Service dog training silliness

I often write about service dogs, and I'm often fairly critical. It's not that I dislike them - on the contrary, they're incredibly important to people who need them. However, when people do stupid things with service dogs, it can ultimately hurt the people who actually depend on these animals.

I was at the grocery store today and the first thing I saw when I walked in was a woman walking around with a dog in her shopping cart (i.e. the place the next person's food is going to sit). The dog was a poodle puppy wearing the standard "guide dog in training" vest, and the woman thought nothing about walking through the store pushing this dog around. When I asked her about it she said that the dog was just a puppy and it wasn't good to have it walking around on the floor (with no explanation why). She did take the dog out of the cart, but then proceeded to walk around the store carrying the dog in her arms. The site of her holding the dog while pawing (pun intended) the fresh fruits and vegetables raised eyebrows among more than just myself. Eventually, she put the dog down, which mainly resulted in her dragging the dog around as it tried to lay down or walk the other way (which may explain why she wanted it in the cart).

Service dogs are allowed into stores. They have wide access and that's needed. Service animals in training, however, are not service animals and they do not have the same absolute right to access. Training needs to be logical and supervised. Getting these dogs out in different environments is very important. However, how does pushing a dog around a store in a shopping cart help train it to be a service dog? I'm pretty sure part of the dog's ultimate job description doesn't include this particular activity. Being carried around a store while shopping is also not likely to be part of this dog's job. If a dog is not adequately trained to walk around a store on a leash, it shouldn't be there. A little common sense would indicate that basic training in another environment should precede activities such as this. 

Fostering a guide dog is a good thing to do, but it comes with a lot of responsibility. I'm certain this person was well-intentioned, although I'd certainly consider her actions misguided. The "guide dog in training" vest should not be interpreted as a free pass to take the dog wherever you want without any thought. Training such a dog is an important job, and people need to think about what they are doing.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone that is involved in these programs. I was unable to find any information about guidelines for people fostering service dog puppies, and would love to know what type of guidance people get, and what organizers of these programs think of this incident.

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Pat - June 18, 2010 8:57 AM

Doug Powell sent this link to me. I am raising my 4th pup for service. This woman's actions were totally inappropriate. The organization sponsoring the pup should be notified immediately. The vest that my pups wear,only after they are vaccinated for Rabies,are clearly marked. I doubt if she and her dog are legitimate. I always carry documentation from the organization as well as the dog's medical record - available for inspection at all times.

Noah - July 27, 2010 5:49 PM

This Women was obviously in the wrong. Places like Pet Smart provide perfectly suitable starter environments. Especially for dogs that find stores too overstimulating, or are not yet trained to fluency.

It's also pretty clear from your description that the dog was being pushed too far too fast. The idea is to desensitize them to new environments in a controlled manner. Fear and negative associations are exactly what you are trying to avoid.

There are however very valid reasons for carrying young puppies around in public environments instead of letting them walk on leash. The sheer number of people who will ignore the words, 'DO NOT PET ME' in florescent orange lettering is just one.

Brett - July 29, 2010 9:13 AM

I have to agree with you, service dogs in training are not service dogs. I feel sorry for the dog, with an owner as dumb as this one, what could she possibly teach the dog? I despise ignorant people

Kelly - August 5, 2010 11:26 PM

Thank You! I have a service dog and I appreciate when people stand up for us. I know dozens of Puppy Raisers that follow the rules and they should always be scrutinized by the public. More people should take illegitimate or incompetent people to task so that the jewels can shine like they are bred and trained to shine.

Sue - September 10, 2010 11:24 AM

The dog may have been a medical alert dog. However, while I have no problem with the dog in a cart or carried, the woman clearly needs more training. A light cloth in the carrier section of the cart is more sanitary and comfortable for the dog. Dragging the dog (a small puppy) along in a busy store is the sign of an untrained doga and more of a sign of an untrained OWNER.

Janers - May 13, 2011 3:18 PM

Agreed. I have a service Chihuahua (she is an alert, Tactile Stimulation, & medication dog) people look at me weird due to her size, & the fact that I look pretty healthy on the outside (with makeup), but not all wounds & disabilities are visible or uncoverable though. A dog in a cart should have its own cloth underneath it. A puppy's feet might be sensitive to certain flooring. A SD in training is not allowed access everywhere, that a SD is, but it should be socialized in places where it IS allowed, not too stressful to make it anxious however. Dragging under most cases is abuse IMO!

Paula Shepard - August 11, 2012 8:33 PM

It was asked what was accomplished by putting the pup in a cart seat or carrying it.

No, those will not be required activities when it is older but dealing with public places will be.

I am an advocate of early exposure before the pup completes the developmental stage of learning what to and not to be afraid of. In this way they view being in public as no big deal at all and can really avoid alot of hangups dogs get that would prevent them from service work. Putting the small (not half grown) pup in the cart seat or carrying it allows the handler to have ultimate control over most anything the pup might do. As a handler we have to exert our control on the dog until it learns enough to control itself.

I do not advocate a puppy on a bare cart seat however. The poster is right, someone might put their food items there. There should always be an adequate covering to both protect from sickness or accidents (which is very rare in my experience but could happen just like with a grown dog) and also to protect from the puppy contacting any surface that later could pass germs. Grins, besides I might get yucky kid germs on my perfectly nice puppy.

Dragging? Ugghhh....that puppy was better off in her arms and she shouldn't have let someone pressure her into doing the wrong thing for the puppy. People are not necessarily going to get why trainers do certain's just the way it is.

I see no problem holding the puppy whlle grabbing items with the other hand. It's not like I just picked stuff off it's backside. I'll tell you a secret. I touch my service dog with my hands or it touches and licks my hand FREQUENTLY like every 15 minutes when walking. People pet their dogs goodbye before they leave the house. You think that woman holding the pup is the only one in that store with dog germs? I hate to tell you I am crawling with dog germs 24/7 and often dog hair too. In fact when with a pup out in public and asked to pet the pup I question THEM about any potential for carrying dog virus' before I will even let them touch my puppy- they can carry that stuff straight from home.

By the time my pups are old enough to get their rabies they are also trained enough to walk on a leash next to me intelligently, calmly and to behave themselves so they aren't in that cart very long.

I appreciate that agencies have different ideas on the ideal way to raise a service dog prospect and it is their agency and their choice, but just because that is the way they choose to do it doesn't mean it's the only way or even the best way in every situation.

No matter how a person chooses to do it they need to do it with consideration for others and try as hard as possible to not cause any inconvenience a mostly trained service dog wouldn't cause. Responsibility is the key here.

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