Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sidewalk encounters with other dogs

Trooper is an exceptionally friendly dog. He always wants to give folks a big hello. Same with other dogs we pass on the sidewalk. He strains at the leash, wagging his tail madly, ready to play.

Is this a problem for a service dog? It certainly would be if Trooper had been trained as a guide dog for the blind. That behavior could discombobulate an unsighted person.

But he is a hearing dog for the deaf, and his duties are to alert me to sounds such as a door knock, the phone, the call of my name.

Still, service dogs are expected to be calm and collected in public, aren’t they? Trooper always is when we’re in a restaurant or rail station waiting room. He lies quietly on the floor. 

But meet another dog on the sidewalk and he’s up for grabs. Good thing he weighs only 17 pounds and is easily controlled with the leash.

We allow him to play with our sons’ dogs when we visit them. With them he tears in mad abandon about the back yard and play-fights in the house. Is this bad? Does it encourage inappropriate interaction on the sidewalk? Or am I worried about nothing?

I decided to ask Laura, Trooper’s original trainer at Dogs for the Deaf in Oregon. This was her response:

“In a perfect world with a robot dog, yes, dogs should be absolutely controlled around other dogs.  

“I believe a working dog deserves to have ‘off’ time, just as a human worker does.  You cannot expect a living being to work constantly.  I feel a good balance of work and play makes a well-rounded service dog.  I think his interactions with your sons’ dogs is perfectly normal for a dog, and if he was forbidden to have contact with other dogs, they could become like 'forbidden fruit.'

“On that note, if you find that Trooper is becoming too distracted by other dogs, you may want to practice some obedience in high-distraction areas with high-value rewards.  The key to this is bringing his focus back to you and making yourself, the giver of the good treats, more interesting than the dogs.”

(“High-value treats,” Laura added, are juicy things “like pieces of hot dog, baby carrots, bits of cheese, small moist smelly things from the pet store.”)

On our next walk I’ll carry a few bits of cubed cheese and see how that works.

It may be difficult, however, not to sample them myself. I am hard to train.

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