Welcome back to Sit, Stay, & Blog! If you’re a new reader, I assure you that your paws clicked on the right page! 🙂
As part of my “What It Means To: Train a Service Dog” series, I am writing today to provide a little insight into exactly what it means to take both service dogs in-training and pets into public spaces. When you train a service dog, there’s this general “Rule of 12” in which you should actively expose your dog to 12 new stimuli (people, smells, sounds, etc.) per day which helps with the socialization process. This of course includes, but is not limited to, introducing your service dog in-training to public places such as grocery stores, malls, meetings, family reunions, college classes, etc. When I tell people about my experiences training Pinella, the most common response I get is, “Wow, that must have been great to have a dog with you everywhere in public!”
Now, don’t get me wrong, it IS unbelievably awesome to have a dog with you when you’re strolling down the produce aisle, and if it were up to me, everyday would be take your dog to work day! However, here’s where reality kicks in: Taking a dog into public is more than just putting on their leash and harness, getting them in the car, and walking into a store. Let’s pose some hypothetical scenarios: Before going into the store, your dog did their business outside. Did you remember your scented Halloween-themed poop bags? Your dog got so anxious, they peed…everywhere. Did you pack the paper towels? The restaurant manager approaches you about having your furry friend near others’ food. Did you remember your Public Access forms that grant you and your in-training service dog access to all spaces where the public is allowed? You see, there is a lot to think about, pack, plan, and remember before even stepping foot into a public space with your service dog.
So what actually happens when you’re in the public venue with a dog? Do you get stared at? Absolutely! Do you get asked a lot of curiosity questions about what you are doing with that clicker in your hand? No doubt! How many times do you get asked (or not asked) if you can pet your hardworking dog who is clearly training? Millions! (Okay, that was an overstatement!).
From my experiences, if you are training a service dog in public (or perhaps your pet in pet-friendly stores such as Lowe’s or PetSmart), it takes a great deal of undivided attention. Your eyes are fixated on the dog’s every move, making sure you offer a click and a treat (a method of positive reinforcement) at the right moments. Because of this intense focus, attention, and concentration, I often find that I am oblivious to others around me (Safety tip: It’s often a good idea to have somebody with you to help stay alert to your surroundings). This becomes especially problematic when an individual approaches me and my dog and begins petting and distracting the dog without giving any warning or indication to me, the human handler. Whether the dog is working or in-training, distracting them and their handler can be not only dangerous, but it can also require a lot of follow-up work to regain the dog’s focus and concentration. This is why in the service dog community we often educate about the importance of speaking only to the human, refraining from distracting the dog on all occasions, and NEVER petting the dog without obtaining permission first (and if you do get permission, always pet near the lower back, below the vest–this allows the dog to keep their eyes focused on the human handler!)
For those of you who are interested in or currently take your dog into pet-friendly stores, please read on:
As businesses become more accepting of pets in their establishments, it will become especially important to be mindful of exactly what taking a dog into public entails. For example, if your dog exhibits signs of stress (panting, barking, aggression, etc.), it is likely in the dog’s best interest to keep him/her at home. Additionally, if you are in a pet-friendly business and see an in-training or working service dog, it is your responsibility as a pet owner to respect that working dog’s public access rights and refrain from allowing your dog to distract the working dog from their handler (even if this means leaving the establishment altogether). Many people do not realize that going into unfamiliar spaces can cause your dog to experience stress because they have not been prepared and socialized to the various sights, smells, sounds, objects, people, other pets, etc. that they are being immersed in. If your usually well-behaved dog begins exhibiting behaviors that are out of the norm when out in public, this may be an indication that they are experiencing stress and not yet prepared to be in public. Always keep in mind that, as a dog owner, it is your responsibility to recognize these behaviors and remove your pet from the stress-inducing environment! Remember: You always want to set your dog up for success, even if it means a little extra training and socialization before entering a pet-friendly establishment/store. 🙂
DISCLAIMER: As with all of my blogs, my experiences and opinions may differ from others. However, I aim to provide insight into what these experiences were like for ME in a respectful, yet informative manner.
I hope you enjoyed reading my second post in the series, “What It Means To: Train a Service Dog.” I certainly enjoyed creating it and absolutely love sharing my passion and imparting my knowledge with you. Stay tuned for my next blog post, “What It Means To: Be a Graduate Student.” As always, thank you for your continued support! Please feel free to leave me suggestions in the comment box for future post ideas, and don’t forget to “Follow” Sit, Stay, & Blog (SS&B) on Twitter and “Like” the SS&B Facebook page! 🙂