Every time we put a cape on a dog which says "service dog" or "service dog in training" we take on a personal mantle of responsibility.
Your dog may be the only service dog the public sees today, or this week, or even this month. That means that their experience with your dog will stand out in their mind, and will become part of their personal experience of service dogs.
Their experience with you will affect how they perceive and behave toward other disabled people and their service dogs including people like the Deaf, people with Cerebral Palsy, non-speaking autism, or selective mutism or other conditions which affect their ability to communicate their rights and needs easily to members of the public.
So it is crucial that you understand and can articulate service dog laws in your area, and that your dog creates a positive impression in peoples' minds.
That's a lot of responsibility to lay on a disabled person and their teenage puppy isn't it? Thankfully there are things we can do to help ensure that the public has a good experience with our dogs.
1. Do not take a bouncy dog who is full of beans to a place where they need to be calm and relaxed. Make sure your dog has had their 20-30 minutes of cardio, and has had some being-a-dog time. Make sure all of your dog's needs are met before you ask them to do hard work.
2. Make sure your dog understands what is expected of them. Before your dog goes into dog-exclusive zones, you should first have lots of practice in pet-friendly locations such as pet stores, Winners, and Canadian Tire.
3. Be prepared to reward heavily. Hard work needs acknowledgement of that hard work so be ready to give your dog full attention, praise every little success, and shower high value treats on your dog at regular intervals.
4. Work for your dog's attention. The more eye contact the dog gives you, the less trouble they will cause. Always be talking, encouraging, and coaching your dog. Do not appear distracted or overwhelmed. Save your real shopping trip for later if necessary.
Know Your Rights: Remember You Have None.
It's really important to understand this. While a disabled person with a well behaved and functioning-but-as-yet-uncertified service dog does have certain legal rights, if that dog is still pulling on leash, rushing up to people, and having accidents in stores, they do not.
This dog is still causing potential hardship to the public and the business, which means they have the right to ask you to leave.
Think of a service dog like its a wheelchair.
If you really need that wheelchair, and it's functioning properly, then you have the right to bring your wheelchair into the store without being hassled about it. But if your wheelchair's smart drive started malfunctioning and driving you into people's shins and knocking down merchandise, the store absolutely has a right to put your possessed conveyance outside and out of harm's way.
"How Do I Train My Service Dog If I Don't Have Public Access Rights?"
That's the big question, isn't it? We all know that dogs are situational learners, and that no amount of down-stays at dinner time can teach your dog to snooze under the table at The Keg.
So you need to take them into public anyway, and rely on the good will of stores and restaurants to tolerate your dog's less-than-polished ways.
Ultimately the business has the right to admit entrance to dogs if they feel like it, except in governmentally controlled areas such as restaurant kitchens (no, dining rooms don't count and I've spoken to city bylaw offices to confirm this).
Most businesses in the Lower Mainland of BC are accustomed to service dogs in training thanks to decades of exposure to PADS and BC Guide Dog puppies-in-training. So you can coast off of their hard work by requesting and usually receiving entrance to most places. Be sure you don't take this for granted and that you don't undo their hardwork by behaving in an entitled or offensive manner. Show gratitude and grace, and reassure management that you will leave if you are asked to do so.
Host: Welcome to The Fancy Family Eatery, table for two?
Handler: Yes please, and we have a service-dog-in-training with us. He's coming along nicely but if he causes any problems you can ask us to leave, okay?
Host: Okay, is it all right if I seat you in that corner?
Handler: That would be perfect, thank you, and if you can spare a booth, it'll give me more room to keep this guy out from under foot.
Host: I'm sorry, all of our booths are needed for larger groups.
Handler: Okay, no worries, I'll keep him under my chair and sit close to the wall. Let me know if there are any problems, ok?
Host: Sure thing. What a cutie. What's his name?
Handler: Samson. He'd love to say hello but he's learning not to put fur all over nice waitress's black dresses.
Host: Aw, that's so sweet. This way please.
Guard: Excuse me, is that a service dog?
Handler: We're just training today. She's preparing for her certification test.
Guard: I'm sorry, we only permit fully certified dogs in this mall.
Handler: Actually uncertified dogs do have legal rights as long as they aren't causing undo hardship to the business. Here's an informational document from Human Rights BC. But if we cause you any problems, we'll be sure to leave. After all, how can I certify him if I don't train him?
Guard: It's just that the bylaw officers are strict about dogs in the food court, and people usually have ID.
Handler: Well, according to the bylaw office they're only concerned if the dogs come into the kitchen. You can give them a call to confirm if you like and I'll wait. But if it makes your job easier, I can avoid the food court today. And again, if you get any complaints about my dog you can let me know and I'll leave. I'm not here to cause trouble, I'm just preparing my dog for her certification test.
Guard: Well... Okay. Let me just tell my boss.
Handler: Sure thing.
Guard: Okay, you can go.
The dog has been exercised, given water, and given sufficient pottying time.
Note: It's a good idea to revisit the potty spot 10-15 minutes after arrival, as sometimes the excitement increases metabolism and they may have to go again.
Your dog is clean, well groomed, and is wearing something to signify that they are in training.
You have high value food treats
You have water for your dog
You have a clean up kit in case your dog has an accident - paper towel, wet wipes, poop bags.
You have documentation to help you navigate public access difficulties including a couple print-outs of this document from Human Rights BC. If you have a letter from your doctor or an acceptance letter from the certification office in Victoria, bring that too.
We train at the forefront of canine cognitive science. We know that our dogs are capable of understanding so much more than people think.
You want to have the best possible relationship with your dog, but you don't know how to handle the problems that keep cropping up.
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