itzl's Journal

This is a blog for and about Itzl, a hearing ear dog, so people can learn what it means to be a service dog, and what it takes to have one. This blog will have pictures of Itzl at work and at play.

He's a dog, no matter how well trained he is or how hard he works. He makes mistakes, just like the rest of us. And he's smart enough to try to outsmart me at times, and figure out ways to get his praise and cuddles without doing the work.

He's been a hearing ear, or signal, dog since 2005, when we first partnered up. He was owner-trained, but I had lots of help from some experienced people. Itzl's full name is Itzcuintl, but we call him Itzl because he's very small. Signal dogs don't need to be big to do their job, which is to listen and to alert on sounds. In fact, being small and hyperalert are pluses. Of course, his small size causes some problems when we are out and about. Not everyone is willing to believe he is a service dog and we've been refused entry into places, had people be rude to us, and been called names.

As you can guess from his name, he is a dog of Aztec/Nahuatl extraction - a Chihuahua, to be precise. Not many Chihuahuas make the grade as service dogs because many aren't raised and trained to be service dogs. Most people think of them as lap dogs, pets, and often never bother to train them at all, which is a shame as Chihuahuas are incredibly clever. I've had 4 Chihuahuas. The first was when I was a child and a friend of my mother's killed her when she was still a puppy. It was 40 years before I had another Chihuahua - Itzl, and he was an amazing dog from the beginning - smart, quick to train, eager to please, fast to learn his role in helping me and clever enough to extrapolate his training to new situations.

He doesn't get enough work helping me. He also volunteers at a cat shelter to acclimate cats to dogs. Most cats take to him because he's long haired and very cat-like - he speaks Cat fluently. Once they accept him, it seems easier for them to accept larger dogs. He also assists me in the volunteer work I do, helping greet and direct people at registration or the information table, or watching booths. He also helps me at work, alerting on alarms and sirens and people entering the airlock and getting stuck. I can neither see nor hear people in the airlock entry so his presence and his ability to alert me allows me to do my job.

I'm hearing impaired, not completely deaf - between what hearing I have, lip reading, and really good fill-in-the-blanks, I can understand most people without signing or writing it down, but I keep pen and paper with me, just in case. I'm not good at signing because I have a gimpy hand (I stutter and mumble a lot), but I understand a lot of it and Itzl's been trained to respond to some hand signals.

Even that isn't enough work for him. He rescues other little dogs, mostly Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes. He rescued a little Chihuahua that had been rather badly chewed up by a bigger dog, her tail bitten off, full of fleas and half starved. She stayed with us until she died. Then he rescued a Jahuahund (Jack Russell/Chihuahua/Dachshund) and helped train him until we found him a new home. And then he insisted on us taking home a handicapped Chihuahua - she had hydrocephaly, bad hips, bad knees, mange, and was very cowed - at only 6 weeks old. We took her, healed up her health issues, and Itzl patiently takes care of her. The hydrocephaly left her brain damaged and she seems to lack a short term memory. he will remind her where the food and water are, and where her toys are, and watch over her. He enjoys being a mobility fetch and carry dog for her. If he were a bigger dog, he'd be an excellent mobility dog.

But he's only 4 pounds, so he's an outstanding signal dog. He loves his job. No, he really loves his job.