Monday, September 27, 2010

Great LEAD meeting has caused me to think about service dog prospects/candidates

We had a Lake Erie Assistance Dogs meeting yesterday at Canine Affair. Besides our usual discussions, we set up different stations so that members/guests could practice for the public access test. Next month, Sue Alexander will be with us to do actual testing for our members. I took Hardy to the meeting and since no one else volunteered, he and I were the first to run through the practice test. We have never specifically worked on the public access test before but on the other hand, his behavior is such that I take him out in public so I didn't expect to have any major problems. And as it turned out, the only issues we had were his defaulting to a "down" when we were doing the various activities at the sit station and having to re-cue him for a sit when Mary came up behind us to say hello and give him a pat. Well, that and during the meeting Hardy decided my good (expensive) leather leash would be a good teething toy. While I do appreciate his need for teething opportunities, I don't appreciate his use of my leash nor his persistence (and yes, Sue, I know ... we selected him for his persistence!). I've added a chew toy to our training bag and we will be using my old nylon leash for awhile (it's purple, of course). All in all, once again, I was very proud of my now-bigger puddly! 
For a bunch of reasons, I have been thinking about the dogs we decide to raise and/or train to be service dogs. One of the Yahoo Assistance Dogs lists is having a rather heated discussion right now regarding program dogs versus owner-trained dogs with accusations that owner-trainers use dogs that are alarmingly inappropriate for the work.  Does that happen? Yes, I have seen examples of that but I have also seen them of program dogs who weren't appropriate. Mostly, these discussions continue to make me concerned that the service dog community expects the public to "get" and support service dogs but we can't even be united! Additionally, I've heard from a number of people recently who want advice about dogs/puppies to get to raise and train for their own service dogs. And, even though Laurel and Hardy are completely different and I try not to compare them, I still do.
When I decided to have Sue Alexander do temperament testing of all potential puppies and ultimately, help me select my 2nd service dog prospect, I did that hoping to improve the selection process resulting in a puppy well suited to doing service dog work for me. I went into it already having an amazing service dog, Laurel, who does more for me than I even knew was possible. What I didn't recognize was that having a dog who is very talented and intelligent, with a work drive/ethic as well as being incredibly willing isn't enough. Throughout Hardy's puppyhood and into his adolescence,  it is already obvious that it will be easier for him to deal with public access than it is for Laurel. 
I think there was some dumb luck involved with Laurel's success (and maybe all the phases of the moon were in alignment or something ... ) and I think I had the luxury of being able to focus on her positive traits while minimizing the negatives but I don't think her success as a service dog is the important thing. What is important is that because of who Laurel is (and despite her willingness and enthusiasm), being a full public access service dog is a difficult, stressful job for her. She would never tell you that but that doesn't mean it isn't true! 
I'm a firm believer in the adage, "When you know better, you do better". I feel that is what I did in asking for Sue's help picking my next service dog candidate and although people seem very surprised when I mention that Hardy will be taking over most public access duties once he is completely trained, I think I owe that to my Laurel girl. Everyone who knows us knows that I adore my goofy yellow girl and now that I know that she is doing her job for me in spite of who she is, I appreciate her that much more! But I also realize that this could have been a miserable life for her and I don't want to see that happening to other willing, talented, intelligent but ill-suited dogs. Now, if Laurel can teach Hardy a fraction of what she has taught me, he will indeed grow up to be an amazing boy!

1 comment:

  1. Linda,

    You are a wonderful person and an incredible dog owner to not only be aware of your dogs' strengths and weaknesses, but also to be willing to play to them! I'm sure, when it comes time, Laurel will enjoy the rest and Hardy will enjoy the outings. :)