By Randy Pierce
There are so many misconceptions about interacting with a service animal that I thought this week we might discuss the best practice guidelines and rules. Quinn is certainly charming, and I know my rather biased view of his magnificence would make it hard for me to resist. In fact, I frequently give him verbal praise, a rewarding pat on the shoulder, and the occasional Charlee Bear treat for his great work. I find others undertaking many other approaches and part of our educational outreach is to cover the correct things to do.
The basic rule is this: you should never interact with any dog without the express permission of the handler, which is usually signified by the person on the other end of the leash. This is true for absolutely all dogs and particularly true for service dogs. “Interact,” as I tell many students, means call, touch, or offer a slice of pizza! You might think that would be obvious, but it’s a rare week that one of those does not occur. While Quinn is trained to ignore these distractions, they are similar to grabbing the steering wheel of a car in motion.
Each service dog and handler have different levels of ability and comfort with distractions. Many choose to eliminate all forms of interaction with their guide. As always, different people take different approaches to education and communication, making it challenging to know what is the right approach for any individual. The rule of thumb is to always ask the handler to learn preferences or needs.
In the case of Quinn, I know how much he enjoys receiving the command from me that he is off duty and free to say hello to a person who wants to interact. There are in fact many times where a person assumes they can’t request this, and I can tell by their interactions that they want to ask but don’t know if it’s appropriate. I’ll usually encourage them to ask because I love to reward Quinn with just such a treat when it’s appropriate. Again, asking the handler is the key–not every dog, handler, or situation will prefer this.
To that point, I only request that folks consider a bit of judgment before asking. In the middle of a task such as crossing a street or navigating a narrow and steep mountain trail, it might not be the best time. Just as with initiating conversation with people in passing, there are times when we might be moving along at a good clip with a time schedule to keep and there is not really the time or opportunity to stop for petting.
I know Quinn is amazing, perhaps more than anyone else could fully realize. Still, if every time you travelled a block in your car, someone jumped out to pronounce what a swell car it is and ask to look under the hood, life could become a mite challenging!
Fortunately, it’s quite often where a leisurely stroll or a pause in travel presents the perfect opportunity for me to talk about one of my favorite topics, the Mighty Quinn. Please know how much I’ll enjoy letting him get a well deserved greeting if you don’t mind asking and waiting for me to let him know he’s off duty!
If you’re looking for stories about our hike up Mt. Cannon, the final hike up the NH 48 in the wintertime, stay tuned! They are coming soon.