The Imperfect Service Dog, Part II

Thank you all for your comments in response to the Imperfect Service Dog post–and for your donations to Paws with a Cause, those of you who made them!

In that post, I asked three questions…I thought maybe it was MY turn to answer them.

  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–


So here goes!

1. Generally speaking, I leave the dog alone.  However, if I was to feel utterly compelled to pet, I might ask, “May I say hello to your dog, or is s/he working?”  And then–the most critical part–I would wait for an answer.

As a person with a service dog, this approach would work for me as long as it didn’t interrupt whatever personal business I was handling at the time.  Some folks may be fussier, especially if they’ve dealt with one too many intrusions on their day.  I admit, I have been astonished–speechless, at times–at how many people don’t ask–or if they do ask, they don’t wait for an answer.  Or if they do get an affirmative, they then swoop hastily upon the dog in a fashion guaranteed to alarm all but the stodgiest canine.

For all of these reasons, even if Dart is not working at the time, I no longer allow petting unless I have specifically given him an off-switch of picking him up.  From there, visitors can’t swoop down on him, and I have complete control over how he’s being handled–I can always turn away or gently put my hand between him and a face that’s too close.  Not because I fear for the face, but because hello!  RUDE!  He doesn’t deserve to deal with it.

2.  Although it’s perfectly possible to query appropriately about a service dog’s duties, it may not be as simple as you think.  Not everyone wants to talk about their personal health–and even if they’re fine with that, not every moment is a good one for them to do it.  Even something like “she’s a seizure alert dog” offers a world of personal information.

Also, I’ve found that answering the question often leads to more questions.  My answer is, “He provides me with neurological grounding exercises.”  To which most people say, “What does that mean?”  And suddenly it’s a whole conversation about my health.  Do Not Always Want.

However you decide to handle it, being sensitive to the handler’s response is paramount.  Be curious, not nosy.  And whatever you do, however badly you want to know, there is never any excuse for asking twice if the handler demurs the first time.  Especially if the first response is a very clear, “This isn’t a good time for me to talk about that.”

3.  As long as you’re admiring the dog, you’re good.  It does not count as admiring the dog if you diss his breed in the process.  “I’ve never seen a [insert breed] service dog,” isn’t a bad way to do it.  “Wow, a [insert breed]–awesome!” will probably also get a smile.  “I can’t believe you have a Beagle service dog–that’s such a dumb breed!” might get you a pasted-on smile, but don’t mistake it for the real thing.

(Note that I’ve only had Dart in his active service dog role for a short time, and yet I’ve experienced all the “don’ts” I just mentioned.  I can understand why those with extensive experience might get a little short in their responses, although I hope I never do.  But just maybe, given the great discussion here, we’re a start of the awareness brigade!  Let’s make it contagious…)

Meanwhile, over on the contest side of things…I did my infamous “blind stab at the screen” and Melissa won the WordPlay contest!  Those of you who donated to Paws with a Cause should keep an eye on the Event Web Page to see who wins the grand prizes!

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!
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9 Responses to The Imperfect Service Dog, Part II

  1. Doranna says:

    Of course, I probably should have mentioned that the actual prize is a full set of the Changespell Saga, right? Because not everyone has that firmly lodged in their thoughts as a priority over real life?


    Well, it is!

  2. Adrianne says:

    You’re not the only one who has problems with too “friendly” people and dogs.

  3. Doranna says:

    Well, that’s a given…trouble with other people and their intrusively “friendly” dogs is pretty much the bane of our tracking training, among other things. This particular conversation is about approaching service dogs/handlers, though.

    I’ve seen that Yellow Dog thing, and it annoys the crap out of me, she says bluntly. It’s switching the responsibility for considerate behavior to the wrong party. ALL dogs should be considered unapproachable–by children, by other dogs, by over-enthusiastic strangers–unless actively permitted.

    It’s every given person’s responsibility to control their children and their dogs so they aren’t all over me and mine–and mine to extend that same courtesy to everyone else. I don’t need to wear a “stay away” label in order for it to be default for other people to keep their dogs away from me.

    (For some reason I’m thinking of a time in the forest when a couple walking their incredibly muddy large dog let it charge ahead and jump all over my companion, who was having a bad knee day to start with and who also hadn’t planned on doing laundry that day. They seemed surprised that the dog wasn’t welcome to do this. So what next…people who don’t want to be jumped on have to wear ribbons? It’s the same thing.)

    Not that I feel strongly about this. But it’s really a totally different topic…

  4. Adrianne says:

    I agree, that the yellow dog ribbon puts responsibility on the wrong party. And I can see why it would annoy the crap out of you. But I think that when you’re trying to change a cultural attitude, sometimes small, non-threatening awareness alerts can help people shift their thinking.

    I’m sorry I got off topic.

  5. Doranna says:

    It’s more than just annoying…it feels like part of a larger cultural shift of failing to take sensible responsibility. My fear would be that the yellow ribbon would encourage that way of thinking…it wouldn’t fade, but would permanently shift responsibility. No doubt my awareness that this is *exactly* the kind of thing that Animal Rights organizations get behind in order to slowly shift laws to the extreme (extrapolate out, and suddenly the onus is 100% on the dog owner, no matter what the other party’s instigating action) is behind the strength of my reaction.

    (That is a bad sentence. Oops.)

    (I know, I know…that seems absurd. Unless you’ve been watching, over the years, how such groups have successfully manipulated state after state into crunching down on dog owners.)

  6. Marilyn says:

    Moving slow on replies here — my 89 year old Dad had a nasty fall yesterday. He’s okay.

    I’d ask permission — “May I say hello, or is your dog working?”

    Since I walk with a cane, and have been given a hassle about it on more than one occasion, I probably wouldn’t ask what the dog does. Not my business, unless the person chooses to volunteer it.

    I can generally find something positive to say about any dog. Well, except maybe the miniscule mop at Shadow’s water therapy last Thursday who saw him, started yapping, and Shadow, who has had a problem with invasive dogs since that time we were attacked, actually went to walk past the animal, ignoring it — I was so proud of him! Then Yapper lunged at him and tried to bite, and Shadow turned on him with the same snap he uses when young Master Harper is Being A Puppy, ie, “Go away, kid, ya bother me!” and Yapper’s owner… well, as you say, this isn’t a blog for discussion of “friendly” dogs.

  7. Doranna says:

    Marilyn, I’m sorry to hear about your dad! I hope he’s feeling fine again…

    Yapper does not sound like the kind of dog who would be in an assistance role. My goodness. Good dog, Shadow! That’s entirely the right kind of correction to give a rude dog. 8)

  8. Marilyn says:

    Dad’s feeling okay, fortunately. Luckily, someone saw him, and went to get his friends from the meeting. (My Dad is still doing Kiwanis training sessions at age 89, and publishes the club newsletter every week via email!) They called the paramedics who checked him over, and then his friends drove him home. I went over and sat with him for awhile (he only lives 4 blocks from me) as he was pretty shaken. He does have an emergency call-button.

    Yapper is just that — a Yapper. Goes into a frenzy at the sight of any person or dog within fifteen feet of him.

    Shadow could have been a service dog if I’d had any idea how to train him. These days, he’s gotten more laid back, with the weekly exposure to other dogs who aren’t trying to hurt his Missy. Well, except when he’s teaching devious tricks to young Master Harper. I still do basic obedience drills with Shadow, and Harper watches every move. What’s interesting is that Harper’s beginning to copy them: I tell Shadow “Down!” and Harper drops with Shadow.

    You know, that could be interesting. How DOES one train a service dog? I’d assume start with Canine Good Citizen.

  9. Doranna says:

    I’d have been shaken up, too. I’m glad it was no worse for him!

    Service dog training obviously varies with the tasks required, and I’m far from wanting to suggest myself as an expert. Never mind the training–there are legal issues with which to be familiar!

    I’ve always looked at training as a matter of being sensible and breaking things down into their component parts while filling the needs of each individual dog–and that means I do a lot on my own as opposed to within classes or an instructor situation. That also means that what works for me isn’t necessarily what works for others–I’ve taught classes, and I know that what seems intuitive to me isn’t always easy to express in ways that make sense to others. One of the reasons I don’t continue to teach is my sense that I’m not successfully able to bridge that gap. 8)

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