I really am beginning to think that the average American has watched far too many specials on Animal Planet or PBS about service dogs. People seem to think that they are now equipped with the knowledge of how service dogs work, how they should be acting, what they can or cannot do, and how the dog must think or feel. And they just can't wait to educate me, because obviously... I'M DOING IT WRONG!
The other day, I was in an outdoor mall with Laveau. We were going at a pretty good clip when my arm brushed against a pipe at shoulder level. It was really a light brush which I hardly felt, however I guess it made quite a bit of noise. Upon hearing the sound, Laveau stopped and saw what had happened. I didn't say anything-- rather I chose to go back about six feet and let her have another go passed the pipe. I told her "forward" and the second time she walked by it and made sure I cleared it.
A man stopped us, and proceeded to tell me how I was too easy on my dog, and how if I don't "show her who's alpha" and "punish her mistakes" that she would "take the boss role in our relationship." and how "she must not be fully trained if she's still making mistakes like that."
I really and truly wanted to scream at this person and start hitting him about the head and neck with the very pipe on the wall. First of all, dogs are dogs. No matter how much training they have, no matter how hard a person works with them, they are still dogs and they make mistakes. Yes, even service dogs with a huge vocabulary and who perform complex behavior chains are still dogs and they have bad days sometimes. Expecting them to be perfect is unfair to the dog and is just completely unreasonable. Is anything else in this world perfect? I didn't think so. Why then is a service dog expected to be the exemption to that law of the universe?
Secondly, my dog, being a dog, made an honest mistake. She knew she made an honest mistake right after she made it. She did better the second time and she remembers about the pipe every time we pass that area and has never run me into it again. Bossing her around and tearing her down just because she made a mistake is cruel and unnecessary. I don't show leadership by being an asshole; I show leadership through compassionate understanding and through faith and pride in her work.
Then, on the other side of the spectrum, we have the lady I ran into last week. Laveau and I were walking to the store. Laveau works this rout frequently and was bored. She wasn't paying attention and was repeatedly making a lot of stupid little mistakes. Finally she brushed me off on one planter box too many and I stopped. I tapped the box, and asked her for targeting behaviors, and some obedience. I made her rework it and I stopped again and asked for more cued behaviors. The lady coming down the street thought I was "mean to make her do the same thing with her again" and that it was "only a little scratch," from running into the planter.
Dogs, like people, will never grow to improve if someone does not hold us accountable for our mistakes. She can do the work and if she is not working, I will find out why, and if it is simply out of boredom, well that's too bad. Life isn't always exciting, and while I try to keep work fun for her, sometimes it just isn't and she will be expected to put on her metaphorical big dog underpants and work anyway.
Then we have the fine example of the human idiot whom we met in the coffee shop this morning. Mister Pawpower and I, along with Baylee and Laveau, walked to the coffee shop for some tea. We were standing in line, when a lady started asking why our dogs weren't wagging their tails. She kept wanting to know why they weren't happy and what was wrong with them and was frankly, rather obnoxious about it.
I don't know about you all, but I hardly find waiting in lines to be the most exciting way to spend my time. My dog feels the same way, I'm sure. I don't know where people get these crazy ideas about the way dogs feel. No, service dogs don't wag their tails night and day. They are dogs and they wag about as much as the average dog. If this lady thought being in a coffee shop was that exciting, then she should wag her own tail!
By and large, my interactions with the public aren't this stressful and negative. I just really wish that people would realize that watching a program on television, doesn't make them an expert on service dogs. Just because you know someone with a service dog, and spend time with them, that does not make you an expert on service dogs. Volunteering your time as a puppy raiser for a program does not make you an expert on my service dog. The only expert on my relationship with my service dog is me. If I need assistance or if I want an opinion about a training issue, I will ask for it from someone I trust. The average person on the street should mind their own business.