Tag Archives: service dog training

A Matter of Inches

I think that if you ask trainers what the most difficult part of their job is a majority of them will tell you, without missing a beat, people. You were probably expecting a different answer, right? Sorry, but it is the cold, hard truth. The problem with most dogs is most people. Don’t worry, I’m solidly in that category. I may be wrong, ask Lauri she will tell you it happens often, but I feel like I’m maybe a half a step ahead of some. (at least before I trip) (Editors Note: He is amazing with animals. Very intuitive. Sometimes, though, his stubbornness gets in his way.) I feel comfortable claiming my status in the pack for one simple reason. I know that I don’t have all the answers, but I’m rarely unwilling to ask the question.

Something I have learned, likely more than once, is that life is about perspective. I have changed mine over the years and try, now to take the path of the student. I have found it is much more fun than assuming I know everything. I still struggle to listen before I speak at times, but like I said, I consider myself a student and I’m learning. I take this view quite often as a service dog handler because I am well aware that I know very little on this subject. I don’t think there has been a visit to SDP where Carlene hasn’t asked me: “So, what are you working on?” If it isn’t her, it is one of the trainers. This question begs to know what issues we’re working out. I always have questions, and they always have feedback that I take with me. Some I use immediately, some I sit with and test. The test cases would be the answers I knew to be correct but maybe they didn’t sit with me quite right at the moment.

A long smoldering issue that I have is allowing Casper to pull. This is something he does more in new environments. Now, I have had talks with him about trusting me, but he keeps it up and I end up worn out. I clearly had not found the solution in reasoning with him. One tack that I found to work for me was to let go of his harness (he wears a planet dog harness at all times) and place an open hand on his service butterfly; he slows right up. This does  not help me though when I need him for stability, but it is a step in the right direction. We also regularly practice the “one-step crawl” especially when he tries to lead my dance. This is a process of taking a step and stopping, repeatedly, so that your dog is always at your hip; it is a great focus tool  to have. Still, this does not solve the problem and we keep trying. Then a day comes where I read something in the Daily Doggy, the SDP blog, that each recipient and volunteer is charged with reading on a daily basis. This allows us to keep up with what is on the collective consciousness for the morning, sometimes funny, informative or just anecdotal. Today though I knew I wasn’t alone when I read of another Dane pulling on walks. Don’t get me wrong, this is nothing like a dog at the end of a 15 foot lead dragging it’s owner down a sidewalk, but in the service world, for a stability dog any pull has potential to send someone to the ground. Of course our leader has an immediate solution. She said, “…the trick is to never let them tighten a lead; their head should be right at your knee and if it’s not you give a jerk, sharply pulling and releasing…A couple of those and and they will decide that the only way to stop you from jerking is to walk without pulling…Then praise, reward and walk on with your dog in place.” Of course I tried this right away and the response was just as we’d expect. Casper walked slowly with no pulling. The difference between the two was a matter of me changing my hand position and moving him back a few inches.

In the days since reading and practicing there has been much less pulling. Now the goal is to replicate this in all environments. Like I mentioned Casper is a creature of habit and he does very well at places like the office or restaurants we know well, but not so well in new ones. I have faith that we will get there with time and practice. The solution was simple, I just needed to learn how to show him that he can relax and allow me to lead.I still have all the support I need and we can both be more comfortable and enjoy our outings together.


No Touch, No Talk, No Eye Contact

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.

do not pet

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.)


Written by DFS
Edited by LJS