Service Projects

I’m staying out of the way today.  My wife has a cleaning crew in to prepare for the arrival of cousins this weekend.  If I stay home, I will be underfoot.  There are a number of projects in progress at Casa DeLuxe.  We had the grass mowed, a non-native shrub that was interfering with the septic aeration field removed, bought some plants to increase the ground cover in the wild (mostly) backyard, and had everything pruned that needed it.

We also had the flat area in back of the house cleared and laid flagstone.  The moles we chased away with stinky stuff last year came back over the last two days and dug up the flagstones.  Mary is angry at the moles.  I tried a bit of covert pleading on their behalf, but she’s not having any of it:

“Did you see what those mothers did last night?!  There are eight new holes between the stones!” 

“We can go buy more of that stuff to chase them off.”

“Fuggeddaboutit!  I’m SO mad.  I’m going to have them killed.”

“We can go down to the hardware store.  They have a lot of different products that…”

“Are you listening to me?  Get your damn fingers over to Google and look up Pest Control.  NOW, mister!”

I know better than to continue considering the moral implications of mole murdering dispassionately.  Mrs. Invisible paid a couple grand to beautify the grounds for guests, only to have it disrupted by insensitive grub-diggers, so she’s in no mood for negotiation.  I chose to live with this woman for better or for worse, and I have to pick battles I can win.  Though I expect we have not made our last mistake, the moles probably have.

The other reason besides beatification for putting more stone behind the house has to do with Mary’s desire to have a dog.  She’s decided to become a puppy raiser for dogs that will be trained for various service professions.  It’s a good way to test her physical limits, to see if she can handle it, without the need for a commitment of years.  The puppy-raising phase of service training takes 14-16 months.  Then your dog goes into hard-core training to assist blind people, become a therapy dog, or go into police/military work, depending on the skills they exhibit as a pup.  I’m putting together a 12-foot kennel behind the back door to house the dog in good weather.

When I’m at home, I’ll be a puppy raiser too.  I still have four ½ years of work to go before I intend to retire, but with only on-call work I am home about half the time.  I stay up later than Mary and sleep less, so I’ll be available for the early repetitious reinforcement exercises that are important during the first few months.  We’ve been meeting with other trainers and learning to handle different dogs ranging from 10 weeks to a year old.  By mid-October we will be ready to accept a puppy of our own to train.  Assuming it works out, after 14-16 months, that dog will be exchanged for another puppy.  There’s a big demand both for these dogs and for puppy raisers.

You can get dogs to do a lot if you begin training young enough, and they like learning the routines and commands.  They learn a consistent boundary by being on the same leash at all times outside.  We reinforce proper behaviors with single pieces of kibble.  Within a few months, dogs learn to walk near the handler’s left side at the speed the person chooses without straining the leash.  They sit, lie down, wait at doors before entering and will hop into a carrying crate on command.  They also learn to pee and poo ON COMMAND, which is pretty amazing since I can’t even do that myself.  You tell the dog “Do your business.”  You lead them around in a circle at the length of the leash.  They will circle around, stop and squat, and either do #1, #2 or both, after which you praise them lavishly.  This ability is essential if the dog is going to become a blind person’s companion.  The blind person will be able to clean up after their dog.

These dogs learn to be more bonded to humans than to other animals.  Lots of gentle handling in the early months and reinforcement with kibble will teach them to passively accept being inspected all over, having their nails clipped and teeth cleaned, and washings or wound care.  The 40% of dogs that complete training trust their handlers completely.  The individuals most suited for this kind of service have a strong desire to conform to whatever behaviors will earn them rewards in the form of food and praise.  There’s nothing they want more than to play the game well.  You can see it in the eyes of the smart ones.  They look at you with an excited expression that asks “Did I do it right?”

Service dogs learn not to bark when in the crate (where they learn they will always be safe), or to independently approach other animals and people in proximity.  They are taught not to bite or “mouth” anything that isn’t given to them as their own toy.  They must not beg for food, jump up on people, or disturb items on a table.  They are not allowed on beds or other furniture.  Golden retrievers, Labradors, and mixes between those two are the most common dogs trained.  Those breeds tend to have the best personalities and skill-sets for the job, though exceptional individuals of other breeds like German Shepherds are sometimes trained.  More kinds including smaller breeds can be raised as therapy dogs for nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities.

A few days ago we had a 10 month-old Golden named Vivian over to the house for a few hours, to see how the cats would react.  Because Viv sat still and just looked at them, they weren’t disturbed.  Maybe we can all learn to live together, given the proper training.


Filed under animal communication, Ethics and Morality

24 responses to “Service Projects

  1. (Get rid of the grubs, and you’ll get rid of the moles. Get rid of the grubs via Nematodes, a parasite you spray on, cheap, effective, and environmentally sound, with no harm to puppies. So long as there’s grubs, the moles will come back, no matter how badly you scare them)

    PUPPIES!! I really hope your endeavor works out! How rewarding for all involved! And I can’t wait to read about your trials and tribulations. The process of training a service dog has always intrigued me but I can’t even pretend to have the patience it takes.

    • The pest killers put poison gel “worms” down the holes, which they said were 14 ft deep in some spots. I was out to repel the diggers, but Mary intended their demise. The service had a 3-year guarantee. The dog stays in the kennel (on cement) when not with us. It’s part of training. Most of the dogs will be living in cities. They must be used to sleeping on concrete as opposed to grass or dirt.

  2. Gemma Sidney

    I’m sorry for the moles. I will pray for their hasty departure… If that is indeed the way it has to go. Very exciting about the service dog training though, I’m sure it will provide you with many valuable and interesting experiences. Please keep us updated!

  3. (sigh) Sadly my sole experience of moles consists of reading the book “The Wind in The Willows” but even so I hope there is some way of eliminating them from your property without actually terminating them.

    The Service Dog thing is amazing… I’m too scared of dogs to do it, live in an apartment, am a cat person at heart and both Kiwi Daughter and I have allergies to both cats and dogs, but the idea appeals a LOT even it doing anything about it will never happen for us.
    Well done to both of you for taking on such an undertaking… I know the “goodbye” part MUST be terribly difficult, but at least you know that their new jobs come with overwhelming gratitude, love and attachment from their new owners.

    • I’m sure there were less terminal methods to use on the moles. Mary wasn’t willing to wait for them to work. Puppy raising is part of Mary’s physical therapy for her spinal injuries. She’ll have to walk more, which is good. The puppies in training are the calmest dogs I’ve ever met, much more companion-like in temperament than ordinary pets. To make it easier to give them up, they give you a new one the same day.

  4. jgavinallan

    It seems nature and its population of creatures are destined to take over…or at least they keep trying.
    The pics of the dogs and what they do are both beautiful and warm to the heart

    • Being creatures ourselves, I think we already took over. Unfortunately, our instincts are sometimes in conflict with our appetites.

      I’m enjoying getting to know the dogs, and I’m so impressed by what they learn to do.

  5. I often see guide dogs being trained in my neighborhood. I’m so impressed by the dogs, of course, but also by the trainers! Puppy raisers like you and Mary get the puppies off to a good start so that they can help people. I had a blind student once who had a guide dog (after using a cane for years). I couldn’t believe how much freedom the dog gave him. You and Mary are heroes.

  6. I support whatever you decide to do about the moles with no judgements. You gotta do what you gotta do right? Me? I cannot even kill a spider. I catch it and take it outside. I really find it stressful when I get some kind of bugs in the house. Even roaches. I do not feel comfortable killing anything. Everything has a right to life. However, I do have to break down occasionally and just kill the damn things.

    Oh, I think it so wonderful about being the dog trainers. What fun. How joyous! Keep us updated and lots of pics!

    • Perhaps it would be psychologically freeing to be less judgmental about the morality of my own actions, but I’m also up against an entire lifetime spent trying to learn how to make CORRECT judgments. I’m definitely unhappy we had the moles killed, but I’m not going to harass Mary about it. She knows I disagreed with the decision, and paid for the exterminator herself.

      I think the dog project is cool too! I’m excited about it. I’ll take pictures.

      Good for you, when you are able to refrain from killing, and I forgive you when you break down and act like the other animals. The cats don’t hunt birds, but they never hesitate to pounce on and devour a bug. Everything in perspective I guess. Nice to have you here, Debbie.

  7. Mikey, the more I get to know you, the more I admire you. What a wonderful thing for you and Mary to do.
    If I ever had a service dog, I would love nothing more than for him/her to be trained by YOU.
    Thank you for making a difference to this world.

    • It’s that wheel thing, my dear. You train me. I train a dog. The dog helps someone else. They write something that helps free you. It all comes round again. I can feel your touch from across the world.

      Have you investigated obtaining the assistance of a Capuchin? They train them to assist people with spinal injury and mobility impediments. Smart, quick, sensitive, eager to please. Just right for the job. They can help you do things (like brush your teeth) that a dog couldn’t. I expect you may have, but just in case you or others are interested, here’s a link:

  8. Sampson is a wicked mole killer. I don’t think Mary would appreciate the holes he digs to get to them though. I think it broke his little heart when we had them taken care of. I didn’t like the thought of it either but there’s not any other way to get rid of them.
    We have a lab as well. They are wonderful dogs and so smart. We have a 22 year old cat as well and our lab, Zeus is so gentle with her.
    Good luck with your training. That is an awesome thing for yourself and Mary to do.
    Thank you for the lovely compliment about my paintings and photos. 🙂

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  10. I’m with Mrs. Invisible on the mole problem. Kill the suckers. Yes, I’m a little heartless when it comes to pests. I’ll work on that. One day.

    Good luck with the service dog endeavor. It’s a worthy project, to be sure.

    • Thanks. I’ll do some updates soon, as we will be taking Vivian on some small trips. You’re one of the more consistently compassionate people I’ve encountered, Moms, so it doesn’t faze me if you get territorial now and again. (I’ve been praying for your family to continue receiving support for the rebuilding of your shelter needs, but I am comforted knowing you live in a community that is rich in grace, and generous in the spirit of sharing.)

  11. We appreciate the prayers very much. We are settled in a new home and have everything we need, thanks to our fantastic community. Thanks again.

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  13. What a beautiful idea! The service dogs that is, not killing the moles. I know how Mary feels. We have wild pigs that come and dig up our so called “lawn” – mostly weeds. But I figure they lived here before me so they have a right. That logic, I’m sure would not go down with Mary.

    • Welcome back from your sabbatical, Sandra. We really had to do something fast about the moles, not only because of visitors but also because puppies will dig in holes already present and it’s a distraction from training we must avoid if possible. We completed assembling the backyard kennel, and will be having dogs stay over very soon.

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