What I look for

I am new to the service dog scene, as Strauss is the first dog I’ve ever had in harness.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and learned many needed lessons.  I’ve adjusted my life accordingly, not only to allow myself to a service dog, but to allow myself to feel OK having a service dog.

I am now looking into the future, and I know that I will obtain a new service dog prospect this summer.  There is great responsibility involved in choosing my next prospect, and it involves the need (not desire, the NEED) for absolute, clinical, logical consideration.  I cannot choose the puppy I am most drawn to emotionally/aesthetically if it does not fit my needs.  I cannot take a puppy a kind person offers me so I can spare feelings.  I cannot take a puppy that (I feel) is unlikely to succeed, just because I may have already put down a deposit on a litter, and that is the only litter available at the time.  I will be relying on this animal for my safety, and that is not something to fuck around with.

Even though I say “I will choose”, I will also have input from experienced, unbiased sources.  The cold, hard reality, is that if a prospect doesn’t work out, it will be returned, or, if acceptable to the breeder involved, rehomed by me.  I unfortunately do not have room in my household for “just a pet”, and the dog could be anywhere from 6 months to 18 months before it becomes clear that it is a washout.

It is HARD work for a dog.  It requires very specific drives and very specific attributes of temperament for the dog to be successful.  The basic temperament of a service dog never changes.  The dog cannot be sound sensitive, overly sensitive to motion, cannot falter or waiver when approached by strange humans, be quick to anger, or be unable to adjust to new, strange environments.  Personality attributes may vary, depending on the type of work the dog  will be doing.  The preferences of the human don’t really come into play, here.

Yes, it is important for the dog and handler to mesh, and it may take a while longer if the dog is not of the personality type that the handler prefers, but a working dog is not a pet, and safety comes before preference (certain exceptions apply for various reasons…there is no point in having a service dog if you hate the dog you end up with…it is a toxic partnership).

A clingy dog may appeal to some people, but a dog that lacks the confidence and willingness to leave its person is a poor candidate for a medical response dog.  A dog that is soft in temperament and shuts down at a mere verbal correction is a poor candidate for alert work (people with sugar issues or epilepsy, for example, may scold their dog for pestering them, as they don’t understand what the dog is doing, and thus, the dog must work through the correction and continue it’s attempt to warn its handler).

A service dog, like any other dog, can be taught many things, but his ability to learn new behaviors, and how he handles those behaviors and environments is also based in genetics.  The trainer/handler can only work with what they are given genetically.  A soft dog will always be soft.  It may learn to take a correction “better”, but its feelings will still be hurt, as it were.  You cannot make the dog something it is not.  A sound sensitive dog can be conditioned to noise, but if it still shows signs of stress beyond the initial startle response, it is a washout.  The life of a service dog is stressful, and meltdowns are not conducive to working in harness.

For my next SD, I will be looking for a dog that is slightly independent, a bit higher on the scale of biddability, resilient in temperament (a little handler hard, even), and overall serious in personality.  A dog should enjoy its work, no doubt, but working is serious business, and there is not time to dally about and play while in harness.  The dog will be largely self possessing, and feel no need or desire to interact with anybody beyond myself, and, to a certain extent, my husband.

The dog will be socialized extensively, as confidence does not come from withholding socializing, nor will socializing the dog propagate solicitation of affection from strangers.  Rather, the dog’s environment will be more heavily controlled than Strauss’s was, and he will have a stricter code by which he must live when it comes to visiting people.

I can certainly teach the dog to ignore strangers, but if he has a natural inclination to ignore strangers (note, ignore, not be afraid of), I am already one step ahead of the game, and the transition from “PARTAY TIIIIMEE!” to “Buzz off dude, I’m workin’!” will be that much easier.

It has been an interesting foray into the world of real working dogs, and I am learning more all the time.  I am hoping that all of you out there are learning with me.

Flail on,
– Classical Spazz

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~ by ClassicalSpazz on January 16, 2012.

One Response to “What I look for”

  1. Great read. Abba has every quality you are looking for in a dog. I’d ship him to you if I could survive without him. We’re close.

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