I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the practice of “NO: Touch, Talk, Eye Contact” as it relates to dogs and more importantly, Service Dogs
Let’s start with the more common house pet. The practice, when successfully used, can help with anxious dogs cope with separation and hyper dogs that jump up on people for attention (or claim you as theirs). The reason this works in assisting the dog to be calm and polite is that a dog gets to know us by smell before sight. If you don’t look at your dog it should back off, even if slightly, and wait for an invitation for attention. If there is no invitation they should just give you back your space. Now, this being said, in the past I have been a HORRIBLE offender and have had a practice of wanting to pet and cuddle every dog I have ever seen the moment I see them. (Editor’s Note: The whole family is like this. The kids are very good about asking an owner before petting their pet. I, however, have been known to pet stray animals and once got ringworm from a stray cat! Oops!!!) I am wrong for acting this way and I will be better in the future. I see this on a daily basis and need to correct it in myself and work with the family on this as well.
The example I have in mind is when Lauri gets home from work and gets greeted at the door as quickly as possible by the kids (they will slide across the tile and almost knock me over!) and Casper (he acts like Dan gives him no attention all day and we KNOW that is not true). If I don’t happen to be there to hold his harness he does his “happy puppy dance” and gives her no space what so ever (I have even punched him in the snout on accident just trying to get out of my coat). Granted, all of us are happy to see her and we all want to greet, and be greeted, but this is an inappropriate behavior. A better way to act, on all of our parts, is to calmly greet from a respectable distance and allow whoever is entering to feel respected and peaceful. I understand that this is going to likely take longer for the children to grasp than Casper.
Let me now extend this to Casper while he is “officially” working. (I will use this term because he is a service dog but I don’t require him to “work” when we are in the house.) Let me also be clear, though, that from my experience he is never off duty. Even when he has been in full play mode with no collar, harness or butterfly vest on him he always has an eye on me and if I fall he is there in a moment’s notice to help. I have plenty of real life examples, but I will let you read the blog at your own pace and see for yourselves. I am, admittedly, the learn-by-doing type. This means that the wonderful people at SDP who raised and trained Casper could have told me a million times that I need to implement the “NO: Touch, Talk, Eye Contact” rule every time you are in public and I would not have listened until I experienced why I need to do it. I have difficulty with this because I know how a guy like Casper can attract attention and I don’t see that as a bad thing all the time. I want to be approachable and teach people about service dogs and disability acceptance. I have carried a misconception that these two things are mutually exclusive. What this means is that I have set a precedent of allowing people in to our space to greet in almost any situation and I now look back on this and realize it was a mistake.
I see this clearly with the people Casper has made friends with at the office. There are a select few people whose very presence cause him to break his down-stay and seek attention. He will even look for them as we pass a particular area. This is my fault. I taught him to be distracted. I did not purposely do this; I was misguidedly trying to be nice to everyone. I think it is my failed attempt at acceptance, and I honestly don’t know if it was for him or me; I suspect, though, it was selfish. I can see in situations where I do not let Casper be social, even if I want to, that he is perfectly focused and happy all at the same time.
You may be asking yourself if I have an action plan. The answer is yes. I plan on working with those people we currently interact with on a daily basis and inform them of the new rule, and why we have it. I also will need to make the changes at home so no confusion is caused. (The girls know how rules apply to others but often think they are exempt and set this precedent in public that hugging or petting him is ok. We are working on this.) Another step I plan to take is to get a “NO: Touch, Talk, Eye Contact” patch as well as a patch that displays Casper’s job as mobility dog. I may even get him a new vest so these patches are on his left panel where they are the most visible to the general public, and place his current large “do not pet” patch on the opposing side. (Of course, most of us know these things are only minimally effective. I have toyed with getting a giant sign to hang off his butt. Seriously, though, in large crowds it is a problem. I think we all need shirts that largely state “DO NOT PET THE SERVICE DOG” on them or something.)