Monday, September 19, 2011

Distraction: The Cute Not Only Looks Silly It's Dangerous to the Service Dog

"Do not Distract." “Do not pet” “SERVICE DOG.” “Isn’t this redundant? “ I thought to myself. The day was approaching for me to receive my Service Dog Goodee from her breeder/ trainer. I wanted to make sure we had what we needed. I wanted to make sure Goodee liked her job and had tools for success. I was so new to the concepts. I thought, “ If I ask someone not to touch,” won’t they know not to distract us?” “Isn’t touching the same as distraction?”

I met Goodee and it was clear she loved me and wanted to work for me. I didn’t understand, I had always been with her in a safe setting where everyone (except me) understood there is a difference in a SERVICE DOG and a PET.
While petting, talking, and gawking are all OK for a PET, the same behavior is dangerous for the SERVICE DOG and their handler.

Petting a service dog is certainly a distraction. There are other avoidable distractions. No one likes a list of “can’t, “don’t” and “shouldn’t.” However, in the interest of education here are a few real life illustrations for consideration:

At a large local retail store I was standing in front of the pet food looking for an item. Goodee turned because she felt the vibration first. She is constantly on alert for things that may be a danger to me. Suddenly I hear “DOG!” or maybe “DAWG!” shouted by many small voices. I turn and try to brace as 12 children of various ages run towards me. I hear many shoes hitting the concrete at a fast pace. I try my best to stand but I feel this rush of wind and then fall to the ground as the children run on both sides of the dog.

“Oh my goodness Goodee.” “Thank you for helping me I know you tried your best and if you had not braced and allowed me to fall against you it would be so much worse!” Goodee accepted her commands right away and helped me to my feet. --- Then, I see a lady with same 12 children with her (no exaggeration I counted them).

The lady brought the children back towards us. Goodee and I looked at each other in astonishment. I didn’t know what to make of things. --- First the kids knock us to the ground then this lady wants to bring them all back to see us?

The lady and children looked at me. Then looked at Goodee. Then, the lady says “Isn’t this a pretty dog and I am so proud of everyone no one touched!
“Grr I thought as I swallowed hard and said “Thank you,” I could feel the bruises forming from where my skin hit the hard floor. The impact caused a whiplash to my muscles and a shifting in my bones. It took 2 professionals 4 office calls in the following week to get me back to “normal.”


On another shopping trip I had hands full and dropped my pencil. Once again Goodee took her orders and allowed me to balance “Handy,” I thought. Goodee was working to retrieve the pencil when a man came from across the store. “Pretty doggy” “oh poor baby you are making her work.” Goodee totally ignored the man not only did she retrieve the pencil she helped me get things organized in the cart. — “She is such a pro!” I thought, “You can’t beat this.”

At this time dog and handler are still ignoring this strange man who is still talking “doggie” “doggie” “doggie.” Goodee rolls her eyes as only she can. I was almost in an LOL! ROFL! Formation. The man finally clears his throat and says “I said: it’s a pretty doggie!” “I understand sir.” “Thank you, we are pretty busy right now.”--- I didn’t want to be rude I just want out of there.

HE DID NOT TOUCH but the man was a DISTRACTION for human and service dog. He wasn’t DANGEROUS but he was SILLY!

Goodee now has a routine. I tell her before we go into stores: “We are going to see some silly human tricks.”

I can only imagine what Goodee is thinking about all the calling, and gesturing people choose to do. People laugh at themselves as if it’s cute. Some noises are not cute or silly they are dangerous.
I understand we must cope with a certain level of noise to be in public but I wish people could experience what it feels like to be perfectly balanced and then have balance torn away from you as you go one direction and the Service Dog has their focus torn away to another. In most cases Goodee will look at people and roll her eyes in an attempt to get them to leave our space.

Goodee is outstanding at her job. She ignores everyone but me. She ignores all words and sounds except her special words. Still there are times that the noise level distracts us both. —Especially in some large retail settings where 60 people at once say DOG! (I am not exaggerating the count I count on many trips. It’s a game Goodee likes to play now). I wonder, “Do people think I don’t know she’s a dog” “what exactly is the purpose of saying DAAAWG! Aloud?”

The Pursuit: The Distraction in Disguise

Some people love dogs and some are curious. I try to understand. Still part of me says I didn’t get a Service Dog to be on display. I didn’t get a Service Dog to entertain. Actually I just needed some help moving and balancing.
We have learned about—The Pursuit.

Sometimes team Goodee goes miles the other direction just to avoid on-lookers. I figure the fewer distractions the better. I want Goodee to know she is successful. I want her job to be as easy as possible. She is disappointed when there’s a problem. Goodee wants to please me at all times.

Many times in a large retail shop people will see us in one area and follow us to another just to see us again.

Once a man followed us through a mall. He caught up to us and said “Here doggie.” I don’t know what he had in his hand but he was offering it to Goodee. I quickly said “LEAVE IT!” and Goodee moved on. The man continued the next time we stopped he repeated the process. “Sir,” I said in a flat tone. “She is not allowed treats but thank you!”

“What’s the dog’s name?” A Large Distraction for Dog & Human

“What’s your dog’s name?” – A pretty harmless question and after all people are just trying to be friendly. Why not reply? Well I learned that people soon call your dog by name if they know it.

I was going in a store with an automatic door one day when someone exiting the store yells “Hi Goodee.” “Goodee hesitated and we nearly lost footing in the door. I then realized that the young lady who called Goodee is a clerk at another store where we shop. It’s nice that she likes Goodee that much but I really need Goodee’s full focus to be on getting me from point A to Point B. —She is a SERVICE DOG not a PET.

Conversation: Welcome to Some, Distraction to Others

Imagine all of the private spaces you visit. Places you need to visit to feel better, get away, maybe do some business and go home.

Now imagine, every time, every day, without fail when you go to these places you have several total strangers running up to you, glancing at you asking. ----
“What’s the dog’s name?” “What does she do for you?” “How long have you had
Her?”… Etc. etc.

I was not ready for the instant conversation a Service Dog generates. At first I tried replying to every question fully and honestly. Education I thought, “I owe it to people to help them learn about Service Dogs.” I would come home exhausted. Goodee was exhausted and any humans with us also felt the effects of the day.

I’ve learned I have to educate as I can. I no longer try to apologize for being a little tired or out of sorts when someone wants to quiz me in a Dr. waiting area, pharmacy, restaurant, hotel, bank, or hairdresser. ---After all these are private spaces.
Service Dog Teams have times that they can sit and enjoy conversation with others and times that they are busy or don’t feel well.

When we are out and about to all forms of distraction we must say:

Not Now We Are Working!


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