What do you do when you meet a service dog?  Nothing.  Nada.  Not anything.  Don’t talk to her.  Don’t touch her.  And do not, I repeat, do not stand there staring at her.

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In addition, do not ask her partner what she has.  Do not ask what the dog does for her.  Do not stare at her eyes to see if she’s blind.  Do not talk about the person and the dog in their presence as if they weren’t there unless they can’t here you, in which case the dog’s cape will say HEARING DOG.  In fact, don’t do it anyway because even if that person can’t hear you, everyone else will and it’s just plain rude.

Do not whistle to the dog, snap your fingers, cluck your tongue.  Do not fall upon the dog as if she’s a sizzling steak and you haven’t eaten in years.  Do not yell at the person or act snarky if you are asked not to touch the dog.  If you really really love dogs so much that you can’t keep your hands off a working dog, go to the shelter and adopt a homeless dog in dire need of a loving home, and pet that dog.

Do not make people angry who have enough problems already, which is why they need a service dog, especially if they write a blog.

Do not, do not, do not presume to know why the person you see with a service dog needs a service dog.  Do not guess some wrong stupid reason why the person has a working dog.  Many legitimate service dogs do work you cannot discern for disabilities you cannot see.

And, finally, unless I need to keep on ranting, do not pretend your dog is a service dog so that you can have him in the plane with you because you stand a good chance of screwing things up for people who cannot get by without help from their legal service dogs.  And you will go straight to Hell in a hand basket, whatever that is.

Thanks for listening. Over and out.

 

 

Sometimes you have one idea of how to spend your time and your dog has another.

 

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What’s a person to do?  First, it’s really great to make note of what the dog wants to do, to understand and encourage his attempts to communicate with you.  But does this mean that you need to do whatever your dog wants to do whenever he makes his feelings known?  Certainly not.  Impossible.  Hardly ever.  OK, maybe sometimes.

It’s wonderful for your dog to know that sometimes when he requests a game, a biscuit, a walk, a snuggle you will drop everything and make his wish come true.  But it’s also important for him to know, as we all must, that at times a dog or a person needs to wait, that instant gratification, though appealing, is not a reasonable expectation 24/7.

Sure, sometimes put down the book and play a little ball with your best friend.  Sure, sometimes say Go lie down, or whatever, when you dog pesters you with his tennis ball for the one hundred and sixth time in a morning.  Communication is a beautiful thing and communication between species is a kind of miracle, but still, your dog should understand that while one hundred and five times is OK, one hundred and six might be pushing his luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I find myself thinking that my previous service dogs did a better job than Sky is doing.  They seemed more aware of when I was in pain and more willing to spend long periods of time pressed against me to chase the pain away.  And then I realize, taking the same fox hole again and again as we humans tend to do, that the reason Sky seems less aware of when I am in pain is that, since she has become my service dog, I am hardly ever in pain.

Having a service dog can work like having a pain patch or those patches that help you to quit smoking or perhaps a morphine drip but one that leaves you alert and able to function well.  The drip drip drip is the dog changing your body chemistry and keeping things humming as well as they can hum considering the fact that you have a chronic illness, whatever illness it may be.  Whether the way I am now is a function of Sky’s magic, the magic all dogs have, or a function of the fact that like any other endeavor, we tend to improve with practice, I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s both.  But over the years, I noticed that the time it takes for the dog to chase away pain has gotten shorter and shorter.  It could be akin to what happens during meditation or bio feedback.  A kind of trust in the method develops and gradually, you no longer need all the steps to get where you are going.  Gradually, you let the dog do what dogs do so well, cause a relaxation effect that allows our bodies to release their good chemistry, the stuff that diminishes the feeling of pain and increases the feeling of well being.

When I am swimming, Sky waits at the foot of the pool.  If suddenly there’s pain, I just have to look at her and the pain goes away.  Sometimes I don’t need to take the same fox hole again.  Sometimes I understand how things work, that all the seeds planted by the service dogs who came before her have blossomed.

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The dog who is willing to sit when asked to, alone or with a partner, is a dog who is ready and willing to learn.  In fact, teaching the sit, or better still, the sit stay, is actually the fastest, easiest, best way to teach a dog how to learn.  In the process, he comes to understand that he should look at you when you speak to him, that your words are a signal that he should do something, that he should perform a simple act and that each word has its own meaning, that it will always mean the same thing and that when he does the thing the word implies, you will be very happy.  And since dogs can share emotions with us, he will be happy, too, especially when you express your pleasure by petting him and telling him what a good and brilliant dog he is.

Want to house train?  Teach the sit first.  Want to increase the wonderful bond between you and your dog? Teach the sit and use it when there’s something happy in store, dinner! a walk! a game!  Oh boy. Want a dog who is comfortable gazing into your eyes, a dog who will learn the basics, the rules of a few games, the names of his favorite toys, the messages you send with your eyes?  Sit’s the answer.  It doesn’t matter where…

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or with whom.

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A simple sit can be deceiving.  In fact, there’s nothing simple about it at all since it is the beginning of more connection and more understanding than nearly anything else you will say to your dog.  Sit, Sky.  Good girl!

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A long time ago, when I was an apprentice dog trainer, teaching beginners and working in the advanced class with my own dog, I got nervous one evening when I it was time for me to call my dog to come and called out the wrong command.  My dog, a Golden Retriever named Oliver whom I subsequently named my business after, did what I meant, not what I said.  This made me wonder, and wondering about things dogs did was how I learned much of what I learned about dogs.  What if I gave a hand signal and a voice command and they didn’t match.  What would Oliver do?  So I did.  And he did both things.  Faced with something (a) he could perceive was incorrect or (b) had a double meaning, he improvised, making a confusing situation turn out well.

Service dogs improvise all the time.  Because they are taken to places where pet dogs are not allowed, they are faced with dog-unfriendly scenarios. There’s no place for them to be, the only way out is an escalator or moving sidewalk, there’s a slick floor, a trembling floor (on the plane), spilled popcorn within reach.  What’s a dog to do?  Improvise.  They also improvise when their partner is in trouble somehow in a way they’ve never seen or, even more amazing, when someone else is in trouble nearby and they elect to offer a fix.

My first service dog, Dexter, understood that sometimes I was in pain and that he could gracefully and quietly help out, which he did, carving out yet another way dogs could help their humans, by improvising.

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Pet dogs, too, like Oliver before he became a pro, will improvise.  They’ll tweak the rules of a game to make it more interesting.  They’ll crack jokes. They’ll offer help in a way they never have before.  If you pay attention, you’ll be surprised by how smart your dog is, how very, very smart, and by how much he can figure out about the world you share.

 

 

 

Before: staying at home a lot because you never know when (pain, seizure, low blood sugar, panic attack, muscles freezing up and refusing to move, falling and other balance problems, PTSD, etc.) will strike.

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After: going out into the larger world away from home, knowing help is right at your side, feeling confident and safe instead of isolated and afraid, being able to have a job or work more productively at home, being able to make plans with friends, have a life, be happy despite your disability.

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We humans, sometimes a little slow on the uptake, are learning more and more ways that dogs can help us live better, happier, more productive lives, quietly and gracefully offering help when help is needed.  Best friends indeed.

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When training your dog, increase his ability to think, his confidence, your pride.  As he learns new commands, begin to string them together and see what happens.

Wait, Take it, Come, Out

 

 

As you admire your teaching ability and his learning, don’t forget that he knows things you don’t.  Be sure to observe him when he’s outside, when he’s meeting new people, when he’s interacting with other dogs.  Note what he does when you’re happy, when you’re feeling ill, when you plan to leave the house with him, or God forbid, without him.  Figure out what he thinks is funny so that you get it when he cracks a joke.  Take him seriously, too.  He’s so much smarter than you think!

Need more hints?  Here they are:

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We planned to leave in late April and stay through mid-May because Sky was due to come into heat in June, but things don’t always work out as you plan and at least now I know that I can still outrun an interested collie and a very interested bulldog, not to mention various other male dogs who thought at last their dreams had come true.  The day she first flagged, we went to two museums, figuring correctly that there’d be no other dogs checking out the art but our own.

She seemed to prefer little dogs with big ideas, Yorkies and Chihuahuas.  But we had left home with two dogs and decided to return with the same number.

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All in all, being in France with a dog in season wasn’t too bad.  Because of two previous such surprises, I had packed her pants, and she wore them in the hotel room.  Other than that, and a few sprints away from amorous French dogs (all of whom seem to be fully equipped), it was no big deal.  And since I am reading more and more about some health problems associated with neutering, I am willing to have the bother once every nine months or so to keep a dog, of whom I expect the world, intact.  I know many will disagree with me, but I have always found the leash and swift feet to be good birth control.

The French, not only their dogs, love dogs and integrate them into their lives in a lovely way.  As you no doubt know, dogs are welcomed in most restaurants in France, so it is not odd to find one at the next table.  The French spend a lot of time socializing and drinking coffee or wine at charming outdoor cafes, their dogs lying, as ours do, next to the table.  And no one raised an eyebrow when we stopped at the pharmacy or a pretty shop with two dogs in tow.  Going to a museum with a dog is not allowed, but despite the fact that France only has service dogs for the blind and the French are not accustomed to service dogs for other disabilities, we were allowed to go to museums with Sky and Monk. Sometimes it took a bit of talking, but in the end, we got to see the Mona Lisa, some splendid Renoirs and, best of all, a special exhibit of Van Gogh paintings which, for me, would have made the whole trip worthwhile had there been nothing else to do.

There’s something very special about seeing other places with your dog (and France is one of those places where it’s easy to do that, even if your dog is not a service dog.)  I always get a double thrill, seeing and experiencing a new place with my own senses and then watching the way my dog reacts, what she likes, what she notices.  Having dogs with us paved the way for lots of conversations we would not have had otherwise and that, too, made the trip richer for us.

Most emotional for me was the happy accident of reserving a table in a well reviewed restaurant and discovering, when we got there, that it was the same place we had gone with Flash, my previous service dog, in 2000. We were even led to the same table, in the window.  We couldn’t replicate this wonderful photo of him because the Musee Picasso is still being renovated.

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But we did manage to find other Picasso sculptures which paired up nicely with, in this case, a slightly bored dog.

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For me, and I’m sure this is true for many of you as well, there’s no experience that can’t be improved by having a dog along.  As wonderful as it was to be in beautiful Paris, everything was more beautiful because Sky was right there with me.

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