Friday, June 21, 2013

Indentured Service Dogs

While in Tractor Supply the other day, a girl stood behind me in the checkout line with a very nice Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.  The dog was on a leash and gave me a sort of pleading look, standing right by my waist, so I naturally reached to give her a pat.

"No!" her owner snipped, and jerked the lead.  I noticed then that the dog was wearing a pinch collar and had a little vest on that said, "Service Dog in Training."  She was reprimanded (as was I) for this bit of interaction.

I realize it is the standard policy for service dogs to not be allowed to socialize, as they have to "not be distracted from their job".

I think this is a horrendous mistake for a number of reasons.

1)  A dog is a social animal and to suppress the natural greeting behavior will cause frustration.  The impulse to greet WILL eke out in other ways, or transfer to other (less desirable) behaviors.

2)  There is no way to restrain the impulses of people you meet.  Therefore, the handler while in public has to be constantly correcting the dog every time a person approaches it.  This means that a dog's work day is peppered with corrections over things that he can never "unlearn".

3)  Socialization in public places is a fundamental importance in the emotional stability of  the dog.

4)  A good working dog will do the job no matter what distracts him.

5)  A good trainer should be able to train the type of focus it takes to get the job done in a public arena.  Trainers unable to cope with this are either lazy or incompetent.

What the griffon's owner demonstrated seems to be a blanket rule for service dogs.  So many of them have very little quality of life, with an existence of humdrum, joyless days in constant restraint.  As the training world evolves away from suppression and correction, and into more positive and joyful methods, I hope to see a big life change for service dogs.

Terrible Til in action: One example of a joyful working dog!

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