the common standard, although as I said, some schools do teach that very light placement of the other hand on the rump is okay as well. Basically, the shoulder area is the strongest point. I would assume the reason for not putting pressure on the dog's rump during bracing would be the same reason people say it is unsafe to push down hard on a dog's bottom to force it to "sit." I just can't find what that reason is. I'll keep looking and asking around, and let you know if/when I get an answer. Now you have me curious, lol!

Regardless, of course, with Hero stumbling like that it places him at high risk of tweaking/injuring his spine. He needs to learn to brace properly. :-)

Leah - You're right, the trainer did say how sturdy greyhounds are. But in reality, for brace work, a broader base (body) is actually sturdier than a narrow one. So a lab or golden (or preferably larger breed with a wider body) are better suited for bracing than a narrow dog like a greyhound. His statement makes no sense at all, lol. Glad what I said made some sense. :-)

"Greyhounds CAN Sit" - Thanks. Yes, mobility dogs should always have a full physical before being trained - especially if they're going to be used for brace work. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of brace work anyway - I think in most cases, counterbalance (pulling up on the harness handle) and/or training the dog to pull you up can be just as effective and less hard on the dog. But for those who do need brace work, the minimum standard is that the dog should be healthy and weigh a minimum of 1/3 their handler's weight.

If you're interested, here's a link to a video of someone who explains how to do a proper brace safely and shows the correct and incorrect way. She doesn't have a grey, but she does have a gorgeous cream golden. :-)

DeeDee does an alert that's almost identical to the one in the video for me (I have a different health condition, but can go down quickly without prior notice). However, my health is such that I am able to get up using counterbalance. Christy, in the video, needs light brace work, and is careful to do it correctly. :-)

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Brooke, that was an awesome video. I have to admit I wasn't really sure exactly what "brace" service provided, but great example in the video. It was very cool to see the dog alert as well.

Brooke, email me. Maybe we could do a post showing off what DeeDee, the greyhound, can do. I think folks would love to see that.

Brooke said...

Thanks, Jen. Christy (the woman in the video with Windsor) has become a good friend of mine through Facebook. She has quite a few good instructional type videos on Youtube. She was a teacher before her TBI, so educating is just part of her nature.

I'll send you an email about DeeDee. She would count it an honor to appear on the same blog as her hero dogs and her mommy's inspiration that greyhounds really CAN do anything. :-)

Brooke said...

Okay, I got the answer about why it's bad to put a lot of pressure on the hind end. I asked a service dog group I belong to about it. One of the more knowledgeable members gave this response:

"As I understand it, it's the same reason you avoid the spine and use the shoulders- its the only vertical column of bone structure that reaches the floor. I split my weight between Duncan's shoulders and hips when I know I can push almost straight down, but for any sort of sideways it's his shoulders and some other object: cane, chair, my knee, whatever. That way he can move his hind end to steady himself if he has to."

I then looked at this picture of a dog's spine: The front and back leg structure looked so similar to me that I asked what the difference was. Here is the answer I received back:

"Take a closer look at the joint angles in the legs. See how the foreleg is very straight under the top of the scapula? You press down on the shoulders, it travels straight down the ribcage to the strong bones of the front leg. The pelvis sits forward of most the hind leg- usually only the knees are under the top of the pelvis, everything else sits back from there. You press down on the butt, and you're asking the knee and hock to hold their bend against the force you're applying. More moving parts is also why I don't like putting sideways pressure on the hind end. Remember that the scapula and humerus, almost to the elbow, are held close to the body/ribcage by layers of muscle. The hind legs are pretty much on their own from the hip joint down.

"If your dog has the muscle and tendon strength, good joints and good angles, asking them to hold up under weight on their hind end is not a bad idea. If you're wrong and the angles are not sturdy or their joints aren't good, you can cause them a lot of pain or have them fall out from under your hands. I also think having a head on one side and their butt on the other makes balancing weight across their shoulders a lot easier for them."

Makes sense to me. :-) Does it make sense to you, too? If you (or anyone else) has further questions, I'd be happy to look for the answers for you. Thanks for asking what you did - it forced me to learn the "why" behind the rule, and that's always a good thing!

Lima (or Lima Bean) said...

Haha... I initially planned to comment on funny it is that the less someone *really* knows about something, the more defensive they get about it when challenged. Then I read the follow up comments and got to enjoy a nice informed discussion :). At one time in my life, I studied biomechanics (in humans), so the discussion about greyhound biomechanics was particularly fascinating.

christina said...

As for why Greyhounds might not be able to perform the same work as another breed, dogs bred for different functions tend to have different conformation. Sighthounds like Greyhounds have anatomical differences from other dogs, such as more open shoulders (a straighter front assembly when viewed from the side) and narrower width of chest. You wouldn't expect a Grey to be able to compete in the Iditarod (notwithstanding the cold) because they have a different conformation from sled dogs, their bodies are built for maximum sprint speed at the double-suspension gallop, not to pull weight over hundreds of miles.

That's not to say a GH couldn't make a great brace dog, necessarily (I have no idea), but just throwing out there that there may be anatomical differences specific to GHs or sighthounds that might make a difference for brace work. Good for you for pushing back on the emotional reactive garbage though. Too bad she'll probably never get it (see

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

LOL, Christina! I think she must definitely be suffering from Dunning Kruger effect. :-).

pami said...

I just want to let everyone that has a greyhound as a service dog there is a great website, that sells service dog patches and lisa can add a picture of a greyhound to almost any style patch she can do full body or just the head of the greynound. Go online to pup' but if she makes a patch for you please let her use your style patch online.

Yralih said...

I've been thinking of training a greyhound for my mobility/balance SD and have a couple of questions for those of you that have done so, or those of you who just live with one. Is the sighthound chase reflex hard to get past? Does that vary between ex-racers and never-raced-ers?

Thank you,
Susan Goble