You see him lying there on the café floor, taking a nap under the table. A family with two small children walks by – one child points to the dog as he passes. The dog lifts his head up to gaze at them - then, without a sound, gently rests it back on the floor. The café barista “pings” the service bell and calls out your name – your order is ready. You see the dog’s ear twitches at the sound of the bell but it doesn’t change his demeanor. He doesn’t even leave his position under the table. That’s when you notice the dog’s harness.
Five minutes later, you watch as the dog’s person calls the dog out of his slumber to come to her side. The woman leans on the big dog to get out of her chair – that’s when you notice the woman shaking as she struggles to stand. She rises with the dog as her brace, then together, slowly, you watch them walk out of the café. A man holds the door open for the woman and her dog – he even comments on how handsome her dog is. The dog catches the man’s gaze with a little wag of his tail and then it’s right back to business – he must help his woman walk out to the bus stop safely. After all, he is a service dog – and he has a very important job to do…
The Making of a Superhero
A service dog’s job is not an easy job to fill. Many dogs do not have the level of confidence, self-control, patience, problem-solving skills, or healthy level of independence required to handle the day-to-day human operations of office buildings, travel systems, public forums, restaurants and malls – no matter how much we try to make them have these skills. Teaching a dog a specific task associated with a disability is often the easiest part; it’s building the lifestyle skills that lead to superb behavior in public venues that takes much longer.
Service dogs, emotional support animals, therapy dogs… there’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about their differences, what purpose these dogs serve, their rights to access public spaces, and what kind of training they must complete to become capable of performing their jobs. Many people have disabilities that can be aided by a use of a service dog but they don’t know where to start in terms of their training. Alternately, there are many people who take advantage of the loopholes in the current system just so they can take their pet dogs into stores or on airplanes with them.
What Does a Service Dog Do?
Service dogs are task-trained to assist a person with a mental or physical disability to perform certain tasks they cannot do on their own, such as guide a blind person around obstacles, serve as a brace or open drawers for a person with mobility issues, or interrupt a panic attack for a person with debilitating anxiety or PTSD. While they do also provide companionship, this is not their primary job.
1. Have dogs meet for the first time outside of the home, on neutral territory, so as to avoid any territoriality or spatial “comfort bubble” issues. If you can’t meet in a truly neutral space, like a park, going for a walk up and down your street together can still do the trick.
Begin with some distance and let the dogs see and smell each other without getting right up in each other’s space. This may look a bit messy at first, as they may be pulling to try to get to one another, but if you just keep walking they will soon settle in. Praise your dog highly if he moves forward or checks in with you rather than trying to pull to or lunge at the other dog. And as they continue to walk and do well, you can gradually decrease distance. See my article Introducing Fido to Rufus: Dog-to-Dog Greetings, Pressure Free! for more tips on executing this.
Multiple dog caveat: it’s more difficult and intimidating for a single dog to integrate into a multiple dog situation, since dogs that typically live together can develop a “pack” and are already comfortable with one another and the hierarchy they have set. Bringing a new dog into this situation can stir things up. So when introducing one dog to a multiple of dogs, it is best to do the introductions each individually at first (starting with the most laid-back dog in the multiple-dog group and working your way up to the most “intense” dog of the group). This will give each dog the chance to get to know one another a bit without the “strength in numbers” tactics. If each of the individual greetings goes OK, you can start adding one more dog at a time to the situation as all dogs are comfortable.** (see body language signals to watch for below)
I have had the privilege of meeting Randy Pierce, who speaks in the below article about the legitimacy of service dogs, and hundreds of other people with disabilities who need their service dog partners to help them navigate through life 😊. Please, if you are an animal-lover like me, and you have respect for those who have disabilities (and want to see them succeed), please do not pretend your dog is a service dog if he is not (or condone others who take advantage of the flaws in the system). We're only going to become a more dog-friendly society if we make the RIGHT choices to show we are responsible pet parents - not by faking a service dog.
Read STOP FAKING SERVICE DOGS - Loving your pet too much is putting people with real disabilities at risk
Moving is rarely easy – whether you’re just moving across town or across the country. I would know; I’ve moved a lot in my adult life, the biggest of which was just this year (939 miles to be exact!). And as of late, I’ve had several clients preparing to be in the same boat.
BEFORE THE MOVE:
Make packing a fun event. When your living space starts turning to shambles with boxes everywhere, your dog is going to know something is going on. Instead of allowing this to cause your dog some turmoil, you can make packing fun by playing packing games! As you roll your glasses in bubble wrap, practice your dog’s “sit” or “down” or “go place”, and then praise and reinforce him for maintaining his position as you wrap the glass and place it in the box. Throw in some tasty treats with that reinforcement and he’ll love this game! Instead of pacing in the corner or wearily watching what you’re doing and wondering if there’s a cause for concern, he’ll think it’s great that you’re packing and asking him to be a part of it! You can even accomplish two things at once by using your dog’s dinner kibble as his treats for playing this game – dinner and packing can happen at the same time!
The vocalization and panting, uncontrollable drooling, destruction of property – all common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs, and none of them pleasant. Not to mention that nobody likes to see their little furry love getting so worked up over something that is a natural part of life. We humans have places to go and things to do that can’t always involve our fur-kids!
I’ve done some recent presentations and have been working with several people lately whose dogs exhibit pretty severe separation anxiety. Working through separation anxiety is a process – there usually isn’t a “quick fix” – but sometimes there are small tweaks we can make to adjust the lifestyle approach to being left alone that makes all the difference for our dogs. Perhaps you’ve already seen my article NO, Don’t Leave Me! Dealing With Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety. Here are a few more things to consider and try to build your dog’s feelings of independence and decrease his separation anxiety…
I see this concern often actually - it's much more common in today's age than you might think, especially with our fast-paced lifestyles and societal pressures. Dogs can be even more sensitive to these pressures than some people - and plenty of us struggle with it as well! Luckily, with Angelica's dedication (and a little guidance from me), Langston was able to become much more comfortable out in public (though they were still working through some reactive moments with other dogs in certain situations).
Fast forward almost a year to July 2017. I was so excited to receive an update from Angelica about Langston's progress. Though they had some changes in their lives recently, Angelica and Langston were happier than ever in their relationship. She had introduced him to the sport of dock-diving and it turns out they both LOVED it, and Langston thrived - he was more confident and much less reactive with the other dogs! Here's what Angelica had to share...
I’ve consulted with my veterinarian friend, Dr. Alisha Selzner of Companion Pet Hospital in Fishkill, NY, for her insight on some of these deadly substances…
Maria Huntoon, CBCC-KA