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.