Service dogs are not robots…

Kai, my service dog, is a complete goofball off duty but when his vest is on he’s like a different dog. I’ve got so used to how well he behaves on duty that I’ve not been keeping up with his training. There are tasks and obedience commands that I don’t use often and to keep them active I need to practise them with Kai frequently. So over the past couple of days we’ve started working on these commands/hand signals again so that he doesn’t forget them.

Additionally, I’m teaching him a new command.

On Saturday night I attended the musical ‘Shrek the musical’ performed by the Sault Ste Marie Musical Comedy Guild. It was a fabulous show. However, on this occasion I had to wait for my guest to meet me in the entrance way before the show. As you can imagine the area was full of lots of people milling around. Kai was a star and kept in a tight sit next to my legs but I was still concerned that he would get hurt as people don’t expect anything to be at his height and a lot of women’s bags are just at the height of his head.

As a result I decided that I want to teach him something that is called a between the legs heel. You’ve probably seen it if you’ve ever watched any shows with police or military dogs. It’s where the dog is between the handlers legs and moves in sync with the handler.

My reason for wanting to teach Kai this is so that I can protect him better in situations such as Saturday night. So a couple of days ago I decided to start teaching him the new command. Oh my gosh! It was like he was a puppy again. He couldn’t understand what I was asking for so tried everything he could think of to get the reward (food on this occasion). It was extremely funny but also somewhat frustrating. However, I soon realised that I had missed the first step, and went too fast, so I need to go back to the beginning and start building it up in steps.

While we’re at it, as mentioned earlier, I’m going to reinforce the tasks and commands that he already knows and keep them all fresh. It will only be ten-twenty minutes once or twice a day but knowing Kai he’ll soon be acing it all. Including the new command!

However, his reaction to my trying to teach the new command reminded me that Kai isn’t a robot. He’s a dog and he’s going to make mistakes. Just as I did in not breaking the command down into small enough pieces.

So when you see a service dog that isn’t acting in the way that you think it should I’d ask you to consider 2 things:

1. Could the dog be tasking for its handler? Kai, and many other service dogs are trained in intelligent disobedience. A good example of this is a guide dog refusing to step into a road despite the handler giving the command to move forward. Additionally, some tasks look odd if you don’t know what they’re doing.

2. Is the dog just having a bad day? It happens and sometimes life is such that you can’t just call it quits and go home for the day but you have to work through it with your dog. As long as the handler has full control and is correcting any inappropriate behaviour the best thing to do is leave them alone.

I’d also like you to keep in mind that handlers hold themselves and their dogs to incredibly high standards. If something is off I can guarantee the handler is well aware and trying to work out the best way to deal with the issue as fast as possible.

But most of all, please remember that service dogs aren’t robots!

Photo Credit: Megan Parlow