Not Your Average Dog: A valuable resource for those who recommend others get service dogs, or desire to train one for themselves or a loved one
You might think that this is a strange topic for someone whose integrated animal health, behavior and bond practice is dominated by animals with serious behavioral problems. You also might consider my recommendation that you read a reader-friendly book written for dog-trainers entitled Service Dog Coaching: A Guide for Pet Dog Trainers by Veronica Sanchez (https://www.amazon.com/Service-Dog-Coaching-Guide-Trainers/dp/1617812366/ref=sr_1_3?crid=3RQFNXGZCLZIK&keywords=service+dog+coaching&qid=1556287734&s=books&sprefix=Service+D%2Caps%2C172&sr=1-3) even stranger. However, like just about anyone interested in companion animal behavior and the human-animal bond, it’s almost impossible not to encounter those who recommend, get, or desire to train a service dog for themselves or a loved one. If someone asks me about my work, as soon as people hear the words “behavior”, and “bond” an increasing number will mention all the benefits conferred by service animals and dogs in particular on humans with all kinds of disabilities. Meanwhile I want to disappear into a hole.
“Why?” you might ask. Because often these people don’t realize all that is involved in the selection and training of a quality service animal. They have little knowledge of what they expect the dog to do, let alone if their household pet or an animal that visually appeals to them has the right stuff to do it. They don’t understand how much time,commitment, and skill it takes to properly train a dog to display the right behavior at the right time and in the right place. They don’t understand the differences between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal and the legal implications of both. They don’t realize that training is on-going or that proper public-access training is extremely difficult and time-consuming even for skilled trainers. Some handler wannabees admit they don’t even like dogs! And perhaps the saddest of all, some people expect others to intuitively know the correct way to respond to their service animals and them even if their disabilities are invisible ones.( https://invisibledisabilities.org/what-is-an-invisible-disability/ ) Such conversations generate so many conflicting responses, digging a hole and disappearing into it seems like the best response.
We live in a society in which some people are so disconnected from nature that they don’t understand normal canine behavior, let alone that of dogs charged with providing specialized services for their handlers that require their full attention. This is hard work! Training dogs and handlers to deal with well-meaning but clueless people who rush up to pet a dog responsible for physically or emotionally protecting a vulnerable handler at that street fair or sporting event can take years of hard work to master and maintain. And sometimes it may be impossible. Sadly, today it’s also possible for disabled handlers with well-trained and cared for service dogs to encounter poorly trained and cared for service dogs and handlers in public venues their handlers find stressful under the best of circumstances. Even worse, fake service and emotional dogs may populate those same areas if legislation preventing their presence doesn’t exist or isn’t enforced if it does.
Sometimes people get so caught up in what they believe the dog will do for them or a patient, client, or loved one that they don’t think about all of this. Or all it takes to find the right dog. Or all it takes to properly train the dog and handler in a manner that ensures the handler’s and the dog’s safety and well-being.
Think about that as you read Sanchez’s description of how to train a dog to perform basic tasks service dogs must master. Doing this is a lot more complicated than many people realize.
Service dogs are considered one kind of canine-assisted interventions. In an article entitled “What is important in canine-assisted intervention teams? An investigation of canine-assisted intervention program online screening tools” published in The Journal of Veterinary Behavior (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1558787817302563), the authors concluded that standards of quality control are lacking at this time. That means that those who recommend or want an animal to perform specific functions to benefit a specific person or human population must do their homework.
Sanchez’s book provides an insider’s view of the service dog world. Based on years of experience in pet and service dog-training and as a physically disabled person, she knows the real world in which these animals and their handlers must function. As an experienced teacher, she also knows how to present material clearly and concisely. Your obligation as someone who recommends others get service dogs, or who desires to train one for yourself or a loved one is to remove your rose-colored glasses regarding what these dogs and their handlers can do and replace them with a more realistic view. The insights in this book will help you do this.