One of the biggest frustrations in the service dog community is a lack of understanding in the general public about interacting service dogs. For some reason, any dog that isn’t next to a police officer is sorta viewed as public property: so many people just walk up and mess with a dog without asking, even service dogs.
Most of the time I believe it is just a view that all dogs are friendly and want attention, or a bit of thoughtless desire to give attention. Dogs are wonderful creatures; they affect our moods, they can improve our health, they are an instinctively pleasing presence for most people.
Since it’s easier to train one dog than a million strangers, I have to prepare my puppy right now while they are more willing to accept something unusual or unwanted.
Service dogs face the happy but not really thinking about it folks. Unfortunately, they also have to face the less than trainable people. There are people who actually get huffy if you ask them not to pet your dog. Some will blow you off and do it anyway. Really.
This pic here is one thing to prepare the puppy for; an unsupervised child who won’t stop and is manhandling the pup. There’s also the less than happy people. Entry challenges can get hostile. Some SD teams are even attacked.
It is a terrible display of unrestrained meanness but service dogs have been pushed, punched, shoved, and ill treated. Handlers are threatened and hurt. That’s just with people. Service dogs are also bothered by uncontrolled friendly dogs, and by hostile or territorial dogs.
Truth is, I know I will not handle a stranger doing that well at all. So this is a little bit of anxiety prevention for me too. It’s up to me to protect the dog from such things as much as possible, but it can happen no matter how careful a handler is. People are unpredictable, and far too many refuse to control themselves, let alone their own kids or dogs.
So right now, while they are little puppies, they have to learn to associate good things like play or treats with a hug. I start with people they know and branch out to lots of people I’ve asked, with an explaination that dogs don’t like hugging and grabbing (especially from strangers) but it’s going to happen so can you help me get him used to it.
I have to prepare them also for those pushes and shoves and even slaps: a very light push, shove or (yes) open palm tiny slap of the body is paired with the very best treats and lots of them. I will do this things just below the threshold of roughness that the puppy is disturbed, and click/reward.
Over time the roughness gets rougher as they will accept. They are learning that some people and some dogs play or pet harder than others, and the harder love and play gets bigger rewards if it doesn’t disturb them more than a tiny bit.
I also teach a dog they are allowed to use their body, the paws, even barking, to force a person away under specific circumstances.
A simple lean or nose poke for an oblivious person who hasn’t noticed or cared they are bumping me (aka “bumpers”) is one thing. But an angry person who has trapped me in a corner or has pushed me and is coming back for more is another.
Yes, I teach a dog to protect me and themselves in a totally controlled manner with very specific triggers. The threat has to be physical and serious. Then I allow them to use their body to push, shove, or even knock down a person. I’d rather explain to the manager or security why the dog is barking disruptively than either of us getting punched.
Any part of their body EXCEPT the teeth is allowed in my book in such a situation.
Anyone who would continue beyond that with a 170 lb plus dog is out of their mind. But alot of people are out of their minds. So I’m getting a little fella ready for both friendly and unfriendly touching.