Friday, April 29, 2011

no comment

One frustrating thing about working an assistance dog, is that suddenly everyone you know, and everyone you meet seems to be a dog trainer. They watch "It's Me Or The Dog" and "The Dog Whisperer" and suddenly Victoria and Cesar have taught them everything about how to train, and interact with, a dog.

These people seem to feel perfectly justified in making comments about the way my dog does, or does not, do her job. Most of these same people either do not have a dog of their own, or they have small dogs who are spoiled, under-socialized, and out of control. The fact that these people cannot even train their own dogs to a reasonable degree does not seem to stop them from being "armchair dog trainers."

We have the "Pack Leaders." They believe that I need to "dominate my dog. Be the pack leader!" This usually involves a metal training collar of some variety or other, and corrections with a leash when the dog engages in undesirable behaviors.

Laveau does not wear a metal training collar because she has a very soft trachea and cannot physically handle collar corrections. I am a clicker trainer. I prefer to , train and maintain Laveau's behaviors using the principles of operand conditioning; mainly positive reinforcement, negative punishment, and extinction.
When one of these "pack leader" types sees my dog make an error, and then sees me stop, do some re-focusing work, and give her another chance to do the correct behavior, they come up to me, tell me I'm spoiling my dog and "rewarding her for misbehaving." They tell me that my dog won't "respect you unless you are the dominant one!"

There are people who use leash corrections with their assistance dogs. While this is not a training method that I, myself use, I respect the fact that others use it successfully and humanely. Clicker training works for me, and it works for my dogs. It doesn't make them "spoiled" and it doesn't make them "disrespect me."

Then there are the ones I've named the "Anthropomorphites." They attribute human emotion to my dog. They "feel so sorry that she has to work." They try to sneak her food under the table in restaurants because "she looks so hungry." They lecture me for "bringing that poor dog" to events such as outdoor concerts and Mardi Gras parades. They get angry when Laveau is panting heavily and I refuse to give her water. Laveau has a soft trachea and she cannot drink large amounts of water when she is panting or she will throw up. I have learned this from hard experience. I understand how it looks to people, but at the same time, my dog is obviously well cared for, people should trust my judgement. This also goes for bringing her to events such as outdoor concerts. I realize that most dogs can't handle events like this, but Laveau does just fine. If she couldn't handle these kinds of things, and even enjoy working in this environment, she would not be my assistance dog. As for people attributing emotion to her because of the way they interpret her facial expression.... I don't even have words. My dog eats, and is a healthy weight. While humans, (me included), may look at their job with a mix of irritation and exhaustion, dogs don't think that way. You can't "force" an assistance dog to work. They work because they love to do it. I wish I loved my job half as much as Laveau loves hers.

Then we have the "commentators." People who love to give me a running commentary of my dog's perceived wrongs. "She's getting distracted." is a frequent one. My dog is a Doberman. This means that she is very cautious of my safety, and very aware of, and curious about, her environment. Sometimes she will take her time with me-- especially if she feels that I'm unsteady on my feet. She will frequently look around while walking slowly or while pausing on a step or curb. Apparently this looks as though she is distracted. Does she get distracted sometimes? Yes! Absolutely. We all do; dogs aren't perfect because nobody is perfect. I sometimes get distracted, so does most everyone else I know. However when my dog gets distracted, or makes an error, the "commentator" loves to make some remark along the lines of "is she still in training?" or "you should call the program who gave her to you and ask about retraining."
This is very frustrating. People watch too much animal planet and have a very unrealistic expectation of what assistance dogs are, and are not. If I wanted a robot who never made mistakes; I'd get a robot.

Like I said; Laveau makes mistakes sometimes. This does not mean that she isn't a "real guide dog," or that she "needs more training." When people make mistakes are they then "not real?" or do they need "more training?" From time to time I may focus on improving a skill or behavior with Laveau. This is my decision, and mine alone. For the most part, she's an awesome dog.

If you meet an assistance dog team who seems to be having a hard time, my best advice is to shut the hell up, and mind your own business. It is neither necessary, nor advisable to comment on someone's assistance dog. I don't care if the person is a friend, a family member, a coworker, or stranger. It is rude to offer unasked for advice. Like my mama said-- "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."


  1. My parents are huge on commentating. And people at school always tell me that "Railey looks so sad." However, I think it's cool when people comment on how good Railey looks when he's working and how he's one of the best trained dogs they've seen. Also, I was on the quad yesterday, and this huge group of little kids came by. Some of them were like, "OOOOO! I hate dogs!!!!" And this one little kid was talking to their teacher and was like, "I know I'm not supposed to pet them." I was thinking to myself, "You go, little kid! Maybe you could teach some of the adults I've run into."

  2. Rox, you said it perfectly. People think because I use a training collar on my dog, that I'm one of those yank and choke type of people. I respect my dog, and my dog respects me. Sometimes my dog acts like a bonehead, but then again isn't he? OMIGOSH HE MUST BE A DOG. LOL.

    Then there are those who go on and on about their dogs while you are waiting for a cab or bus and you just want them to shut the hell up and let you listen to your book or your iPod. LOL

  3. I couldn't have put better. I love this post! Love love love love it. I don't have anything else to say because you said it all. :)

  4. Totally agree; there also the people who think the poor sad little puppy is starving because their dogs are 20 pounds overweight and mine doesn't look like theirs.

  5. I Totally agree!!!!!People drive me batty because they think my dog should do every thing perfect with out making a mistake ever. I prefer dogs to robots myself.