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Old 04-25-2012, 01:48 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default GSDs as PSDs - Working Lines?

(This post is going to have a lot of background information, so please, bear with me! I’ve pretty much combed this section of the forum but I still have some questions. For those of you who want to skip to the end the million dollar question is this:” is a working line breeder going to think I’m nuts for wanting one of their dogs as a PSD?”)

I’m a 20 year old college student (studying psychology and English, trying to make a career in animal assisted therapy) and I was recently diagnosed as Bipolar II. I’ve always had “mood issues” as it were, I just never had a name for it until recently. I’ve decided, for now, to try and managing things without medication. It was a tough decision, but using strict diet, a sleep schedule, a consistent exercise routine, and by structuring my days (in addition to the work with my therapist) I’ve managed to get myself in a pretty good place. I’m in the middle of the seesaw right now, and I’m doing everything in my power to stay that way (or at least make sure that if I do slip and slide, I don’t make it to either extreme end of the seesaw like I have before).

I’ve worked with therapy animals for quite a while- my current dog (a sheltie) and I make the rounds at local nursing homes (we’ve also visited several special needs classrooms and groups) and I am a PATH International certified therapeutic riding instructor for a non-profit group that strives to enrich the lives of mentally and physically handicapped children and adults through interaction with horses. This past year I got involved with a service dog training organization through my college and I will be fostering one of their SDs in training over the summer.

In my work with the service dogs in training I started doing quite a bit of research, particular in the areas of Psychiatric Service Dogs. For a while there I thought it might be an interesting thing to consider- ‘a psychiatric service dog for someone who is bipolar! How neat!’ but I eventually brushed it off because I simply thought I “wasn’t disabled enough”.

A few weeks back I took the SDIT who I will be fostering home to introduce him to my dog and cat. In just the short 3 days I was with him I noticed that I stuck to my schedule much more regularly (he gets up every morning at 6 because of his current foster’s habits, so I got up at 6 every morning- a bit of a pain, but it got me thinking). The gears started working in my head and I looked further into the idea of a psychiatric service dog. I figured out that I was very much NOT looking for an emotional support animal. I don’t need something to hug because I’m sad- when that depressive swing hits I can deal with the sadness and the tears (though animals help). It’s the apathy that brings my life to a grinding halt. I plotted out the “tasks” I would need a PSD to perform: provide a wake up call every morning to make sure I maintain my schedule (especially during depression when hypersomnia is a huge problem for me), provide tactile stimulation and initiate activity (going for walks, etc) during depression, “ground” me when I’m hypomanic and my thoughts are racing so fast I can barely concentrate, and remind me to go to bed when I’m hypomanic and feel like I’ll never need to sleep again.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like it might be a good idea. Having a PSD would be another piece in the puzzle, another tool in the toolbox for managing BP successfully. It sometimes feels like a funny idea to consider since I don’t feel ‘disabled’ right this second, but I know when that day comes and I inevitably start sliding towards one end of the emotional seesaw I’ll be grateful for the dog on the other end balancing things out.

Now on to why I’m really here- and a treat for you if you’re still reading.
When I considered the idea of a PSD, the question of “what breed should I get?” inevitably came up. When I looked at what I needed and what I wanted I compiled a list of breed and began researching. I’ve had friends with GSDs before, but I never knew much about them. I started researching GSDs on this forum and elsewhere and discovered that there is a whole world within the breed and there was way more to learn than I anticipated! I’ve tried to absorb all I can, but I still have questions.

I need a dog who is as active as me (I run, bike, hike, kayak, ride horses- and I try to forgo the use of my car when I can. Bike to work, to and from the stores, etc.) and is okay with being sedentary on occasion (sitting quietly in class for an hour and fifteen minutes at a time) and that on/off switch needs to be rock solid. He/she needs to be great with other people, including but not limited to the disabled children he will encounter in my line of work (always supervised, of course). I’d love for my dog to be involved in therapy work at the local hospitals and nursing homes as well. Essentially I’m looking for the ultimate adorable, wonderful, cuddleable family dog in an intelligent, hardy, athletic, working dog package.
I have no doubt that a GSD could do this, but now the question becomes what kind of GSD do I want? I’ve seen beautiful show line dogs and I’ve seen beautiful working line dogs. I’ve seen show line dogs titled in shutzhund and I’ve seen working lines as family pets. From reading on here I’m fairly sure I don’t want a “high drive” dog, but I’m certainly not looking for the village idiot either. How on earth do you find the happy medium? What is the happy medium?

I must admit, I lean towards the working lines. Trolling the internet I have fallen in love with the physique (and coloring - I’ll admit it- I love a black GSD) of some of the working line dogs. Has anyone ever met a successful SD who was from working lines? Or a successful therapy dog from working lines? Is a working line breeder going to think I’m nuts for wanting one of their dogs as a PSD?

Last edited by Lunazul; 04-25-2012 at 01:50 AM.
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Old 04-25-2012, 02:13 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Lunazal, this is one of the most well written, interesting posts I have seen on the forum ever. WOW.
Kudos to you for your studies/ career choice. We need more like you!

No doubt GSD will make a great dog for what you are looking for.

At the risk of dodging items thrown at me here by recommending another breed, may I suggest you also look into heelers (blue/ red/ etc.)?

They are the epitomy of "switch" dogs. On...off...on...off.

They are also naturally good around livestock, but must be taught to only herd upon command from a young age.

Again, not to diminish the GSD breed...certainly would be great for what you are looking for, just offering up another suggestion.

For one last breed, it's a shame what has happened to dalmations. WAY back when, they were commonly used as multi-purpose service dogs for humans, and were also used to CALM livestock, specifically horses. Bet you didn't know that! Ever wondered why dalmations are commonly thought of as "Firehouse Dogs"? Back in "the day" with horse-drawn carriages, they a) kept the horses calm in the stable and b) would run ahead of the horse-drawn fire engine to bark in the upcoming intersection to warn traffic.

Okay, I digress.....

GSD's would make a wonderful PSD with training, as would heelers.

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Old 04-25-2012, 03:32 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
provide a wake up call every morning to make sure I maintain my schedule (especially during depression when hypersomnia is a huge problem for me), provide tactile stimulation and initiate activity (going for walks, etc) during depression, ďgroundĒ me when Iím hypomanic and my thoughts are racing so fast I can barely concentrate, and remind me to go to bed when Iím hypomanic and feel like Iíll never need to sleep again.

Quote:
I figured out that I was very much NOT looking for an emotional support animal.
For what you are listing as tasks (waking up, walks, remind you to go to bed) in good part can very well be taken care of by an ESA. Even the grounding reminder at home. ESAs are not required to be trained past good behavior but there is nothing to say that they can not be. And unless you live in no-pet housing you do not need to even go through the ESA route but just train a companion dog to work for you.

Possibly there are other stronger tasks you require where you very well could use a SD but of course you are not required to post that here.

And yes, working line GSDs can and very often do make good PSDs.
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Old 04-25-2012, 03:59 AM   #4 (permalink)
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ďgroundĒ me when Iím hypomanic and my thoughts are racing so fast I can barely concentrate,
Out of the list this is the closest to a strong task. Again, I'm not asking you to clarify so I'm just going to try to speak in very general terms.

If someone has been working with a medical professional on grounding exercises but they are not able to know when to begin them ...
A dog can be trained to react to the handler's "tell" and respond by doing a trained reaction.
If a person can begin their exercises on their own or by some other method then a dog would of course not be needed.

I have only brought up this topic since you listed what you want a dog to do for you.

Otherwise my answer would been very much shorter. Yes, a working line GSD can make a great PSD based on the individual dog itself.
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Old 04-25-2012, 08:17 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Thank you all for your responses thusfar.

DukeTxDad- Thank you kindly. That's very interesting about the dalmations! I am still very much considering other breeds. This project is at least a full school year away from happening, I just want to make sure I know what I want to do, how I want to do it, and I'm prepared to do it right the first time.
I'm sure that in theory one can find a "special" dog from any given breed that managed to do what you ask of it, I just want to make sure that with the breeds I'm choosing to look into further I don't have cards stacked against me too high (ie I'm not looking for the one golden retriever who can run the iditarod, I'm looking at a group of northern breeds- if that metaphor makes sense).


ILGHAUS- That's true, those can be managed by a highly trained home companion- that is certainly something to consider. The task list I gave was very basic because I'm still learning what PSDs can do for those of us with BP. I'm currently waiting to be accepted to the psychiatric service dog society's listserv so I can have a chance to talk with other bipolar individuals about how their PSDs affect their lives.

This summer when I foster the SDIT I'll get a better picture of how having a dog with me 24/7 affects the way I work and act. It may well be that I can manage with just a dog waiting at home for me every day. However, if there's even the slightest chance that having a dog with me 90% of the time facilitates my concentration (even in 'milder' hypomanic episodes) and is a consistent 'reminder' (for lack of a better word) to get through my day without sitting in my desk and completely tuning out the world (apathetic) or snapping at someone unnecessarily (some of the extreme irritation that comes with hypomania on occasion) then I'd like to really push for a PSD.

One of my biggest problems previously (and I'm worried it may be a problem in the future) was that I could not see a hypomanic episode coming and call it for what it was (nor could most people, honestly- sometimes they seem like incredibly normal "high functioning" days. Thats how they always started for me). Those days your brain lies and tells you everything is normal, and that everything is fine and to just 'go with it'. The problem with 'going with it' is that hypomania builds on itself and if you don't nip it, you can do some really, really dumb things (been there, done those- from as harmless as deciding that buying a $500 kayak would be a good idea to completely destroying friendships) and the higher you travel with hypomania the lower you have to go in depression. Now, because I'm working on it I'm hyper vigilant against the signs of what might be an episode and since I've "trained" certain members of my family (and some of my roommates) to recognize some of the common symptoms I feel confident. However, I value my independence and I know this personal hyper vigilance can't last forever- so what happens when I want to move out and live on my own?
I trained my family and friends using signals that dogs probably wouldn't recognize (how is my dog going to know if I'm more talkative, witty, and effervescent than usual?) but if it were possible for him/her to recognize a hypomanic "tell" then I would definitely add that to the list of tasks. The sooner a hypomanic episode is recognized, the better- I can call my doctor and he can attemt to "talk me down" as it were, from the hypomaic high.
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Old 04-25-2012, 08:32 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Good morning,
I have a German Shepherd, but am not knowledgeable enough to offer my opinion on your question..but..I did enjoy reading your post and want to say I am impressed with your determination to be so aware and how you are working on controlling your condition. It is much easier in life to take medication, and although at some point it may be a viable option, your self awareness of your symptoms can only help you in the future. Good luck with your search for information.
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Old 08-24-2012, 06:57 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Most breeds of dogs are amazing at reading and understanding their owners emotions. I currently use a dog (not GS but thats what I want, organizations I've talked to INSIST that labs/retrievers are better though and won't help me obtain a GS) and he reads me very well. I am often unable to understand my own emotions due to PTSD, but my dog talks, whines, uses his tail, paws my face, licks my ears, and has many other methods he has taught himself to communicate my own emotions to me, and keep them under control (my dog does not like it when I lose control of my emotions, and does everything he can to keep me 'happy sane daddy') I do the same for him, dogs are emotional to and will require training and help from you in recognizing their own feelings, and learning how to react to and control them. (they have tails, ears, and back hair that stands up and lays down, plus a variety of noises they make, whine, grown, huff, snort, that make this a fairly easy task for a human)

Talk to you dog, he will understand more than you give him credit. (maybe not what you say, but how you say it) It takes time because you and the dog must train each other (this is a task that cannot be pre-trained) Listen to you dog, watch your dog, and encourage him to communicate with you.

I have taught my dog the command 'show me' it means that I acknowledge that he desires my attention and that he wants something and now it is his job to figure out a way to tell me what it is.

A great way to start with this is with food/water bowls for being hungry and thirsty. (my dog will pick up his bowl and bring it to me every day at 'meal time' which is when I am also supposed to take my meds, 'remind to take meds' is another task you can train at the same time. Over time I have become amazed at the things my dog has politely asked me for, (he says 'please' by comming to me and sitting on his rear end like a praire dog) and come up with creative ways to ask for what he desires. These include tasks such as 'calm down' 'come to bed' and 'you need to go outside and take a walk' or even sometimes he will tell me to go sit in the sun and enjoy the outdoors. He even says thank you by giving me a kiss, or doing his 'happy dance'

GS's are _very_ intelligent. Attempt to read understand and communicate as much as possible with your dog and they will do the same, as long as you encourage and reward it. It's hard to describe the secret language me and my dog have with each other, but I can understand what you desire out of your dog as my own has helped me deal with exactly what you described, with no formal training, just me and him communication allot with each other.
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