In lieu of dog training education month, I have asked one of our long-time customers, Kristen Sawyer, to provide some insight and proper etiquette in regards to service dogs. I'm incredibly grateful not only for the knowledge she was willing to share, but for the compassion and dedication that I have personally witnessed her give to the dogs she trains. I hope you will find the article below as informative as I have.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Rueb
“I know I’m not supposed to.” “Dogs love me, they know I’m a dog person. They can smell my dogs at home on me.” “I’m just watching, look at her beautiful eyes.”
What do these phrases above have in common? All the comments above seem like harmless conversation. Yet, they all can be dangerous when your life is in the hands of the dog they all just distracted. They are all phrases I heard this morning alone on my way into work.
Allow me to pause here and introduce myself. I’m Kristen Sawyer, and as of this month I have been raising service dogs for 5 years. Ashley has “dressed” them all and so when she asked me to write something for her, I thought it was a request for a quick review. However, I was honored it would be for something so close to my heart and a huge passion of mine. I have fostered or raised a total of 15 dogs. I am currently raising number 16. Her name is Sky. She is a playful 6-month-old black lab with a personality for days.
Sky is adorable when she is prancing in heel next to me out in public. Her ears are rarely ever neatly hanging around her face. They often show her mood and personality for the day. So, we hear all those comments daily. Thankfully, I do not rely on her medically in any way. I am only her raiser. We have time to practice ignoring everyone. She will be with me until she is 18 months old. Can you image what it is like for her though? She is working hard at her job, trying to learn new tasks and stay focused while someone else directly talking to her. So, in the next year we will continue to attend classes twice a month, train in public daily and get all the snuggles in we can till the day she returns to campus to finish her training. We will also spend a good amount of our days educating others on how to interact with us as a team.
Just because I am training her to ignore the distractions, doesn’t mean it’s ok though. According to the ADA a service dog performs tasks that for the benefit of an individual with a disability. This can be things such as physical, sensory, mental or intellectual disability. This means when you make eye contact, she isn’t focusing on her job. This may cause her to miss queues. Queues like pausing so her handler doesn’t run into anything, a seizure alert, low blood sugar and so much more. Sky is training to have someone’s life in her hands (paws). No amount of petting or eye contact is worth that distraction.
“So, if I can’t talk to the dog, then what do I do?” You may be asking yourself this question. I am so glad you asked.
- Do talk to the handler. I promise genuine human interaction is always best. (I love the dogs I raise, but sometimes it’s nice when people tell me good morning and not Sky)
- Ignore the dog. No eye contact, kissy noises, or comments about being such a good boy/girl.
- Don’t ask about why some has a service dog. A place of business can legally ask what tasks the dog performs, but cannot ask about a person’s medical condition.
- Understand that sometimes the handler just wants to get a gallon of milk or stop in to run an errand. They may not want to talk about the dog. Treat the dog like a wheelchair.
- Don’t tell the handler you wish you could take your dog everywhere too. Because, I honestly hope, you never have to.
I know it isn’t easy, because gosh they are just adorable. Even I have to ignore any of the dogs I may see out in public that I have raised. But know when you do the above 5 things, you are helping that person and service dog more than you may ever know.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Rueb
If you would like to follow along as Sky is being raised by Kristen, you can follow her on Instagram: @raising_sky_16