Thursday, March 3, 2016

Service Dog, Do Not Pet

The dog's vest says in big, bold letters: Service Dog, Do Not Pet. And yet, person after person approaches with words like "I know I'm not supposed to ..." as they reach out to engage with a dog who is trying to do his job. If you don't understand why it's not okay to pet a service dog, I'd like for you to meet three of my clients. 

Angel may not look like he's working but he is. One of his jobs is to block people from invading 13-year-old Sara's personal space. Sara's Mom puts it this way: "When we are in public as a trio, I am responsible for both my daughter and her service dog. When someone distracts her dog, her anxiety level rises. Best case scenario, we are able to regroup and carry on with our outing. Worst case, we spend 10 to 15 minutes in a quiet area recovering. When Angel is distracted, the trio fails." Below is a video of Sara during a recent public access training session. 

When you see a service dog, please admire him from a distance.

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Molly is in training to be a service dog for Collin, a teenager with down syndrome. In the picture above, Collin's Mom (and Molly's primary trainer) is working with Molly in public, teaching her to focus - totally ignoring what's going on around her. Below, Molly lays (and stays focused) beneath the table at McDonalds, quietly waiting for whatever comes next. Among other things, Molly helps Collin with transitions (stop doing something he's enjoying and start doing something else) like leaving McDonalds to go to the car. Focus is key in these kinds of transitions: focus from Mom, Molly and Collin. 

When you see a service dog, please admire her from a distance.

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Eclipse is six months old and has been embedded with his family since he was 11 weeks old. He's learning how to be a service dog for a child with a seizure disorder, cerebral palsy, autism, and a number of other disabilities. When you see a puppy with a "service dog in training" vest, don't assume he is being handled by a puppy raiser for a big organization. Some families - like the three in this blog post - choose to train their own service dogs. That means that interrupting puppy training is as inappropriate as interrupting adult dog training. This puppy is learning to ignore the rest of the world and focus on his boy. Please help him succeed by admiring the process from afar.

It takes hundreds of hours to train a service dog. Thank you for respecting them and their people.

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