The Imperfect Service Dog

by Doranna

Also known as “Win Prizes, Support Service Dogs, Feel Good About Self, and also Maybe Win Other Prizes.”

One of the things I don’t generally discuss overmuch is my health (although it’s the reason for my current paucity of posts);  The Lyme has been active for 25 years and diagnosed for less than one.  All the writing, the training, and the trialing is done in spite of…and because I’m really, really stubborn.

There are a lot of things I don’t do, or can’t do without a companion, and these things I integrate into my life as gracefully as possible, so most people don’t even put two and two together.

One of the reasons for that is a sensory dysfunction that generally has me fleeing (literally) for the hills.  (Am I a hermit?  Why yes.  Yes I am.)  To help manage this issue, I use certain focusing and brain exercises that take a lot more effort than you can imagine if you haven’t ever desperately relied on them.  I use these constantly and pretty much invisibly.

One of the things I’ve always done to ground my brain is to bring a dog along when I drive.  Having that quiet presence in the car is one thing–but the real value comes when I get where I’m going and we work together in the parking lot.  It re-grounds me without adding overload…and it’s the very fastest way to do that.  But when it’s too hot to leave a dog in the car…. I stop going places, or I pay a much larger price when I do.

So as of last year, I’ve gone official with Mr. D’Artagnan Beagle:  He’s a service dog. Because a service dog can come inside.

The reason this works for us is not only because of who he is, but because of who we are together.  And because I’ve been training dogs for [mumblemumble] years, I can make choices that are good for him, good for me–and most especially–responsible to the rest of the world.  Before I took this step, I consulted with a service dog trainer–and now Dart and I will grow together in this.  He is an imperfect service dog–eager and learning refinement–with an underlying aptitude, and that’s what makes him exactly perfect for me.

Look who has yet to learn the "tail tuck."

I’m immensely lucky. Not every dog is suited for service work, even if you start from puppyhood.  (Neither of my other two kids would be happy or successful in this role.)  So that’s luck #1.  Luck #2 is of course the fact that training is one of the things I do, and have basically always done.  Had I not run into the health stuff, I would have happily pursued it as a profession; as it is, I simply pursue it with dedication.

I don’t take this luck for granted, and I know…well, how lucky I am to be lucky.  That’s why I’m outing Dart’s quiet Other Role in my life –so I can participate in the “Bloggers Help Paws with Cause” event.

See, FINALLY.  We get to the part about winning things!

Basically, there are whole lot of blogs offering a chance to win a whole lot of bookish things–in return for  donations to Paws for Cause (one entry per each dollar donated).

Here on the blog, I’m giving away an ebook set of the entire Changespell Saga.  (Already have it?  Enter anyway.  We’ll work something out.)

To Enter:  Answer these questions in the comments!  Don’t worry…it could be that there’s no exact right or wrong.  I’ll do the pick from a hat thing–but I won’t lie.  Thoughtful responses (as opposed to token words just to get entered) will have an edge.

  1. You’re attending an event.  You see a service dog of awesome cuteness.  YOU CAN’T STAND THE CUTENESS!  You miss your dog who is not at the event.  Because this is a service dog, you feel safe with it.  Also, you used to/do have a dog of that breed.  Your first impulse is to go “AWWW–!” and you feel an inexorable tug to go pet the dog.  What do you do?  (Or if you’re William Shatner, what DO you DO?)
  2. You see someone with a service dog who appears to be functionally intact.  You wonder what on earth they need this dog for.  Are they just gaming the system to feel special?  Maybe they’re taking advantage!  You are wildly curious!  Your mouth opens!  What do you say?
  3. You’re making casual conversation with someone who happens to have a service dog.  The dog is behaving appropriately, but you’re surprised to see this breed with a service vest on.  You know something about [family dogs/breeds/once taught your dog to sit], and you know this breed has a reputation for its cheerful resistance to training.  You open your mouth and out come the words–

No, wait!  This is a trick question!  Out come the words, “I can’t believe you’re using a Beagle as a service dog!  I [had/knew] a Beagle once, and it was so [dumb/stubborn] that it would never [sit/come/shut up/fill in the blank].”  And here is my answer, the one I will probably never say in public so you now have this sneak peek into my brain: “Right!  Because the dog trained YOU!  Now who’s the SMART ONE?!”  (And in my brain, I will use all caps.)


The MAIN EVENT! The prizes include two $65 gift certificates to any online book store, and a huge box of books and swag from Romance Book Junkies (US residents only).

The blog event is being organized by Bitten by Paranormal Romance and Romance Book Junkies–and here’s what they have to say about THAT!:

“We have a total of 59 blogs working together to raise money for this great cause. There are some awesome prizes up for grabs–and here’s a little about the cause:
Paws With A Cause® enhances the independence and quality of life for people with disabilities nationally through custom-trained Assistance Dogs.
PAWS® increases awareness of the rights and roles of Assistance Dog teams through education and advocacy.  Founded in 1979, Paws With A Cause is dedicated to helping its clients who are challenged by many disabilities, such as Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Seizure Disorders, and Hearing Disorders to name just some.  Each of our dogs are trained to meet the specific needs of our clients. Tasks may include opening and closing doors, picking up objects, pulling a wheelchair, turning lights on and off, and alerting a person to particular sounds like a telephone, doorbell, smoke detector and many others. Our dogs change lives by enhancing the independence of our clients. By just opening a door, a dog opens up the world for a person with a disability and your donations will go to making that happen.
PAWS is a non-profit organization.  Paws With A Cause/4646 South Division/Wayland, MI 49348″

How to donate:

1. Go to

2. Click on “Make a Donation”

3. Enter your amount. Everibbon will add a small fee to your donation for processing. You will receive 1 entry into the giveaway for every $1 you donate.

4. In the box that says “on the behalf of” please put your name. This is the name that will be listed on the Everibbon website, so use a public name. Do not check the box to make an anonymous donation because Danielle won’t be able to track your donation and  process your giveaway entry.

5. Next it will ask you for your credit or debit card information.

6. Then it will ask for your email address to send you a receipt. This is so that you can submit it for tax purposes.

7. Ta Da!  Now contact Danielle to enter the giveaway!

8. Please email Danielle ( with the name you used to donate your money, and tell her how much you donated and if you live in the US or are International.

9. Ta Da again! Thank you for donating!

Warning: Play nice!  If Danielle receives more than one email with the same person’s name and donation amount, she’ll ask for your receipt from Everibbon.

Have lots of fun, admire a service dog, and head over to the Event Web Page to check out the other participating blogs and their prizes!

The Dart Outtakes…he’s not so fond of the camera flash!  His tail would wag happily until the moment I lifted the camera, and then…oppression…

About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
This entry was posted in Behind the Scenes, Bonus Post, D'Artagnan Beagle, The Dogs! and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Imperfect Service Dog

  1. Crysta says:

    1. I had a Lab, and soooooo many service dogs are Labs. They’re cute. They’re friendly. They’re very, very pettable. But I try to give them space when I see them because I know the dog is working, and it’s rather rude to run over and distract him/her. If I did happen to approach, I’d talk to the person they’re helping first because they may not want their dog touched, or even spoken to. If they say it’s okay to pet the dog or ask if I’d like to pet the dog, only then will I touch him (unless I see the person regularly and they have given blanket permission to pet the “puppy”).

    2. Well… I’d try not to call attention to the dog. People with disabilities or illnesses where they need a service dog don’t always like to be identified as “the one with the dog.” Some dogs have their job stitched on their working cape/harness, but many don’t. Most likely I wouldn’t mention it unless the topic came up or the dog called attention to itself. Really, it’s no business of mine unless they want me to know. But if I had to ask… I’d try to be tasteful about it. Or at least nice! Instead of asking directly what their disability is, I’d rather ask what tasks the dog accomplishes or helps with. Sometimes people are more willing to talk about it if you take the focus off them. (Granted, every approach has the chance to offend the person. If they took offense to it at all, I’d apologize and allow them to choose whether to walk away or continue the conversation.)

    3. Nuh uh. Any dog can be trained, and any dog can be a service dog. It comes down to the trainer’s ability to recognize how the dog learns and use that to his/her advantage. Anyway, I knew a girl who had a certified mutt as her seizure alert dog. In fact, he’d been rescued – as an adult – from a shelter by someone who did the seizure alert training. I think they’d intended to keep him as a pet until they noticed that he was the kind of intelligent that drives dog owners INSANE. He needed a job that required him to use his brain, so they gave him one. Apparently it worked to mellow him out because by the time I met him, he was so well-behaved you’d forget he was even in the classroom with you.

  2. BlogPatty says:

    1. I’d just assume the dog could not be touched. I believe I asked once and was reprimanded. I don’t like to be reprimanded. Makes me feel stupid. I really really hate to feel stupid.
    2. I would most likely assume the dog was in training…I usually do not assume people are gaming the system. Maybe I should be more cynical! I’d say nothing.
    3. I might ask about the dog breed choice. I’d be quite interested to hear the person talk about their dog. When people have a close connection with their animal they often tell fascinating stories. Maybe I would try, “I have never seen a beagle as a service dog before! How did you choose this dog?” That would not be the first thing out of my mouth–well it might be– sometimes I am over direct, but if I had my social skill set loaded, maybe I would make some small talk first.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    1. I’d restrain the urge to pet the dog (just like I wouldn’t try to cuddle a sheep dog who’s clearly on task with sheep.) But I would probably say something to the owner, like “Nice dog. Glad you’ve got one.” I have in fact been in conversation with people with service dogs (including in an airport waiting area years back. I asked permission, then sketched the dog (Golden Retriever type, is what it looked like to me, but I’m not a dog expert) and the person liked the picture so I gave it to her.

    2. An easy one for me, having had an autistic kid who “didn’t look impaired” until he moved or opened his mouth and then some people thought he was just bratty. I know there are many kinds of impairment and if a dog helps…fine. Since the impairment isn’t obvious, I wouldn’t know if the person wanted to be spoken to or not (some autistic people, and some autistic people who have service dogs, find verbal stuff difficult to impossible, and I’m guessing the same might be true of other less obvious problems, so I might smile and nod, if the person made eye contact, but would say and do nothing, if they didn’t.)

    3. If the dog is behaving appropriately, then it’s capable of behaving appropriately and was trained to do so. Any comments about “that breed” and its supposed inabilities would be as offensive (and stupid) as the person who tells a woman/girl that she can’t be doing what she’s doing–or she’s odd or different because she is–because girls/women “aren’t good at” whatever it is. Been there, had that said to me, didn’t like it. And given how attached people are to their dogs (as I have been when I had one) I’m sure the person with the service dog of a not-usually-thought-of-that-way variety wouldn’t like it either.

    However….I still might be thinking it, on the basis of my past experience with that kind of dog Chihuahuas, for instance. There may be well-trained, well-socialized chihuahuas capable of being service dogs somewhere in this country, but the only ones I’ve ever run into–more than 20 in various cities–were shrieky-yappy hyperactive fear-biters with no manners at all, whose besotted owners kept talking, right over the shrieky-yapping-mixed-with-snarls and showing teeth, about how Sweetums was just the dearest, cutest little thing and so SMART, and they couldn’t possibly live without it. I don’t like chihuahuas. I’ve been told I’m totally wrong. As long as they’re behind a fence (not squeezing through a gap in a chain-link-fence gate to run after me shrieking that horrid high-pitched yap) people can have them, of course, though I’d rather they kept them inside so they didn’t do the shrieking-yappy thing every time I walk/ride the bike past that house) but I personally would not have a chihuahua. Now I’m sure I’ve offended two dozen people who have their own Sweetums who’s just the cutest, dearest, sweetest, smartest canine on the planet. Sorry. I haven’t met your Sweetums. I’ve only met other people’s Sweetums. Your Sweetums is everything you claim for him/her/it, I’m sure.

  4. Jeanne says:

    1. I have always found, when I encountered service dogs at events, that a smile and a nod were the most appropriate response that I felt should be made…those dogs are WORKING and should not be interrupted, and a smile/nod can be acknowledged or ignored by the human, as desired. I am perfectly willing to talk my head off about dogs on any subject, but don’t feel that everyone is as eager to listen to me!

    2. I think that my answer to #1 applies here, as well! Again, the human can take my smile/nod as initiation of a conversation if HE/SHE wants to do so, and otherwise, can make a token acknowledgement or none at all. Also, since if I had one of my male Borzoi with me, he was probably intact (show dog!), I certainly couldn’t bring that up as a no-no!

    3. Having had Borzoi (show, obedience, and lure trials), I can testify to the fact that almost all would not have been any good as service dogs. They are so sensitive to even slightly abnormal body language that they prefer to avoid people with such problems. However, I had one Borzoi boy that loved to cuddle with physically handicapped people (often ignoring so-called normal people to do so), and brought tears of joy to many such in his life. He was so gentle, always waited to be asked, and then just sort of oozed whatever body portion was appropriate into place and snuggled.

    • Doranna says:

      Jeanne, yup–it’s all about the individual team. I don’t even want to say the individual dog, because sometimes it’s the team that makes it work. And on the other side of things, I’ve known many a lab who could never be a service dog…

      Heather, that’s really cool about Necronomicon’s association with the kids training service dogs! Those young dogs are still socializing; they need to learn that people are okay/safe before they can fairly be asked to ignore them for the job. What a perfect place for it! (I first knew Dart had the potential to do this when I took him to Bubonicon as a guest, and he not only did wonderfully in the crowd, he didn’t give a hoot about the wildest of costumes. Not even the one he was wearing…

  5. Doranna says:

    Crysta–“The kind of intelligent that drives dog owners INSANE.” You have just described Dart. ;>

    Patty–ugh! Reprimanded! Ugh!

    Elizabeth, you pegged #3 on the nose! And hey, whatever you think of the breed in general…that’s okay. Thoughts are on the inside! ;>

  6. Heather D says:

    1. This is a WORKING dog, so I would respect that and not do anything.
    2. I’d never asume anything about why they need a service dog. My bellydance teacher has her lab who knows when her diabetes is acting up and alerts her. Not all disabilities are visible.
    3. Another one that I know people would say something, but I can’t understand that mentality. I’ve seen many breeds used as service dogs, and I don’t see why not. If the dog takes to it, why shouldn’t they be a service dog.

    I’ve been very lucky that our charity for Necronomicon has been Kids and Canines since 2000. They pair at risk youths with Golden’s being trained as service dogs. Every year they bring some of the puppies to the convention (and even in costume) and they all have their service vests on. They do let people come up and pet them, once they’ve asked for permission.

  7. 1. I resist the tug since I know that they are currently working and doing a job.
    2. “May I ask about your service dog and what he does for you?”
    3. This one isn’t a question for me. I firmly believe that any dog is trainable although not any dog is appropriate for the situation or job. If the dog is behaving appropriately, obviously it is appropriate for the situation. 🙂

  8. 1. Having never worked with or trained a service dog personally, I am best qualified to keep my hands to myself and just observe. By the same token, having been exposed to both service dogs in service, trainers of service dogs in training and writers of articles about them, I also have the advantage of having learned that you don’t touch a service dog without permission even more vehemently than it is understood that you don’t touch ANY dog strange to you without permission.

    2. Oh, I’m nosy as hell. I’d watch and ponder and wonder what service was required by the handler (they’re usually identified as such when actively in training) and when I just HAD to know, I’d ask what the dog’s specialty was. I’m good at asking really direct questions and most often nobody is offended. In fact, most people are delighted to tell you things when it’s clear that you’re genuinely interested and have no personal agenda. I’d find a way to just find out! I have had three of “my” dogs in service over the years. One a seizure detector, one a blood-sugar reader, and then there’s this other one — all Beagles, by the way! Which helps me hold up my end of the conversation. So, my choice of words would be along the lines of, “I’ve had three of my beagles become service dogs. What is your dog’s specialty? Mine were trained for…”

    3. The beauty of a purebred dog is that they are relatively predictable. You can predict their general strengths and weaknesses, talents and foibles, right from birth based on the hundreds or thousands of years they have been bred for those very qualities. But, take Beagles, for example: they all do exactly the same stuff IN THEIR OWN WAY. I had this one Beagle who drove me out of my mind with his Border Collie enthusiasm for EVERYTHING! The entire household breathed more easily within three minutes of his departure to a remarkable trainer whose name was on him from birth. She knew exactly what to do with him. I did too, but I didn’t know HOW the way she does. He did everything Beagle, but with a Border Collie energy level and teach-me, teach-me, teach-me approach. He’s now a service dog as well as an agility, obedience and tracking dog, which most would think impossible from a temperament standpoint. One expects calm and unflappable from a service candidate, whereas he is a vibrating bundle of energy. So, impossible to pre-judge!

    4. NECRONOMICON as in the book? I gave that book to my husband for Christmas based on the reply I got from a perfect stranger at the bookstore: What is your favorite book of all time? Followed by brief description, followed by my immediate purchase. Ralph loves it. I will read it next. Any affiliation with the book or author? Just nosy! I might do an article. Tell all!

  9. Doranna says:

    Debbie, there’s nothing most SF/F fans like better than a good pun, especially if it involves a convention name. (Thus we have our local con, Bubonicon.) Whatever name a convention takes, though, it ends in “con.” It’s no wonder that someone came up with Necronomicon! It’s an homage to the book, but (and Heather can correct me if she stops back by), not *affiliated* with book or the author’s family.

  10. Jeanne says:

    I just happened across this on the internet:

    I think the variety of animals (not just dogs) that are being used as service and therapy animals shows how creative people can be in dealing with their individual problems.

    Three cheers for all of them…and for their humans!

  11. Doranna says:

    That was a cool slide show! I had guide horses in Call From the Wild…pretty neat.

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