Service Dog-Related Stuff

There are a couple of service dog-related things I wanted to write down. I have been meaning to for a while, but they keep getting lost.

Sometimes, when I’m following someone, and we slow down, the person I’m following will start saying, “Come on puppy, come this way, come on!” Then they wonder why I sternly tell them to please stop doing that. Here’s why I get a little annoyed.

When the dog slows down, it’s not always just because. She slows down so that she can indicate to me that there’s something important ahead. There are stairs. It’s a tight space. There’s something that you’re going to hit your head on. She slows down so either she can navigate the place safely, or I can figure out what to do, such as reach up and block the oncoming tree branch from hitting me.

If you start urging my dog forward, she may go faster than she should, and I won’t know why she slowed down in the first place. That is I won’t know until I slam into, or fall down, the reason for the slowing down. Sure, she guides me around things, but there is a part of this process that involves her communicating, and me finding what she’s trying to show me. Since she can’t talk to me with a voice, all she has is body movements. If you tell her to not do those things, and she listens to you, you end up distracting her, and you’re actually running the risk that I will hurt myself.

What would be more useful, as always, is to talk to me. Tell me there’s nothing in front of me, we don’t have to slow down. Then I can tell my dog to speed up and feel confident doing it. Or, look around and see if there’s something you may not have noticed. Is there something coming up that might be good to know about? Are we headed for a crowd of people? Maybe there’s a reason the dog is slowing down, and letting her do her job is the order of the day. Again, you could tell me about it if you want to, but don’t talk to the dog!

On a completely different note, a couple of years ago, a man and his service dog died in a fire. It sounds like the fire started in his unit, and although it was small, it was difficult to deal with. From the article,

“The fire wasn’t overwhelmingly large but there was zero visibility. There were heavy smoke conditions,” said fire Platoon Chief Kevin Karley.

I often got asked why the dog didn’t drag this man to safety. Keep in mind a few things.

  1. This man was in a wheelchair, so might not have been able to easily get into his chair,
  2. the fire was right in his unit,
  3. and

  4. people are expecting a dog to be superhuman.

First off, usually service dogs aren’t dragging the person around, even if the person they’re with is in a wheelchair. They’re picking up dropped items, or pushing door buttons, that sort of thing. I don’t think a dog is like an ant, where they can carry more than their own weight.

On top of that, trained firefighters were saying that it was hard to navigate in there. Now, imagine a dog trying to drag a big man out of there. Even if he could, which I would think would be difficult on a good day, it would be pretty impossible when the fire was right there.

Then there’s the issue of the door. I know that special skills dogs can open doors, but a lot of the time, I think they do it by pushing a button. What if the button wasn’t working because of the fire? I guess sometimes you can tie something to the door so they can pull it open, but what if he didn’t do that? What if he had a clicker for his door, so didn’t have a rope tied on there for an emergency situation? At the very most, if the dog was trained for it, he could have pushed a button on the guy’s phone to call 911. But that might not have been enough.

And then there’s the obvious factor of the apartment being one big smoke cloud. How long until the poor dog was overwhelmed?

I just felt bad for the dog, who everyone came just short of blaming for not saving this guy. Service dogs do a lot, but they have their limits.

I hope this clears up some things for some people. Those two thoughts have come up a lot, so I thought I would make an attempt at trying to explain them. Perhaps people who know more about special skills dogs can either tell me I’m full of it or add more about the second scenario, but I know how I feel about the first one and I don’t think I’m alone.

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