What Service Dog (SD) blog would be complete without a discussion on (some) the finer points of Public Access (PA) training?

Holly wouldn't need me to get in wherever she wanted. She's just a charmer.

See, there’s something that many people do not understand about the SD community. To put it bluntly, we get along about as well as a bag of angry cats.

I honestly have no idea why this is, but for one reason or the other, there seems to be this tendency to pick a fight that doesn’t exist. I suppose the sparring has something to do with pent up frustration over (a) the lack of common sense among the general public. (yes, you see the patch, how it says “Do Not Pet” In big bold letters with a crossed out hand? Yes? Well, it’s not just for show, it means Do. Not. Touch. The. Dog.) (b) and pent up frustration over disabilities.

Most of you probably haven’t seen this, but it’s there. No group trusts or likes the other. Fights are picked over stupid little things that would be better off left alone since they don’t effect anyone other than the original poster. (I’m thinking things like food debates, interesting, but not really something to get bloodthirsty over.) People who are part of several different communities are few, far between.

I could go on about that, but I’ll leave that ramble for another day.

Public Access training.

Good gosh, this is one of The Great Debates in the SD community.

It is a hot, HOT topic for many reasons, but mainly because there are so many different angles on it, and no one owner trainer, or organization does it the same way.

I’ll start out with the Owner Trainer (OT) perspective.

A quote that is gospel among the OT group is:

“Slow is fast.”

The general consensus among OTs is that exposure to the hectic daily life of a SD must be built up over time. A bond needs to be established between handler and dog before any PA training is even thought about. When a pup has time to get used to their surroundings, be a pup, adapt to life, and learns to work with their handler it better sets them up to be good, stable working dogs later in life.

Puppy must be a puppy!

What seems to happen when this doesn’t happen, and dog is pushed too far too fast, the pup may be solid at first, but as they mature they become more jumpy. They didn’t have the necessary time to learn to trust their handler, have time to develop emotionally, and have a stable start to life.

With a stable temperment and strong bond in place, the rest tends to fall into line. A strong bond that aids training and makes it easy to teach the life saving taks a SD performs. The stable temperment is incredibly important, with a stable temperament socialization is easy, new things are quickly accepted, and eventually ignored.

I am a strong believer in this line of thinking. I see no need to push Bri now. I don’t even know her that well yet. She’s a puppy, not a machine. She needs to have time to bond to me and learn the ins and outs of just being a good dog before she can go on to being a good SD.

Then, there is the other line of thought, which is usually seen more among the programs.

Programs are just that, programs. Unlike OTers they do not have as much freedom to work with each individual dog. They breed, or are given many puppies every year. The pups are not normally placed with their potential handlers, the focus seems to be more on exposing them to as much as possible while they’re quite young.

I think it’s also important to note that many groups have their own breeding program going on. The temperaments seem to be a bit different than those of many “normal” puppies. For example, fear periods are less obvious, and many program-bred pups don’t even seem to go through them. Program pups seem to be more resilient to exposures that would make a non-program dog more wary. Definitely not the case in every dog, but it seems to hold true for many of them.

As ridiculous and petty as it may seem, the disagreement between methods of raising stems from the wash-out percentage.

Programs have lots and lots of dogs to work with. If a large percent wash out they find them good homes, and keep moving. OTers do not have that freedom. Unlike programs we cannot be objective observers of our dogs. To put years of work, thousands of dollars, and your heart and soul into a dog only to have to wash them out and start again, is hard.

In fact, it’s not only hard, it’s exhausting, emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially.

Many cannot afford to keep a wash-out, so they face the decision of re-homing, or going without a SD that would improve their quality of life. I didn’t even consider re-homing Holly, but the decision to wash her out was incredibly difficult.

So, I think that there is a certain amount of caution that goes into OTing a SD. A handler will do anythiing and everything to make sure that their candidate will succeed. Even if it means taking things very, very slowly.

I also rather suspect that there is a little resentment there as well. To OTers programs seem to have an inexhaustible amount of support and supplies. They are sponsored, pups are from the best of  SD potential parents, their puppies are raised by caring families, should they wash out they have loving homes awaiting them.

To OT is hard. Really, really hard. You put blood, sweat, and tears into your dog. Every single step is difficult, in addition to keeping yourself together, you’re also effectively baby-sitting a two year old, except that you get far more unsolicited attention. Many OTed SDs are cross-trained, mobility and psychiatric, guide and mobility, alert and counter-balance. These dogs are always on task, they’re superbly trained.

However, it’s not all good. Programs often have reason to look down on OTing as well.

Unfortunately, OTing is facing impending doom. How many times have you seen the “SD” Fifi licking the fruit in the produce isle of the store? If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. There are of course, the fakers who use that excuse to their advantage, but more dangerous still are those with a legitimate disablity, who know just enough of the law to use it to their advantage, but they don’t understand the use of things like tasks.

They get a cute little vest for Fluffy and take him everywhere with them. Fluffy sniffs the ground, licks things, solicits attention. It doesn’t even need to be really bad things like lunging, barking, or peeing. It is the unprofessional behavior. A SD should not be virtually invisible. No sniffing, no acting out, no licking, no noises. Of course, there will be lapses, dogs aren’t robots. But the handler shouldn’t be allow these things and if the dog exhibits inappropriate behaviors the handler should be working to refocus the dog, or should not be there. An ill-behaved dog is a dog that was pushed too fast. It is never the dog’s fault, they will do what they have been trained to do.

The group of people, both from programs and OTers who actually know the laws and hold their dogs to very high expectations, and train for those expectations, seem to be sadly few and far between. Whether you are a puppy raiser, or an OT, or a handler of a program dog, thorough knowledge of the law is a must, must, must.

So there is something of an analysis of the two predominant thoughts towards PA training.

Hopefully you enjoyed the ramble, and learned something from it! Maybe one of these days SD people will stop trying to claw each other’s eyes out long enough to make a change in the perception of the SD community as a whole.

Program or OT, our goals are still the same. Bri and Riley demonstrate friendship despite different training, breeds, and methods.

Until Later!

Kat, Holly & Brigantia

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