In January 2010, Thor, a 5-month-old weimaraner, came crashing into my life.
Here, I will outline the steps taken to train him to be a well-mannered dog,
to do agility, and to perform some service dog tasks.
At five months, he is pretty wild.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
A Possible Service Dog
One of the reasons I agreed to take Thor was my own increasing disability. In the week before he arrived, I fell three times.
In December 1989, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For years, I had relapses and remissions. Most of the time I was fine but during a relapse I would have difficulty walking and holding things. During most relapses, with one leg dragging, I was able to run sideways. My little dog Peabody was very adaptable to the changes in me, and we worked very hard to develop distance skills so that we could continue to run agility regardless of my speed. In 2008, my doctor told me that my disease had progressed. It was now classified as secondary progressive MS. That means that I will not have the dramatic relapses of the past, but also that I will not recover from whatever deficits come. I can no longer run. My balance is poor. I drop things. In addition, I have cognitive deficits involving memory, word retrieval, and multi-tasking. Throughout the course of my illness I have had bouts of severe
depression. These are all part and parcel of the damage to the central
nervous system that MS causes.
In thinking about adopting Thor, I knew I would have a big project on my hands. But I also knew that he was going to be a big strong dog who could learn to help me with balance and getting to my feet. I knew also that he could be taught to pick up dropped items. My border collie, Vada, had been a big help to me at home. Due to her unpredictability (aggression) around other dogs, she could never be a full service dog. But at home, she helped to steady me. She learned to pull off my socks. She learned to pick up anything I asked for such as pens and pencils and articles of clothing. She could pick up a quarter off my linoleum kitchen floor.
Since Thor was already friendly, exposed to young children, good with other dogs, the right size and coat type, I thought he'd make an excellent service dog. I was further encouraged the day I took him to the vet. Even though he was awful at walking on a lead, once we got inside he sat quietly in the waiting room. In the exam room, he lay down, completely relaxed. If he was able to do that at five months, he'd certainly be able to as an adult.
One of my next projects will be to introduce him to adaptive equipment. I sometimes use a cane, crutches, or forearm crutches. I expect that my future holds a walker and/or wheelchair.