Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fake Service Dogs

You may have noticed an increase in news stories and videos about the epidemic of Fake Service Dogs; people who do not have a disability purchasing vests and other "service dog" identifying equipment and then trying to pass their pet dog off as a service dog so that they can take their pet dog everywhere.  This causes a huge problem for people with real service dogs who actually need them.

Ice carrying my Target bag
I have heard hundreds of times "I am going to make my dog a service dog so they can go everywhere" and "I am going to go purchase my dog a vest so they can go everywhere with me." I try to explain to people that calling your dog a service dog and purchasing them a vest does not make them a service dog.  I know they mean well and that everyone loves their dog but comments like that also make me feel like my hundreds of thousands of hours I spend training my service dog trainee are not taken into account.  For two years every waking moment (and sometimes many sleepy moments) I spend training my service dog trainee.  Anything they do needs to be either positively reinforced or redirected into a good service dog skill.  Getting my keys every morning turns into 30 minutes of teaching my puppy how to pick them up and bring them to me.  Taking my socks off at night turns into 15 minutes of teaching my puppy how to pull them off. Going into the store to get a gallon of milk turns into an hour of teaching my puppy how to walk through doors, walk down aisles, ignore the food that surrounds them, sit between me and counter at check out and carrying a bag out to the car.  My service dog trainees are not well behaved because I put a vest on them and said "okay today you are a service dog," they are well behaved because of the training they have received since they were born.  Training a service dog is a never ending training process that I LOVE with every fiber of my being.

Ice waiting patiently while we were out for coffee
Yes I am super freakishly lucky that I get to take my service dog trainee everywhere but it also comes with a huge responsibility as my dog is most likely the first service dog many people have ever seen out in public.  I need to make a good first impression as this will be what they think of service dogs for quite possibly the rest of their lives.  If I walk into a business and my puppy is running all over the place, eating things off the floor, going over to greet customers, barking or basically doing anything that draws attention to them, and then a business owner says "I'm sorry no dogs allowed" and if I say "no he is a service dog, you have to allow access" the business owner will forever have a hatred for allowing service dogs into their store, not to mention all the customers that witnessed this exchange and any social media post that might go viral.  This is no good (plus that is a freakishly long sentence).  If someone with an ill-behaved pet dog does this (going into a store, not the long sentence), they too are ruining people's impression for what a service dog is.  Every store I go into my dog has to be on their best behavior and if they are not, I will leave.  There is no greater compliment for a service dog handler than "oh my god I didn't know there was a dog in here!"  When I hear that, I feel a sense of pride as  that is my job as a trainer; to teach my trainee how to be as invisible as possible while working out in public.

Enough ranting and preaching from me today but if you would like to read more, this blog did a great job elaborating why it is bad to fake service dog status:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Let's go to the zoo zoo zoo

While Ice and I were visiting my brother in Los Angeles, we all road tripped down to San Diego Zoo.  I have been dying to see this zoo for awhile and luckily my brother is willing to go along with my zoo loving habits.

Bree, Serena and Jack
I have taken dogs to Brookfield Zoo in Illinois a couple times and we always have a blast.  When we go to Brookfield they have us check-in at security where they gives us all stickers that show we have checked in, they give us a map where the dogs are allowed to go, were the zoo animals might get nervous and if so we have to leave and where the dogs are not allowed to go (the petting zoo and another place that I can't remember where the animals are loose).  They then alert the zoo keepers via radio that service dogs are entering the park and we are free to go.  Here are a couple pictures from our first trip to Brookfield a couple years ago.

All the Brookfield Zoo pictures are by Dory L. Tuohey Photography.  Check out her Facebook page cause she is awesome:

Jack measuring up to the bears
Serena making friends with the dolphins

Bree attempting to make friends with the lion

Anywho back to San Diego Zoo, CA:

Road trip!

After a lovely 2 hour road trip with a quick stop for a yummy lunch, Will, Ice and I were ready to go see the zoo! I was very curious to see how the San Diego zoo handled the service dogs compared to Brookfield Zoo.  I found that it was very similar.  We purchased our tickets and then went up to the gate to enter.

Ice strutting through the zoo with his bandana

The gate people showed us where to check in Ice (literally right next to the gate).  The very nice lady in there asked me if Ice was a service dog, what task he preformed for me and then read off a list of things I had to agree to.  Some of these things were if a zoo keeper asks us to move away from the exhibit to comply, not to enter the aviaries and petting zoo with Ice
because the animals are loose and if you see a zoo keeper walking one of their zoo ambassadors around (a wolf, cheetah etc.) to stay as far away from them as possible.  Once I agreed and signed the form with all this information, they gave Ice a super awesome green bandana that says San Diego zoo and has an ocelot on it.  They use the bandanas as a way to tell the staff that we did indeed check in and that I didn't somehow sneak Ice into the zoo.  They then radioed the zoo keepers to tell them a golden retriever was entering the park and we were given the green light to go have a great day!

Checking out the alligators and turtles

 The first thing we had to do was navigate through the large crowds that were around the entrance of the zoo.  Ice powered through like a pro.  We first saw some reptiles and fish which actually was a great way to see what Ice was going to do with things that move.  He was curious and thoroughly enjoyed watching but also was still listening to me.  


We then made our way past some exhibits with slightly bigger animals, one of which was the Okapi.  Ice just thought they were Reggie (my horse) and his horse friends and happily watched them wander around.

Hippo swimming by

We then went to the hippo exhibit and the hippo happened to be swimming right by the glass, giving everyone a show.  When it swam by Ice, Ice was completely surprised and backed way up.  Not that I could blame him; the hippo was HUGE and looked really funny swimming.  We sat next to the tank for a little bit so that Ice could think through the hippo.  Once Ice decided that the hippo wasn't scary anymore we continued our journey.

Ice deciding that hippos butts are not scary

"Meeting" the hippo

We saw so many animals that day.  Ice was cool with all of them.  He was actually more afraid of all the animal statues and animal cutouts than the actual animals themselves. But by the end of the day he was cool with everything at the zoo.

A curious camel
 We had a couple animals notice Ice.  The llamas thought Ice was a wolf so they all herded up and started making noises at him.  When we saw this we just kept walking by as we didn't want to make them too agitated.  The camels watched Ice with curiosity but never got up from their resting position.  The meerkats all came running when they saw Ice and the meerkats and Ice stared at each other for while with curiosity.  A huge crowd gathered around the exhibit as all the meerkats were lining up right in front looking super adorable.  I am pretty sure we heard people being sad when we walked away as the meerkats then scampered back to doing whatever they were doing before.

Ice's favorite animal of the day was the giraffes.  He sat there intently watching and did his "happy stick the tongue out and throw his head backwards over his shoulder while wagging his tail" pose many a times.  There was a 3 month old giraffe there which was super cute and super curious about Ice.  The older giraffes came right up to the barrier and stuck their heads over to look at Ice.  Giraffes must really love dogs or something because we had the same thing happen at Brookfield Zoo.

Hi there!
Baby giraffe
Watching each other

After the giraffes we saw a couple more animals and then it was time to leave.  I couldn't have been happier with how Ice was the entire time.  I have found the zoo a GREAT place to bring service dogs in training.  I have heard that some service dog organizations do not allow their dogs to go to the zoo ever and I am not quite sure why.  The way I look at it is the zoo can be as stimulating or as boring as you want it to be for your dog depending on what you are working on.  Some of the things I love about zoos for service dogs in training are:
  • Zoos have crowds but they also have quite areas
  • They have inside exhibits and outside exhibits
  • They have food on the ground which is great for the dogs to learn how to leave it as you can walk as close or as far away from the food as you need so that your dog succeeds with a leave it
  • They have a lot of people who love animals and like hearing about service dogs
  • They have all sorts of different things to walk over and different smells to smell
  • The dogs seem to truly enjoy watching the other animals and love walking around outside all day
When I go to zoos with a service dog, I am always hyper aware of the animals in the exhibit.  If they seemed stressed I move to the next exhibit.  This is their house and we are guests.  But if the animal seems curious or entertained by the dogs I usually hang out so that both the dogs and the zoo animal can have a little interaction.  I think Ice thought the zoo was the coolest thing ever plus I think he looks super spiffy in his San Diego Zoo bandana.