September is National Service Dog Month, and it’s an important time to think about what makes a service dog—well, a service dog! Canine Companions puppy Wes and his volunteer puppy raisers Christa and Steve want to shed some light (and fur) on the importance of leaving public places available for task-trained service dogs and when appropriate, for puppies being raised to one day become life-changing service dogs.
Christa and Steve started puppy raising in 2011, years before their journey raising puppy Wes began. “It was rare to encounter a disruptive dog in a public place,” Christa remembers. “By the time I received my second Canine Companions puppy in 2013, things had really changed.” She recalls feeling concerned at the number of out of control dogs at that time – and now with Wes, the number of encounters has skyrocketed.
The Impact of Fraud
Canine Companions puppies like Wes, rely on the goodwill of businesses to grant them access to places pet dogs are not typically allowed. Task-trained service dogs assisting their handler with a disability, however, are permitted anywhere the public can go with few exceptions. But out of control pet dogs whose owners fraudulently claim are service dogs – or even just out of control dogs in public places – can have a major impact on puppies learning and on trained service dogs performing their jobs.
“Wes and I had an encounter at a coffee shop last year that was very frightening for the both of us,” Christa says. “Wes was politely walking beside me, when suddenly a small dog that was hidden under one of the tables, rushed toward Wes. I tripped over the dog. I didn’t even know what I had tripped over until I heard the dog growling at Wes.” Wes was startled and confused, and Christa realized he was in potential danger from a pet dog that was behaving aggressively. “I felt terrible because I left him unprotected. I was supposed to be paying attention to Wes and unfortunately because of this other dog, my attention was elsewhere.”
The Best Prepared Plans
Canine Companions puppies like Wes undergo two years of training to be the best assistance dogs they can be. From learning how to walk on leash, ignoring distractions including other dogs, staying under tables during meals out and ignoring dropped food – puppy raisers do everything they can to ready these puppies for the real world. But fraudulent and out of control “service dogs” can pose a real threat to the health, safety and independence of a working service dog team. Not only a distraction, aggressive dogs can have major impacts on a service dog’s ability to work long term.
In the wise words of Wes’ puppy raisers, “misrepresenting your pet as a service dog is wrong.”