Wednesday 11 August 2021

Assistance Dog 101: What NOT to do!

As I write this, Henry has been part of our family now for just under three months and he is making such a huge impact.

When we are out and about with Henry in his coat, the majority of people who approach us to either admire Henry or ask questions (often both) about Henry, are extremely respectful. But unfortunately there are a few not so respectful people who at times deliberately overstep the boundaries. There are also people who are trying to be respectful but aren't sure about what they should or shouldn't do when interacting with an assistance dog.

So here are a few tips of things NOT to do when you see an Assistance Dog - regardless of the type of Assistance the dog provides.

Please do NOT tell your child just to go and pat the dog because Assistance Dogs are always friendly. Yes, assistance dogs are meant to be friendly (that is part of the public access test assessment,) however this doesn't mean that you should just send your child over for a pat. Always ask first.

If you're an adult, don't pat the dog. There's a badge on Henry's jacket that says "working dog, do not pet." The badge is there for a reason. Ask before you pat the dog. And if the handler says no, they've said no for a reason. Respect their wishes. Before Henry was placed with us we made the decision that if Henry was in work mode and assisting L by deescalating a meltdown or disrupting a self harming behaviour, we wouldn't allow people to pat Henry. However if people approach us and Henry is not directly assisting L, then as long as they ask first, pats are okay but Henry has to do a skill to earn the pat.

Please do NOT give the dog a treat, ie some of the food you're eating. Number one, Henry isn't allowed human food. He eats good quality dog food, twice a day. Number two, Henry is trained to not to beg for food at all, or even sniff at food that might be on the floor. This is a distraction for the dog when they're working and depending on what you're offering, could make the dog unwell.

Please do NOT go and start to take the halti, harness, leads and so on, off the dog, because you think the dog looks uncomfortable or because you don't believe the dog needs it. The dog is a working dog and is wearing the halti, leads, jacket and so on for a reason. And yes this did happen to us when Henry was in work mode, the elderly woman's reason was because she thinks dogs need to be spoilt. If you want to spoil a dog, spoil your own pet. The halti is uncomfortable for Henry (he will take any spare opportunity to take it off,) but it does not hurt him.

If the handler says that you can pat the dog, pat the dog when they say to and where they say to pat the dog. When in work mode, the only person who can give Henry pats at any time is L and Henry doesn't have to "earn" the pat. Anyone else, Henry has to do something, like a trick, to earn the reward and even then, the pat is on the back of his head. If you pat his face or allow him to lick your hand, he's going to think you have food. And then he's going to go seeking pats. This makes it more difficult for me as the handler, to keep Henry's focus on the job.

Please do NOT try to give the dog commands that you use with your own dog. Working dogs have set commands that they are used to. If you start giving other commands, the dog will become confused and lose focus. While working, the dog needs to stay focused on their handler (and in our case, also on L.)

If you are walking your dog, or have your dog with you, please do not let your dog approach the service dog, no matter how friendly you think your dog is. While a service dog is in working mode, they need to be focused on their person and not distracted by other animals. While in training, Henry (and I'm sure other service dogs are the same,) was given dog distraction training. It is extremely distracting for Henry when another dog is brought over to meet or interact with Henry while he is working.

And finally, if you're not sure what you should or shouldn't do, just ask. When Henry is directly assisting L, we may not answer or we may sound abrupt as we need to concentrate on Henry and L. At other times, we're always up for a chat about Henry and how he assists L.

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