© Tammie Rogers 2020

Page Title

Why Have We Decided to Request Clients Provide Their Own Dog? After working with Service Dogs and their people for over a decade, we became disheartened by a few, recurring issues. They all seemed to stem out of a basic condition. Folks who acquired a fully trained dog that we sourced for them, are more likely to suffer from “unrealized expectations.” When someone brings us their own dog for our custom Service Dog training, they have typically lived with that pup, perhaps even raised it from just eight weeks old. They experienced it chew their good pair of shoes because they were not paying attention. They dealt with vomit on a new sofa, or a potty mess on the white carpet. They recognized that they were unsuccessful at teaching their wayward pup to refrain from jumping up or barking at the neighbor’s cat. They knew that their dog was not perfect, but they also realized neither were they. Perfection is not necessary for love, loyalty, devotion or just basic tolerance between a human and her beloved canine companion. So, when that client comes to the Handler Training after the dog had learned how to display calm, relaxed self-restraint, even around dozens of distractions, she is not only impressed, but excited to take on the challenges of learning how to maintain her dog’s new standards of behavior. On the contrary, individuals who arrive to “take ownership” of their new Service Dog (as if it is a shiny, new automobile), are often ill equipped to handle some very simple requirements of Service Dog ownership (even if they have owned dogs in the past). They expect their new Service Dog to be perfect. Regardless of how often we explain it, they don’t realize they must work hard to become the benevolent leader that their dog expects and needs to continue on the path of exceptional behavior, happiness and service. I refer to the concept as “the Lassie syndrome.” Lassie was a fictitious character. In one, thirty-minute episode, I watched the beautiful Collie dog save three kittens from a wild fire, usher them through the desert (including locating a source of water when they became parched), defended them from the claws of a Mountain Lion, then negotiated through a mountain path on a moonless night to the safety of a barn, where they curled up next to Lassie in the soft straw until morning. If you think that your service dog is going to perform such death defying feats, autonomously without your constant intervention and management, you are going to be terribly disappointed. But, most people who suffer from a disability seek a Service Dog to enhance their life…immediately. They are looking for that moment when they realize the dog just saved them from their pain or suffering. Like any employee, it takes time for a Service Dog to learn the ropes of the new work environment, and that includes developing trust and respect for the new “boss.” Regardless of how well a dog is trained, its behavior will most often be a direct reflection of its relationship with the humans in its life. That is true whether the dog comes from the owner or we acquire it. However, the folks who bring us their dog already have figured out that important message, at least somewhat. They know that a failure in management or training will result in an unexpected or undesirable outcome. But, more importantly, they already love the dog, so they are more apt to assume the responsibility for the dog’s failures and not over think the fact that they need to continue to develop their relationship. One error isn’t the end of the world - either in their handling of the dog, or the dog’s behavior. Folks who acquire a fully trained dog, of course, fall in love with it. However, they do not enter an established a relationship. So, it is far more challenging for them to evaluate their new dog’s behavior, once they go home. Mostly, any unacceptable behavior is due to fatigue and the anxiety that the dog suffers from leaving a home where they thought they had it all figured out, and learning how to cope in a strange place with new people who don’t necessarily know how to interact with it. We inform our clients (in writing they receive before coming to Handler Instruction and during the class presentation) to let the dog have a good, long week to simply become acquainted with its new world. Don’t have guests; don’t take it out in public; don’t feel the need to work on all the training exercises in the first two hours you are home. Let the dog sleep and recuperate and trust that you will feed it every day and take it outside to go potty. But, then we hear stories about how the new Service Dog handler invited twenty people over to meet her new dog on the second day after she got home and now she is worried because the dog seemed shy or reserved. Our experience tells us that those unrealized expectations are far more common with folks who acquire a dog that they didn’t know, than folks who brought us a dog that they had sourced as their potential Service Dog and developed an understanding about its personality, faults and admirable qualities. In order to address our own unrealized expectations of our clients, we have chosen to eliminate the issues by asking folks to locate their own dog. It is our strategy. We believe it will provide the best opportunity for our clients to have the best experience and for their dog to be successful, happy and cherished in Service Dog work.