Making a positive difference in the lives of those with hearing impairment

A Voice of Our Own – The role of service and therapy dogs in practice

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Written by Emily Roback

If you walk into my office, Ivey, my one-year-old Weimaraner – who is trained in hearing obedience, triathlon and performing fly ball tricks – could very well be the first to greet you! She is my hearing service dog. She is ready, at a moment’s notice, to not only run by my side and give me a sense of security and well-being while I’m in training for triathlons, but also to assist in the office when I’m treating patients. She is trained, among other things, to listen for the doorbell and for when visitors walk in and out of the clinic. Patients often comment on how comfortable they feel with Ivey in the waiting room – and that doesn’t surprise me.

Dr. Emily Roback with Ivey, her one-year-old Weimaraner who is trained in hearing obedience, triathalon and performing flyball tricks.

I am the owner of, and a chiropractor at, the Iron Mountain Chiropractic clinic located in trendy Mission, Alberta, a local community southwest of downtown Calgary. And, I have a profound hearing loss. Because of this profound hearing loss, I have been practising with a canine since September 2011. With the advent of therapy dogs participating in animal-assisted therapy programs in hospitals, and supporting mental health specialists in private offices, the use of canines in chiropractic settings has gained popularity over the past few years. Canines help individuals feel better, either as therapy dogs or as emotional support animals.

Although the training of assistance dogs – for service, therapy or emotional support – may overlap, the terms do not. I’d like to tell you about some of the differences between the two.

AN INTRODUCTION TO SERVICE DOGS
A service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work, or perform tasks, for the benefit of an individual with a disability. This includes hearing disabilities, particularly when performance of major life activities such as learning, working or communicating is impaired. Service dogs, by law, are not considered pets and are exempt from the no-pet policies enforced by a multitude of public facilities, including restaurants, movie theatres and hospitals.

While a dog is undergoing a training session, the assumption that the animal is focused and “wants to please” the owner is misleading. The animal only learns to comply with the owner’s expectations, such as coming when called, when the owner places conditions on offering the social acceptance the dog desires. It is almost impossible to condition all humans to stay clear from petting a quiet, friendly-looking dog – including a service dog – despite any badges indicating a “‘hands off”’ request. Consequently, it is imperative to train the dog to sidestep anyone who chooses to pet them. These dogs, however, are expected to perform a specific task to help their disabled handler and to behave properly in all public settings.

As a dog owner who has a profound hearing loss, I am not required to provide any medical documentation prior to boarding a plane, train, bus or taxi cab. Nonetheless, documentation is required for my service dog, Ivey, prior to her boarding a plane. For instance, Air Canada requires the following canine documentation to be faxed to their medical desk in Vancouver: birth certificate, vaccination records, registration number and one headshot photograph. Under the Canadian Air Transportation Regulations, trained service animals that are assisting passengers with disabilities are transported at no cost and placed in the passenger cabin at the customer’s feet or in an adjacent seat. This means that Ivey is able to accompany me without interruption on business trips across Canada by air!

THERAPY DOGS – A CANINE COMFORT
A therapy dog is different from a service dog. Janelle Jones, a provisional psychologist at Homewood Human Solutions, believes that having a dog in her practice means having an additional means of therapy for clients who find holding, stroking or receiving affection from an animal to be a calming experience during the discussion of stressful or traumatic events. During deep breathing exercises for example, clients are encourasged to focus on the animal’s inhalation and exhalation and to mimic the calm nature of the animal’s breathing. For clients suffering from anxiety, Janelle‘s Weimaraner, Lola, accompanies them as they explore difficult or challenging experiences that may trigger their fears.

Furthermore, emotional support animals are primarily used for companionship and affection. The animals don’t, and are not trained to, perform any specific task. They are affectionate pets whose owners deal with stress or tension – owners find many symptoms improve while they are in the presence of their pets.

Dr. Tanya Dobrzanski, a chiropractor at Turn 2 Chiropractic in Calgary, employs dogs in her clinic for therapy purposes. According to Dr. Tanya, “There is nothing quite as healing as a dog that comes to greet you with unbridled joy and excitement, regardless of your race, creed, wealth, gender, or how your day has been going. When a dog sees a person, they see only love. They can make the worst days better with just a quick kiss and a kind glance. They can break through walls that we as humans may struggle with. It is for these reasons I bring my dogs Yogi and Taz into my office.”

CHALLENGES WITH SERVICE/THERAPY DOGS
Millions of dog/human relationships fail each year – some from simple and preventable mismatches. An owner’s unrealistic expectations of their dog’s behaviour are common reasons for failed human/animal bonding. A good breeder who is versed in the intricacies of setting up a human/animal affiliation for the purpose of therapy or service, can help sidestep some of these challenges. For instance, Prairie Shadow Weimaraner Dog Breeders work on limiting the occurrence of false expectations, and increasing the likelihood of successful adoptions by offering pre-adoption counselling to help clients sort through the many factors involved in the process of successful pet selection. This program assists in preparing clients to take on the important tasks of puppy socialization and the management of the home learning environment, and educating new owners about the needs and behaviour of dogs.

A PATIENT’S EXPERIENCE WITH IVEY
Ivey is a service dog and has been taught to perform specific tasks for me. As well as listening for the door bell in my clinic, Ivey also listens for strange sounds such as an overflowing coffeemaker, Skype Internet phone call or someone knocking on the door. Outside of the office, she lets me know when to cross the crosswalk, whether there are bikers/runners behind me while I am on the trail or if there are cars passing by. She basically gets my attention by nudging me with her nose on my leg.

But, at times, a service dog can wind up doubling for a therapy dog. I became a firm believer in the value of service dogs following an experience with a former patient.

Upon arriving at the clinic, this patient always neglected to buzz the doorbell to indicate his presence. My dog, Ivey, would sense that someone was at the door, bark, search, then take me to the door. This patient was a very disturbed young man who would only talk to me through Ivey. While staring at Ivey, he would ramble on about the voices he heard in his head, which on occasion would tell him such things as to end his marriage. One day, when he whispered that he was smoking pot to cure his right wrist pain, Ivey put her left paw on his right arm and he broke out in tears. His wrist pain was treatable by means of chiropractic adjustments, muscle therapy (active release technique) and exercise therapy. But, only Ivey could reach deeper into him and help him with some of his other problems.

I am happy to say the gentleman remains married and, from time to time, drops by the office only to see Ivey and give her dog treats.

For further information on obtaining service dogs, as well as becoming more involved with animal assisted therapies, you can call 1-866-233-8242 or e-mail roback@doctor.com.


Dr. Emily Roback is a chiropractor with Iron Mountain Chiropractic, practising in Aviation Chiropractic. Her aviation patients have inspired her to pursue a mountain ski guide certificate and private pilot licence to work in the heli-ski industry. In 2011, she presented a spinal health seminar for the Canadian Air Forces (Edmonton base), Calgary Police and Edmonton Police. Dr. Emily Roback can be contacted at roback@doctor.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*