Intelligent Disobedience

I’m not sure if it was the vest or not, but suddenly Charlie’s work took on a whole new demeanor when he donned his new duds. Did he somehow realize all these fun games have a very serious meaning? That these things are preparing him for a life as a service dog? I can’t say for sure if it was the vest or his just growing up—whichever, he sure is handsome.

Handsome isn’t good enough though for service dogs. They have to demonstrate through their training that they know and understand the tasks they are being trained for. Their obedience must be impeccable under all circumstances. They must live up to a higher standard. As if that is not enough for any dog to master, we go one step further and ask a service dog under certain circumstances to make a decision which goes against their training, which says, always obey the person’s commands. This is known as “intelligent disobedience.”

A graphic example of this concept is a dog guide leading a blind person down a street. The dog is taught to go in a straight line when given the command “forward.” The dog is not supposed to deviate from that straight line. But what if the straight line down the street would cause the person the guide dog is leading to walk into an open manhole? The blind person can’t see that hole, so what’s a dog to do? This is where intelligent disobedience comes in. An intelligent dog determines he has to disobey the command to go forward in order to keep his person safe; so he goes around the danger in spite of anything the person does or says.

Charlie has shown me this intelligent disobedience already at the tender age of 17 weeks. He is very devoted to me and realizes that when the odor of low blood glucose is present, his alerting takes precedence over anything else he is told to do. I’m very impressed with his persistence, too. I cannot ignore him; he will not let me.

“Good Boy, Charlie!” As his trainer, this is very satisfying. I know he will never let his future handler down.