Unfortunately, I missed my deadline six weeks ago for my last article. I blame it on writer’s block brought on primarily by our vacation that we were excited to get started. Our vacation had been planned for almost a year. We were heading for Boston to go to the National Little People of America (LPA) Conference. This conference is held every year over the week of July 4th and is in a different city every year. As soon as we saw that it would be in Boston in 2016, we were excited to attend. I love learning about U.S. History, so naturally Boston was a great place to go.

We have been member of LPA for about 20 years, shortly after our youngest daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of dwarfism. LPA offers a lot of help to “little people” throughout their lives. There are many local meetings help all over the country, but this annual national meeting is always huge! There are usually somewhere around 2,500 attendees. The conference draws people from all over the world.

There are many things going on at these conferences. Throughout the conference, there are workshops to help with medical, social, legal, and educational issues that confront those with dwarfism. We attended one of these workshops that discussed service dogs. I have always been amazed at the things service dogs can be relied on to perform. These dogs can be trained to aid people with all kinds of mobility issues, visual impairment, hearing impairment, autism, anxiety issues, PTSD, depression, and bipolar/mood disorders. I am even more amazed with the dogs trained to aid people with a variety of seizure disorders and diabetes. These dogs are trained to recognize signs of impending problems even before their handler knows there is a problem. The human/animal bond can be incredibly intense, but never more than occurs between these trained service dogs and those they watch over.

At the workshop we attended, there was someone with a service dog who related what her dog was able to do for her. She was in a motorized scooter to get around and like almost all people with dwarfism, she had a variety of musculoskeletal issues affecting mobility. Her service dog was trained to help her get dressed, open doors for her, retrieve things off the ground, and many more tasks. It was incredible watching her dog “working” with her. Her dog was always intently watching her waiting for the next task that was needed. It was obviously a full time job that this dog thoroughly enjoyed doing.

She had only had a service dog for the last couple of years. She regretted not getting one much earlier. Although all of these tasks her dog helps with are great, she relayed another unexpected benefit of having a service dog that really surprised her. She had spent many years feeling often very small. Not because she was short in stature, but because she went through life often being overlooked everywhere she went. Because she was different, it was very rare for anyone to go out of their way to interact with her when out in public. The day she received her service dog everything changed in an instant! She often felt like the center of attention out in public as children and other complete strangers would come up to her and the dog and start talking to her. It was somewhat overwhelming at first, but she had grown to really enjoy not feeling invisible anymore.

Our daughter is heading back to college this week to start her sophomore year. This year she decided to live in an apartment off campus. In spite of her dwarfism and many leg surgeries through the years, she has very minimal mobility issues. However, she does have a hearing impairment. She can hear pretty well with her left ear with the help of a hearing aid, but at night she takes it out to sleep and we worry about her being able to hear a fire/smoke alarm, alarm clock, and someone at the door. A service dog would be a big help for her and make us more comfortable while she is away at school. We pick Aida up next week and training will start right away.


I quickly lost count on how many people commented about enjoying my last article regarding service dogs. I usually get 2-3 people mention each article that is in The Lima News, but occasionally there is a particular article that really generates a lot of positive comments. I would estimate that I had at least 12-15 people mention that they had enjoyed the last article. I think people who have experienced the unique bond that dogs can have with people are especially touched by the “work” that service dogs perform. I know it has always amazed me at the things service dogs are capable of doing.

At the end of the article I mentioned that we were getting a puppy to train to be a service dog for our daughter. Well, Aida (Aid-a, not A-ee-da) has arrived. She is a yellow Labrador and we brought her home when she was about 8 weeks old, and now she is 13 weeks old. It had been almost 7 years since we last had a puppy. While Aida has been an incredibly good puppy so far, a new puppy definitely changes the normal flow of the household. A puppy’s feeding schedule is different than an adult dog’s, so our other four dogs are wondering why this intruder to their normal way of life is getting fed three times a day while they only get fed once a day. They don’t seem to resent her for it, but they sure give me some odd stares. A new puppy requires trips home during the work day to let her out of her crate to potty. This isn’t really a big deal, but it does disrupt the day long napping schedule of the other dogs.

Other than her getting fed more frequently, Aida has really fit in well with the other dogs. She has become a good wrestling buddy with our 7 year old Labrador, Bea. Our 7 year old Boxer doesn’t seem to mind her and will play with her at times. Our 12 year old Chihuahua completely ignores her, but she also ignores every other living thing in our house, including people. The biggest surprise is the interaction between Aida and our soon to be 15 year old dog, Pippi. Initially, Pippi seemed to be a little ticked off at this new arrival. But within a week or two, Pippi was actually playing and interacting with Aida several times a day. At first I thought Pippi was just trying to get Aida to leave her alone, but now it is clear that Pippi is initiating play. Young dogs can really help to motivate older dogs to get up and move around.

Although we have not begun working with Aida on the specific training needed to be a service dog, we have started working on basic puppy training and she is doing very well. The trainer who will be helping us with the service dog training also teaches puppy classes and we have been taking her to those classes. This is the first time I have actually taken one of our puppies to puppy classes and it has reminded me how important it can be for all dog owners, especially for first time dog owners and owners of larger dogs that can be hard to control if not trained.

Although there has been some obedience training in these early classes, the best part of the class involved discussions about very common behavioral issues that can be prevented by addressing them at this young, very impressionable age. This “period of socialization” from 2-5 months of age is very important to address and prevent a variety of behaviors that can be a serious problem for some dogs. Some of the topics that have been discussed include potty training, biting, interactions with other people, interactions with other animals, food aggression, dominance aggression, and crate training. The goal was to instruct these owners of new puppies on behaviors to watch for and on how to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Many of the training tips and ideas are things that I have been telling puppy owners for years, but even an “old pro” like myself learned some great techniques to not only try on Aida, but also to pass along to my clients. It is very important for puppy owners to not miss this critical age of 2-5 months old. This is the period that is vital to prevent and correct serious behavioral issues. Ask your veterinarian where he/she recommends for puppy classes.

Chad Higgins, DVM has owned Amanda Animal Hospital for 19 years and sees dogs, cats, ferrets, and other little furry critters.