By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved
I am seeing more and more so called service dogs appearing in public with very poor manners and feel the image they are giving service dogs is not a positive one. So I felt for this month’s blog I would offer up 5 tips for making the image you portray in public a little more positive.
One issue for many dogs living in our urban culture is controlling the urge to rush over and greet another of their species when they pass on the street. Dogs are sociable and they love to greet new dogs, sniff butts and get the latest scoop on where the other guy has been. Humans often handle these urges in the wrong manner causing their dog to become more dog reactive in many cases. For service dogs in particular, they need to stay focused on their job and must exhibit exemplary manners at all times so there can be no interaction with other dogs in public while “on the job”. To teach your dog to be less reactive you need to practice around other dogs.
The best way to do this is pick a dog friendly store, such as a pet shop, and find a few willing friends with dogs to help. Everyone goes into the store at different times and mills around, passing each other often as they go up and down isles. I have my students periodically sit their dogs while they pretend to shop and the other dog passes by. The SD should not move or attempt to interact with the passing dog. If the SD tries to interact, the handler should try to preempt the move by asking the dog to “watch me”. If the dog is properly trained to look up at the handler on this cue, then they should look up thus missing the dog walking by and maintaining the sit stay. If your timing is not too good it might take a bit of practice on your part to get this down but it is one worth practicing. Soon when your dog sees another dog approaching he will be looking at you and not the other dog.
Eating out with a dog can be a challenge too. When you go to a restaurant or bar try to find a table out of the way or in a corner so the dog can relax without being near a lot of foot traffic. Some people carry mats so their dogs can have a “place” to stay on. This is great for several reasons; it reminds the dog not to move from the defined place but also keeps him clean from dirty floors. Training for this can be done then at home by putting the mat in various places in the house and practicing longer and longer stays on it. If the dog moves off the mat, replace them there firmly but with no anger and no second command. Start out with short stays and work up to longer stays, always vary the amount of time when training.
Shopping carts seem to be an issue with many dogs I witness in public. First off I don’t believe the dogs should be riding in the cart. Even my Chihuahua Boo when we go shopping at the nursery for plants does not ride in the cart. He maintains his position by me as we peruse the isle for new additions to the garden. This is just an exercise you need to practice and that practice should be in public. I find stores with cart collection spots outside in the parking area, go by and grab one and practice in the parking area as well as on the sidewalks outside the store. It might take several weeks of practice before the dog gets comfortable walking with the cart but with repetition, praise and an occasional treat for a job well done they will soon get the idea.
Walking in crowds where people have shopping bags swinging about is a situation where I have seen dogs bolt, bark or worse snap at the offending shopper and their bags. Training a dog to be non-reactive in this situation is a matter of conditioning. I will start with many shopping bags on the ground spaced just far enough apart that we can walk through them. I will weave around while having the dog heel beside me but will also practice stops where the dog has to sit with the bag actually touching them. When they are confident with this I will have friends come by and pick up the bags and now walk about the area as I weave with the dog between them. As the dog becomes more confident I will add in the final test and that is to have all my friends and myself and the dog squeeze into a small space about the size of an elevator. You can make that space with barriers if you don’t have an empty closet to practice in or an elevator handy. The idea is the dog is just go with you and not be bothered by people and shopping bags.
The final tip for those seeking to polish their SD performance in public concerns jumping on people. I know everyone is proud of their dog and it is great that the public wants to pet your dog but once you allow this your dog will expect to be the center of attention in public. That is opposite of what we want and need from a SD. A well trained SD should be ignoring the public and focusing on their person. They have a job to do and cannot do it if they are greeting the public. Be firm with people not petting your dog; explain he is working and needs to focus on his job. During training I use every situation I can think of to set the dog up with people distractions. This might include children at the playground, people calling the dog, people rushing up to the dog and speaking in an excited high pitched voice. I ask my helpers that if the dog gets to them before I can divert him, they should turn around and ignore the dog as soon as he approaches. At that point I call the dog back to heel and ask for a “watch me”. This is another point of manners training that just takes a lot of repetition to get the dog to ignore whatever the other people are doing while he is on duty.
Service dogs are allowed special access where other dogs cannot go and feel if that is the case they should have exemplary manners above and beyond the annoying untrained pet dog. I hope if you are training or have a SD you will continue to train all the time perfecting those manners so everyone admires your team and you set the example for others to follow.