Breeds for Service?
  • FluffyFluffy
    Posts: 12
    (Admins, if you can think of a category to put this in that would be great!)

    Everyone here has a ton of knowledge on the Nihon Ken as well as other breeds, so I wanted to pick your brains for a second. ;)

    My disabled mother lives with me and I've been considering how much a service dog would be able to help her gain a little bit more independence. She's been on disability for 18 years for chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, and a handful of mental illnesses that cause panic attacks.

    I know that Nihon Ken aren't usually considered "ideal" for most service work, but since my mothers needs are mainly alert based I was wondering what you guys think their trainability would be for those cases?
    I read a few comments on threads here about Kai-ken being particularly sensitive to the onset of panic attacks or things like low blood sugar, so I do think alert work is something most Nihon Ken would be able to pick up on quickly when given proper training for it.
    I know that picking up on it and reacting to it are definitely different things, but I know at least my Shiba can tell the differences in my body language and will change her behavior even in high distraction environments. She's also been excellent at following commands in distracting or stressful environments.

    Basically what draws me to nihon ken in general for companionship reasons is what draws me to them as potentially a great service dog partner. They easily learn their job, are quick to react to changes in situations or surroundings while still doing that job, and are incredibly in-tune to their people.
    They're definitely independent thinkers but I actually think that's a plus here... once they trust you and know that you have something they'd want, and they know what actions give them things they want, they're more than willing to work for you even if they don't respond with a huge goofy grin and wagging tail like typical dog breeds.

    I feel like I rambled on a lot there lol. I may sound like I have my mind made up but really I'm just starting to consider breeds for something like this and I do want to hear input on it! :) So: if you had to choose a nihon ken for medical alert work, which would you choose? Also, what non-nk breed do you think would work best?
  • LexterGraceLexterGrace
    Posts: 60
    Hi Fluffy. I'm a service dog handler (chronic migraine alert along with some psychiatric related tasks), and I've assisted several people in training their SDs as well.

    To be honest, I think you'd have a very hard time training most of the NK breeds for service work. It's one thing to have an at home medical alert dog (and in which case, you'd probably be very successful), but training a near bomb-proof dog who can handle daily public access is a different story. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a NK that had that type of temperament. Not trying to sound rude, but a lot of people think they have a very sound dog at home; and to be honest, public access work is a whole different ball game.

    Also, from my experience in working with Shiba, Kishu, and Hokkaido, I think they would make a pretty crappy psychiatric SD lol. They just don't have that "let me cuddle & love you and I'll make it all better" nature. Sure you can train DPT and tactile stimulation tasks without that temperament, but having a dog who truly loves to snuggle up & shower their person with affection 24/7 does make training those tasks easier (and, from experience, the end result is more effective).

    Lastly, in my experience the NK breeds tend to be very much "what's in it for me." They don't have that intrinsic "need to please" that some other dog breeds have. I have no doubt that you can train a NK to be a very obedient dog, but it does take lots of work. Especially once routine is thrown out of the picture and the dog has to respond to commands in unpredictable situations. Especially once treats/rewards are taken out of the picture as well.

    IMO you'd be best looking into another breed. Even after my current SD retires in a few years, I doubt I'd consider a NK for her replacement... even though I breed them. Some breeds with high success rates in the work you describe are goldens, labs (if you can handle their obnoxious puppy stage-- it's definitely not for me), standard/miniature poodles, australian shepherds, or miniature american shepherds. I have a mini american shepherd and she's been the perfect fit for me. I know many other MAS handlers have said the same thing about their dogs.
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  • FluffyFluffy
    Posts: 12
    @lextergrace not rude at all! I really am just looking for any input on it and appreciate your detailed response.

    I also now realize I wasn't very clear on specifically what I would be looking for in a SD candidate as far as psychiatric needs go...

    Blatant affection isn't something I typically find helpful for psychiatric SD "tasks" because in my mind, the dog should mainly alert their handler that they are showing symptoms of a panic attack or dissociation so that the handler can then decide to either go somewhere safer to wait out their episode, or use their coping mechanisms to power through it if it gets noticed early enough.
    Affection seems nice but, at least for me personally, having something like DPT or lots of affection during a panic attack is the absolute LAST thing I want. I don't even want my boyfriend touching me or interacting with me until I'm calming down and I usually adore his affection. I know my mom is also very "don't touch me! I'm freaking out!" emotionally in this case too, so I was actually thinking a dog who is more reserved with affection and remains strictly business about it would be better, especially in public where embarrassment for having these kinds of episodes can make things 10x worse.

    But... To put it into perspective: my mom can't go many places on her own to begin with. She gets incredibly tired from her fibromyalgia and rarely leaves the house for more than an hour, every few days or so to run to the store or just to drive somewhere to visit family. Any time she's somewhere for long, she's mainly just sitting in a doctors office or sitting in a government office where it's very low traffic and little chance of seeing any other dogs or distracting people.
    So I would think the biggest issue would be boredom in the few times a year she has to sit somewhere for a few hours (but in most of these cases, she has me or my sisters with her anyway) and then just general distraction inside of stores (again, she usually has someone with her) so we really ARE mainly looking for in-house use for anything psychiatric.

    As far as public access, that really is my main concern overall because I have no doubts an in-house medical alert NK is doable. I'd be concerned about being able to alert for migraines in public, just so my mom can decide if it is safe enough for her to drive home. They wouldn't need to provide any additional "tasks" outside of the house other than the alerts because my mom is usually capable of dealing with her disabilities as long as she knows something is coming. There are a few bonus tasks I can think of to help her, of course, but the alerts are the main thing.

    Anyway, again I'm open to any breed suggestions! I just wanted to clarify what the needs were in this case. I'll definitely look into MAS since I'm not very familiar with them.
  • CrispyCrispy
    Posts: 1825
    On the opposite side of Lexter, I think I would consider Kishu as decent for a PSD, but poorly suited for any other kind of service dog work. Every single one of mine you have to shove off of you if you don't want their affection, lol. I think most Kishu I have met have been like that. Maybe except for 3, and then, those dogs are only that way with strangers. They're absolutely bonded with their people, rather difficult to startle, and very affectionate. I certainly have not trained my dogs as PSD, but I have trained them to break me out of anxiety behaviors that can be detrimental. Nami, in particular, excels at it - perhaps because I have had her the longest, or maybe just because she is so affectionate and keyed into me, among my three adults at home.

    I know people who have had selected Kai, Kishu, Shikoku, and Shiba as service dogs, usually PSD, but not always. I'm not sure their success. I believe one Shikoku is currently undergoing training for service work.

    In general, I don't think I would recommend one, but if someone was realistic about the chance for a wash, and really wanted to take that risk, and really KNEW what that meant, I might be inclined to help them find the right Kishu. I would have to direct to other breeders for the other breeds and let those breeders make those calls.

    To date, I have had 2 people approach me for Kishu as service animals. Both were PSD. I gave them the caution and they decided to go elsewhere - which is 100% a-ok.

    TBH, I don't think the risk is worth the "reward", in this case. Having a more traditional service dog, and then getting a NK as a pet additional to that, may be more practical.
    Akiyama no Roushya || 秋山の狼室 || www.kishu-ken.org
    Post edited by Crispy at 2017-07-16 17:19:50
  • CrispyCrispy
    Posts: 1825
    Waiting for the right personality on any of these dogs will be a long, involved process. Most people wait a year to three just for a pet. Adding another level of difficulty to finding the perfect individual may put you without a prospect for many years. This might be practical for someone who rotates their service dogs and has a trained adult or 2 not in danger of being retired, I guess? Just speculation.
    Akiyama no Roushya || 秋山の狼室 || www.kishu-ken.org
  • FluffyFluffy
    Posts: 12
    @crispy I'm not going to lie, I was specifically thinking about your Kishu when I was thinking about NKs work ethic and handler bonding :P

    My Shiba is "unusual" as well... Total Velcro dog, has amazing focus on me even outside of the house, the main issue is her confidence...if she gets unsure of herself and loses focus on me, she falters.
    I've actually considered training her for a few in house things of my own for my anxiety and distractability with ADHD. I don't know if she could ever do anything seriously enough outside of the house because of her insecurity but she's also only 10 months and we haven't done much training outside the house to begin with, so who knows really. I know that she loves treats and loves thinking about how to get them, so I see the sky as the limit with her as far as tasks go.
    (side note : I'm not suggesting I'm training Katsu to be a PSD! I just really like training. She's not perfect and I'm working with my therapist to see if we can find options to "fix" my issues instead of mitigate them.)

    I do agree that there are plenty of "easier" typical SD breeds to choose instead and that they are chosen for a reason. I guess it's just that I find the super-doggy personality to be annoying, but I see how having a 100% "yes man" who lives to please could be more useful for something like this. Ultimately though, the bond needs to be there between my mom and the dog and I don't know if she can fully handle the reality of having a dog that NEEDS her affection and guidance, constantly. Is there some sort of middle ground?

    (Edit: also the entire reason of me thinking of NK as service is because I do plan to have many NK and hopefully breed in the future. This isn't really a "I want another NK and I need it now!" or anything, I was mainly thinking about dogs that could work similar to them or compliment them for home life purposes for the next 10-15 years.)
    Post edited by Fluffy at 2017-07-16 17:40:49
  • koujichankoujichan
    Posts: 29
    I'll give my 2 cents as a SD handler (an Australian Cattle Dog, he's a PSD.)

    I'm kind of on the fence about this. I follow a bunch of SD blogs on tumblr and it drives me crazy when people ask if ridiculous breeds "can be service dogs" and its clear they only want an exotic or unusual breed to take into public with them (my favorite is "Can a Caucasian Ovcharka be a service dog?") (edit: not to imply that you sounded like that at all, I'm mostly just airing complaints lol)

    But I think if you have experience with NK and are a dedicated trainer, it might be possible. This is just an anecdote, but I took my akita puppy to Chapters the other day (the store allowed pets - I didn't need my SD in this situation because I had close friends with me) and he behaved wonderfully. He laid down when I was looking at books, he was interested in his surroundings but not exuberant or over the top excited, and didn't drag me around the store. With some training, I could see public access with a NK being possible.

    I guess my main two concerns would be prey drive and independence. For example, my SD goes to school with me. The campus is crawling with squirrels and geese. He'll glance at them, but knows he's working and focuses again. I don't know if a NK, especially a hunting line breed, would be able to resist. Maybe a hunter would be able to chime in on ignoring animals.

    From your post, it sounds like it would be an in-home SD, so maybe this wouldn't be as much of an issue, but in my experience people kind of lose their minds when they see a SD in public - especially when it's not a golden or lab. Mine is a heeler. I have people stop me and ask what kind of dog he is. I have suspicions people think he's not a "real service dog" because he's not a lab, and that's what most people are used to seeing. If I'm not busy I'll humor people, but when I'm in a rush or bad headspace it's really annoying to be hassled like that. Especially with NK I imagine you will get a lot of "IS THAT A WOLF!?!?"

    You will also need to make sure your prospect loves people, or at least tolerates them VERY well. You will get drive-by pettings, and unsupervised kids coming up to pet your dog. If you have a NK that isn't crazy about people, to me this would be a problem.

    (As a side note to your comment about DPT, my dog doesn't do it unless I ask. For example, I'll usually go sit somewhere quiet and ask him to lay on me. Your SD's tasks don't have to be "automatic" :) )

    To sum up my novel of a post: it depends. I would say try it, set yourself up for success, but don't be too disappointed if the dog has to be washed out.
    Post edited by koujichan at 2017-07-17 15:40:44
  • sukoshi_momsukoshi_mom
    Posts: 775
    Not a service dog, but one of our meetup members has a Shiba who is a therapy dog. They belong to an organized therapy organization that is involved with a wide variety of groups and scenarios. So it is possible to train a Shiba to be in a highly emotionally charged, social situation. You just need the right dog.
  • rafatturirafatturi
    Posts: 285
    Our Kai Ken would not be a good service dog. He doesn't get scared by loud noises unless it's the fire alarm (he hates that!). He's not super in-tune with emotions. Or at least he doesn't show it. He's a good dog though. Just not a service dog. More like a cat's attitude but a little better.
    photo 10428883_10202259399228531_564340254_n_zps82bfd9ba.jpg