Saturday, March 21, 2009

Myth: Dogs Have No Choice in Becoming Service Dogs

Recently there has been much conversation around the Internet along the line that dogs in training to become service dogs and those working as service dogs have no say in the matter. If this assertion where true, the only dogs to fail to become service dogs would be those who fail for health related or severe behavior problems such as aggression. This is far from the truth of the matter. Everyday of training and working life for a service dog is a choice. Sure there are incentives such as treats; however, for the dog who doesn't enjoy the work and would rather be somewhere else doing something else no amount of incentive will make a difference.

The early puppy training service dog candidates receive really applies to any well-behaved well adjusted pet prepared for life in a human dominated landscape. Puppies learn to walk nicely, socialize with other animals, sit, down, stop before entering dangerous things like streets, not to potty in the house, not to put their teeth on people, which toys are theirs, come when called, not eat just any old thing on the ground, sit nicely so people may lavish attention on you, and meet a wide variety of people, and experience a wide in a variety of environments. Some puppies don't make it out of puppy training.For them the world may be too scary, too interesting, too loud, too slow, too crowded, the food on the floor too enticing, or the lure of a toy, cat, or squirrel too much to resist when working. For whatever reason these puppies tell trainers, "Thanks...but no."

Even if a dog excels in basic training, it doesn't guarantee that dog will become a service dog for a person with a disability. Every step along the way the dog must choose to do what is being asked. Even in programs using correction based training a dog who is constantly being corrected will most like be "career changed." No one looking to be partnered with a service dog wants a dog who would rather be somewhere else, doing something else. Dogs destined to become full-fledged service dogs partnered with a person with a disability also need to be willing to do the same task many, many times in a row, as well as good problem solvers willing to keep trying until they accomplish their goal. They must also be comfortable in a wide range of situations and environments; willing to follow their partner's lead even if they are unsure. Potential successful service dogs also tend toward the low to medium activity level. Living with people with disabilities often means the person, no matter how much they might want to, cannot meet the energy outlet needs of a high energy dog. These traits come in a wide variety of individual dogs with a wide range of personalities.


Service Dog Sawyer said...

Well said! We occasionally get the "oh...poor doggy" from people out in public. So many people don't realize that it's all in our hands (paws)...we dogs chose whether or not we want to work! :)

Melissa Mitchell said...

Many people don't like to think of dogs, much less animals as sentient beings.