We had a few very INTENSE training opportunities this weekend for us and for Casper. I am sure later this week Casper will give you his own input about how things went down. We had a couple of successes and a lot of failures. It’s fine… those failures are learning experiences for us all and worth a LOT more than any success is. However, it is exhausting and frustrating for all those involved. For my part I have decided to write about what it really takes to be a service dog because I don’t think people have any clue, even people who know a lot about these dogs. I want to put us all in their place and imagine working under the same circumstances these dogs do. First I will let you know about our greatest issue this weekend so that you understand what is prompting this post.
We went to Salem, MA this weekend. We LOVE Salem! Casper has been there before during the off-season. We go a few times a year. Usually the first 2 weekends in October are busy, but manageable so we thought we would give it a shot. Of course, the gorgeous weather turned to drizzle by the time we got there and there was traffic so we were already in kind of poor spirits, but we soldiered on. As I think about the things we encountered I think it might be best to just make a list, so here we go:
1. Due to the government shut down the Visitor’s Center was closed which is where the best public bathrooms are. This means that the place was full-out port-o-johns instead. Try imagining getting a Dane in one of those. Most shops do not have restrooms for patrons and restaurants require you to purchase to use one. AND…those places are TINY and hard to navigate. We know of a large and very convenient bathroom in a cafe we frequent. The patio was full of yipping dogs that made Casper pull Dan down and then he was turned away from the restroom for not being a patron. (One a side note…as we left that day the Salem Fire Department, right next to where we were parked, let Dan and Casper use their restroom.)
2. The place always has lots of dogs. At least half of the dogs there this day were very poorly behaved and should not have been allowed in a crowd like this.
3. Kids are everywhere. You know Casper loves human puppies!
4. People are wearing weird costumes and masks.
5. Shops are TINY and hard to navigate and no one wants to step aside and let Casper get by. Yet, he is a pro in these tiny spaces and manuevers so amazingly. Never knocks something over. (Tiny hallways are different. They make him nervous and usually we can’t go down them. For example, to go to the bathroom at the back of some places.)
6. He apparently does NOT like voodoo dolls. You know, Salem in October. We found some at a shop and he would NOT move forward. Honestly, I can’t blame him.
7. Big booming drums and “here ye, here ye” makes him shake as badly as bagpipes.
8. No one seems to know (especially adults) that you DO NOT just pet someone’s dog. Service dog aside, you don’t just pet a person’s dog without asking. And you DO NOT go at their face squealing. Again, adults were doing this. Some were asked more than once as they approached to please not pet because he was working and they still advanced. One squealed and rushed at Casper (who was already nervous, see number 7) and I almost clocked him with the bag in my hand. This was the first time I actually yelled at someone for trying to pet him. We try so hard to be polite, but give me a freaking break!!!!
9. If you see a dog who is excited about another dog (service dog or not) and his owners are trying to hold him back that does not mean “he needs to learn how to do his job better.” That means that he was already beyond distracted and doing his job was next to impossible at that exact moment. You try doing you job in the same circumstances, lady!
10. All of this happened within about 40 minutes. Dan was only pulled down once and Casper was immediately back in his control. Every incident that was less than acceptable on Casper’s part was 100% brought on by people who do not think at all about anyone but themselves.
Ok, so there you go. Again, Casper will tell you more detail, but you really needed to know this for what I have to say. And remember that this was just in 40 minutes of one day. We encounter some of these things and others daily. (For example grocery story freezers and fridges make a hum that makes him nervous, but we get past that. Or he sees a squirrel or something. You never know what might happen.)
Now bear with me while we explore most of these issues from a human stand point.
We will start with the bathrooms. Size is a huge issue. Dan has to use the handicapped bathroom with Casper. And even individual bathrooms might be too small, have a narrow hallway or even have a very strong air freshener that really bothers him and he won’t go in. Imagine you are with a friend. Maybe the friend needs you help because they sprained an ankle or something, who knows. That friend wants you to squeeze in a tiny bathroom, or worse, an outhouse. Would you be happy, or even willing, to go in there? Imagine if it smelled just HORRIBLE to you. Is if fair that you be forced to go in, especially if you could just go to a better bathroom down the street or on another floor? Not really. We don’t consider this to be a training issue. It is just not fair to require him to go in a tiny smelly space when it is just a little extra work to go elsewhere. (Another thing to keep in mind when you are wishing you could take your dog everywhere with you.)
Now imagine you are working, whatever you do whether it is in an office, a school, driving a truck, and throughout the day (or even just once) someone brings a dog in. Do you stay focused on your job? I know I wouldn’t. I would be pretty excited about playing with that dog!!! Or maybe it is a mean dog. This barking nasty dog comes in and is nipping at you. Do you stay calm? Probably not. So, then why would we assume a service dog should? (But you know, so many of them learn to work despite this and Casper is better everyday. I would never learn to not get excited about a dog!!!)
So, you are concentrating on your work and a parade of screaming, giggling, running kids surrounds you. Can you concentrate?
Is there something that scares you? Clowns? Chucky? Honey BooBoo? Try working with that popping in and out unexpectedly.
You are focused, really hyper into your work because you know someone is depending on you. Maybe your job, like mine, means you are trying to troubleshoot over the phone with someone. Or maybe you are giving a presentation. Suddenly a HUGE booming starts just by your head. How well are you concentrating now? Maybe its bagpipes. In fact, let’s think about this one. A dog has super hearing. I tried to imagine what these super loud to me noises sound like to him. My best comparison is my smoke detector. I HATE that sound. Imagine it is going off and it is RIGHT NEXT TO your ear. Do you jump? Does it hurt? Can you work effectively?
What would you do if a random stranger came up and started stroking your hair or just got right in your face? Working or not you probably would not react well. Or maybe it is someone you know well and it is a wonderful shoulder massage. Are you concentrating well during that? What if that stranger in your face seems threatening to you because of their approach? Yeah. Probably not doing your work ethic a lot of good.
Now let’s add another angle to this. You chose your job. Whether you like it or not you chose to do it. A service dog did not. He is born into it. And he does it because he loves his handler.When they are working they are happy. This is what they are made to do and they love their job and their handler. If they don’t feel well they still work. If they don’t want to be somewhere they still work. They work 24-7. It is like being a mom. You just don’t get to take vacation.
Almost everything I mentioned above is eventually overcome by a service dog after they reach a certain point in training. There is usually one or two issues they will always struggle with (often seeing other dogs or getting pet) but they are still doing better than I ever would. So when someone says he needs to learn how to do his job I get mad. Really mad. He is amazing for how young he is. He still has some room to grow and so do Dan and I, but how do we learn if we stay at home and worry about whether he will be perfect. If I was worried about perfect behavior we would never take the kids anywhere. Or me for that matter!!!
And here is out boy drinking from the water fountain in the middle of Salem. He was a photo op for a LOT of tourists!
I bet we could have trained him to step on the pedal himself if given time!!!
written by LJS
Tagged: ADA, ask to pet, balance and stability, big dog, cerebral palsy, dane, disability, disability awareness, dog, dog walks, etiquette, family, great dane, halloween, human puppies, leash, mobility, mobility dogs, personal space, puppy, salem, sdp, service animals, service dane, service dog, service dog project, service dog training, service dog vest, weekend
We are all privileged and honored to have you, Dan, and Casper in our lives. Your blog serves to educate, entertain, and certainly to amuse. Thank you for opening your lives to all of us. I have been a supporter of SDP since Chaos gave birth to her rowdy and delightful bunch. Your family (including Casper, because he certainly is a member of your family) has helped me to realize how very special the SDP family is. Kudos,and every possible accolade to all of you. And, Dan, you really should consider public speaking. If your writing is any indication of the intellectual and emotional impact you could have on the public, you could help make a change in the perceptions the general public has about service dogs and the importance of making ALL citizens, both the able and the differently able full members of this society.
Hugs to Dan, Casper, you, and the human puppies! I am sorry you had such a hard time.
Wonderful post. Not wonderful what you and your family and poor Casper had to go through. I love the analogy of putting yourself in the dog’s place. Honestly, if a strange man or woman came up to me and started petting me or worse, I would bite! Casper probably handled the situation better than I would as a human under the same conditions. When I was a human puppy (a loooong time ago) I was terrified of sirens. They would make me shake and cry. They still stress me out. I can imagine how all those loud strange noises must make Casper feel. He is such a good pup and already so far along! Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing.
Loved the blog and the educational info. Didn’t like what you had to go through. People just don’t get it and sometimes even with education they still cannot conceive what a service dog is unfortunately. I probably would have hit the guy with the bag also. With my danes that are just pets not working dogs I am cautious with many people and especially screaming kids. Salem is beautiful and I miss going there but I wouldn’t be there in Oct. Yikes, all the nuts are out and some would scare me. In 40 minutes you both experienced a lot of trauma and are all the better for it. Casper from your blogs and emails seems to be doing very good for a pup and will grow each day more into his roll. Just like everything in life you have to learn from your experiences and Casper will do so also. I have used a handicap bathroom and while some are large many are not and I have always wondered how someone in a wheelchair or someone who requires assistance can manage. Some engineers are not the brightest when it comes to design but are probably limited in space and make do with that. Yeah for the Salem Fire Dept. and others that offer assistance when the need arises. Cannot wait to hear Caspers side of it. We admire Casper very much.
Dan’s father is a retired firefighter and if it were not for the CP he would have been one himself. He knew they would help.
Forgot to mention the great picture of Casper drinking from the fountain. You all do a great job of educating us about service dogs. I recently had a personal experience to apply that knowledge. For that knowledge and your great sense of humour(s), I thank you! You all had to be distracted by the noise and commotion around you. It would make me nervous too! Give Caspers and kisses for me. 🐾😘🐾
Awesome post! It never ceases to amaze me how little the public knows how to react around SD’s or simple, NOT to react at all. Maybe they need to make a neon color/glow in the dark service vest that states the rules and have a very loud alarm on it if someone gets too close. That’ll teach them to heed the “Service Dog at Work” and “Please Don’t Pet” signs, which obviously some ignore.
As far as the public bathrooms go, the only thing I can think of is that maybe it’s time for a petition to be drawn up to make Handicapped stalls more accessible to SD’s as well as their humans. Easier said than done, though.
Keep up the great work, Casper, Dan and Lauri and I hope your public outings get better as more people start to understand.
Sounds like Casper had quite the adventure this weekend and one that he is probably not looking forward to repeating any time soon. But it also sounds like you and Dan did a fantastic job of not strangling anyone, which I don’t know if I could have done. 1) The kids should not have been running around without parents completely in control of them; 2) if you asked someone to back off and not pet Casper, they should have immediately backed off; and 3) you are completely right that Casper is honestly still a puppy and he is experiencing these things for the first time and that includes the good, the bad, and the ……. witchy. Dan and Casper make such a great team (of course with a little help from mom).
Casper, you were a good boy this weekend, in spite of all the “distractions” and there seemed to be quite a few of them…the crowds, noise, people rushing at you (perhaps they recognized you; you are a “star”, you know?) still no excuse to rush at you, pretty scary stuff all around. I know I would totally be distracted (and when you mentioned clowns, well, that did it for me; I would have ran as fast as I could to be away from a clown…never liked them since I was a kid, especially, the ones who have a totally white head/face…YIKES!!!) It sure was a learning experience for all of you, I’m sure. Casper may always be afraid and jittery of noises; we had one pup who was so afraid of thunder, he would almost hyper ventilate. We would cuddle him and pet him to calm him down. Our other two were fine, so who knows why this happens to some and not to others? But, you are very patient and understanding and always there for Casper and that is what a loving family is all about. A big milestone celebration coming up soon for our dear boy and his siblings. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could all celebrate together at the farm, all eating a huge doggy birthday cake? Good times….. Love to you all…. ❤
I’ll second Judy’s comment: well-stated!! Lauri, you continue to do an amazing job educating all of us! (And the photo of Casper is wonderful. I’m sure he draws more than his share of attention because he is just so darn handsome!!)
Thank you so much. He is a star when we are out, that’s for sure. And that is also why we try to be patient when people want to meet him. We just have to set limits though, for his sake and ours.
Thanks, Lori. WOW! Sounds like Casper had a tremendous amount thrown at him in a very short period of time…..too fast probably for him to recover from one before the next hit. Thankfully you all have the patience it takes to get through these learning experiences. Wish everyone read this blog (especially the self absorbed) because it is so very educational. Hugs to all, especially my Little Ghost.
It was too much at once for us all. Dan and I usually try to be very patient with people but we lost out temper this weekend. Honestly, the man who dove at him shrieking is lucky he didn’t actually get hit by my bag. I was in protection mode.
Water fountain picture = FANTASTIC! Casper is one in a million, and you are so lucky to have him. The thing I find most appealing about him is his clear DESIRE to do well. He has a great attitude, and this was clear from the moment he first opened his eyes.
That said, I am sorry that people find it so hard to curb themselves when he is trying to work. Your posts on this subject are very enlightening, and I hope you continue to bring specific issues like this to our attention. I wonder if there is not some more “high-profile” space where you might also post these–is there a national clearinghouse for sharing with/informing the public at large about service dogs? Thanks for staying in touch.
This is a wordpress blog so it is available to all. We try to publicize by email, facebook and twitter. The audience is growing. When Dan and Casper were on the news it was the news that found the blog so we feel this is a pretty good start. The more our readers comment (thank you!!!) and the more people share it the more it will get out there. We hope that eventually we will really get well known and I have visions of Dan even doing some public speaking.
You are right. Casper was born to please. I think that is why we get so protective when people think he is not working. He tries so hard all the time.
I think you handled all those situations with much more grace than I would! I can see that lots more education needs to be done with regard to the public’s attitude about working service dogs. Hooray to you and Dan and Casper! Many of those situations you’ve described I would never have thought would be a problem, but now I’m hyper-aware. Thanks for opening my eyes, too! I ‘m becoming an advocate for all types of service dogs and trying to spread the word!
It sounds like an educational outing to Salem. Lots of very frustrating moments make the fun component of the outing difficult but, unfortunately, that’s how we learn! Sometimes adults are worse than children for poor behaviour. You and Casper will always have to educate someone. You both work so great together! Keep at it! 🐾😍🐾
First, I LOVE the picture of Casper drinking from the water fountain. He is just so darn cute!!! I think Casper did a wonderful job with all the distractions. He is learning, and he is doing great for still being a puppy. When adults say he should learn to do his job better, I think I am safe to say, I could always do something better. I will never understand why others do not understand that Casper is working. Heck, I could NEVER do my job with all the distractions your sweet boy has encountered. He is a better worker than me!! 🙂 I admire you for how you handle each situation, and you do it so well!! Casper is truly in the home where he was meant to be…a loving family that would do anything for him!! Thank you!!!
Thank you. Of course, we feel the same about him. And I know that I am constantly distracted by things when I am working. Thank goodness none of us are held to his standard!