Dog Spotlight: Seeing Eye Anniversary

On January 29, 1929, Morris Frank founded The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in the United States. This school is the founding member of the US Council of Guide Dog School as well as a fully accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation. Today we celebrate the anniversary of the school’s founding and the importance of guide dogs everywhere (and by extension, service dogs in general).

What is a guide dog, or more generally a service animal? The Americans with Disabilities Act defines it as: any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Service animals are not the same as therapy animals or emotional support animals. Only service animals are protected by the ADA.

You may see service animals (dogs are the most common) working with their handlers. Remember that these dogs are working and must concentrate on what they need to do on behalf of their handlers. Don’t distract them. I know it’s tempting to want to pet such a well-behaved dog but be considerate. Some handlers are OK with people petting their dogs if their permission is asked for first; other handlers will decline and that’s fine too. Here are some additional etiquette guidelines as well as a few things that handlers want you to know.

If you’d like to learn more about service dogs, especially those assisting the blind, check out Growing Up Guide Pup and Zoe the Seeing Eye Dog.

One more thing to note: FAKE service dogs. Sometimes people try to pass off their pets, including emotional support animals, as service dogs so they can take their pet anywhere with them, enable their pet to fly for free, and avoid having to pay a pet deposit. This is a serious issue for service dogs and their handlers. Untrained pets in public areas, like planes and restaurants, can pose a big risk to those around them. Being able to spot a fake service dog and differentiate such from legitimate service animals is important. Most importantly, DO NOT misrepresent pets as service dogs. Don’t be that person. It’s not cool. Moreover, your actions can have significant consequences for those around you, especially working service dogs and their handlers.

Dog Spotlight: Training

I’m sure a few reading this might wonder, “Your blog is about cats so why are you talking about dogs?” Fair question. One, I love both cats and dogs. (I also think rats, chinchillas, and many other pets are cool too.) Two, it’s important. Three, it ties in with shelters, which is another topic I frequently discuss on Purry Home Companion. So there you go.

January, among other things, is National Train Your Dog Month, which was created and sponsored by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). One crucial aspect of responsible pet ownership is ensuring that you teach your pet (whether it is a cat or a dog) house manners. For a cat, it is using a litter box, not to scratch (destructive clawing), and not to bite (bite inhibition), for example. For a dog, manners can include basic commands like “sit” and “stay,” emergency recall, and how to walk properly on a leash. On a walk, your dog should walk right next to you, not in front and not pulling. (Incidentally, January is also Walk Your Pet Month.) Naturally, APDT developed a program called CLASS, or Canine Life and Social Skills, which you can read about on their website (linked above). Another training test is the Canine Good Citizen program through the American Kennel Club. Therapy dogs, for example, have to go through this training, or something similar, in order to be adequately prepared to perform therapy work.

While I volunteer in the cat room at my animal shelter, I am very pleased to know the volunteers that work with the dogs do teach them basic manners and how to walk on a leash nicely. Many dogs are surrendered to shelters because they are not trained and owners find them too energetic or that they do not want to put the effort and time into training their pet. This is most unfair to the dog, who may be adopted more than once before finding the right owner. By teaching the dogs manners, the shelter has increased the chances of their animals being adopted, dramatically shortened the dogs’ stay in the facility, and reduced the likelihood of those animals being returned–a win-win for everyone. The shelter has also had great success in placing dogs with Starmark Academy, and at least two dogs have since graduated to working animals in K-9 units. How exciting is that?

The point I am trying to make here is that it is vitally important to teach your dog manners so that your pet behaves well in private and in public. This is part of being a responsible dog owner. Do not expect to receive a dog (from a shelter or a breeder) already trained. You must put effort into working with and training your dog. Do you have questions, lack questions, or are you running into issues making progress with your pet? You may want to consider enlisting the help of a professional. Yes, training takes time, patience, work, and even a bit of money, but it does pay off in the long run.

Does anyone really want to have an ill-mannered, untrained dog? An out of control animal can pose a danger to you, your loved ones, and to others, and that is a matter of public safety. A dog that has never received any training poses great risks, even if that dog is not aggressive. For example, a large, unrestrained, hyperactive dog bounding across a yard and into the street can run in front of a car, posing a real driving hazard. This same animal can crash into pedestrians on the sidewalk or children playing next door. An uncontrolled dog poses a very real hazard to working service animals and their handlers, who may be injured or traumatized by this experience. A negative experience with another dog can seriously impair a service animal’s ability to work or even compel early retirement. It’s very serious.

As always, demonstrate your love for your pet by being responsible and doing the right thing. By doing so, you’ll have a happy, well-mannered canine companion that can comfortably interact with others in and out of your home. I, for one, enjoy having upstanding canine citizens! How about you?