Why I Said “That Dog Should NOT Be a Service Dog”
Nothing gets me cussed at and told off quicker than my reply when someone sends me an email about fixing their dog’s behavior problem because he “is” or they want him to “be” a Service Dog.
First off let’s be honest: I’m HONEST. I don’t really lie to people or tell them what they want to hear.
I believe that dog trainers should have ethics, morals and principles. Although my job revolves around being good at what I do and making money, I prefer to have morals over telling people what they want to hear to just make money.
I Can Tell When A Dog Should Not Be A Service Dog.
I have worked in and around the Service Dog industry for over 20 years.
I have worked for numerous other Service Dog organizations, set up my own 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, worked for Assistance Dogs International and helped others set up Service Dog organizations appropriately.
I have VERY high standards for Service Dogs.
I have dropped dogs that I LOVED from multiple organizations because their behavior was lacking for what it takes to live in public all of the time.
I once had a cattle dog mix from the shelter that I loved. He was learning all of the Service Dog commands, opening doors, turning on and off lights, pulling a wheelchair and was happy and pleasant with people in public.
However one day he climbed my fence and was sitting on my porch, as my neighbor approached, to tell me the dog had gotten out, he growled.
That was it. He had to be dropped. He failed. It broke my heart.
I could not, in good conscience place a dog with a disabled individual and HOPE he didn’t get protective, even though I had already seen the first sign.
Don’t worry, we found him a great pet home, but he didn’t deserve to be a Service Dog.
What would happen if he became increasingly protective and his disabled human fell out of their wheelchair (which happens fairly often) or needed Emergency Medical Services (which happens quite often).
I will tell you that police will shoot a dog that is threatening EMS because they won’t allow a person to die because the dog is afraid EMS will hurt their owner or they don’t want them in their house. And, truthfully, they should.
So when people email me saying things like: “My dog hates men (women, children) but he is my Service Dog and goes in public with me. How can I socialize him and teach him to love men (women, children)?”
My immediate response is “That dog should NOT be a Service Dog”.
The dog can be taught to endure men, women or children but you can’t force a dog to like all men, women and children if they already don’t.
I recently had an email from a woman whose dog was terrified of children and would hide behind her whenever children were around or would approach her.
My mind pictures a child chasing that dog, tethered to the lady’s wheelchair around behind her because the kid wants to “pet the puppy”. Once the dog is cornered and can’t get away it is a pretty likely assumption that the dog will lash out and bite the kid, probably in the face. Because, after all, kid’s faces are lower and closer to dog mouths.
This dog doesn’t WANT to be a Service Dog!
He is completely telling his owner this every time he runs and tries to hide.
He is overwhelmed, he is scared and I think we can all admit that children exist in this world and going out in public with a cute dog is going to bring them out of the woodwork.
It is really not fair to the dog.
But, most of the time, people refuse to listen to their dog.
The Percentage Is So Low
The percentage of dogs that can make it through a rigorous training program and health screening is extremely low.
Most dogs fail.
Even organizations that rely on decades worth of successful breeding programs, have more dogs fail than those that are successfully placed as Service Dogs.
Think About It
Service Dogs in Public Can’t
- Pull on leash
- Jump on people
- Solicit attention from people
- Bump people
- Trip people
- Chase animals
- Growl at other dogs
- Steal food or toys
- Be noise phobic
- Be afraid of thunder storms
- Sniff, track or use his nose
All of the aforementioned things can result in someone asking you to leave their establishment.
They Have To
- Adhere to their obedience despite severe distraction
- Endure overwhelming sounds and situations
- Do several hour “down stays“
- Ride elevators
- Ride escalators
- Allow anyone to touch them and their partner
- Stepped on
- Yelled at
- Barked at
- Stomped at
- Tails pulled
- Shut in doors
- Paws rolled over by chairs, carts, and other objects
- People get up in their face
- People hug them
- People kiss them
And that is even if you ask people not to touch them or use the “don’t pet me” patch!
I mean, imagine taking your dog to Chuck E. Cheese. How would he handle that environment?
How would you handle that environment with your dog to make sure he didn’t get hurt or overwhelmed?
These dogs have to be so well trained and absolutely “bomb proof”.
Most dogs don’t want to put up with any of those things on any of those lists.
Finding one that can do all of those things and WANTS to, is a rare gem!
The liability for taking a dog out in public is HUGE.
You will learn that you can’t control people or the public. You can try, but as soon as you are doing something and avert your eyes, they will do whatever they want.
And it simply isn’t possible to keep your eye on your dog constantly.
You are also risking the life of your dog.
Public places are filled with all kinds of different people: men, women, and children of all shapes, sizes and colors.
There are also people with mental disabilities and challenges who understand nothing of dog behavior, and sometimes do inappropriate things to Service Dogs. Many adults and children are poorly behaved.
So if there is any question that is not purely “task training” related, that dog should not be a Service Dog!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.