Holler at Mahler: The making of a service dog

After an experience I had a few days ago with some people who decided I was “giving up” on Mahler because I dared to call him dense, I decided I needed to write about what it is like to raise a service dog.  It is my hope that by describing what goes into creating a dog that will change my life, people will understand why certain behaviors are not acceptable, and why they must be curbed/squashed entirely.

Before I really get into it, however, I have to say that if people are offended by the fact that I called my legitimately dense puppy dense….you really don’t want to hear the other things I’ve called them.  The phrase “Oh my God, you dickweasels!” is heard quite frequently in my house, as well as “KNOCK IT OFF YOU ASSHOLES!” A few days ago, I looked at Strauss, who would not STFU because one of the girls was in season.  I asked him quite seriously why he had to be such a jive ass motherfucker (I have Black Dynamite fever).

The dog looked at me with a shit eating grin and wagged his tail.  He had no idea what the fuck I was saying to him.

You know why I called Mahler dense?  Because he is.  Had I mentioned in this same group of people that one of my show lines was dense, they would have all agreed, because “that’s how show lines are”.  But to say it about a working line!  Oh HEAVENS!  They’re all BRILLIANT!

One person in particular was super offended by my calling my dog dense, and decided. all on her own, without ever having MET the dog, that he was brilliant, and I was the problem.  I had “given up” on Mahler.

Ok, listen, I love Mahler, but Stephen Hawking he ain’t.  Case in point, dude sat in front of my very hot space heater and let his fur singe.  I had to shove him out of the way, because he had no intention of moving.

But yes, he is absolutely brilliant.

I described that I was very frustrated with my puppy because he just doesn’t get things as quickly as my other dogs have.  He has the best *retention* of any of my dogs (including Strauss), but he is NOT fun or at all enjoyable to teach in ANY way.  He cannot be shaped (I hate shaping anyway, but there are a couple of behaviors in particular that are better shaped than lured, IMO), and while he will offer behaviors he knows (which is great, in terms of him trying and wanting to work with me), that is useless when I am trying to teach him something new.

Several people stated that his screaming in a crate, eating things around my property (particularly my back deck and the grass in my yard, which my husband is NOT happy about) were basically awesome, and he’s be excellent for a schutzhund home!  Y’know, that may be true….but he’s not IN a schutzhund home.  That is not why he is in my house.  He is not going to be a schutzhund dog.

Here are things that are inappropriate for a service dog to do:
Jumping on people
Running in circles around the handler because they feel “busy”
Vocalizing in a crate or while working
Chewing up random items
Acting like a general heathen
Being a super pushy asshole

The aforementioned things (within reason) are all acceptable in a sport prospect.  If this dude were a sport prospect, the only thing I’d be complaining about right now is that he cannot shut the fuck up in his crate, because that is unacceptable to me regardless of what the dog does.  It is obnoxious as fuck to hear a dog scream.  I HATE it.  Just…no.

Mahler is in some tough months right now, and I think we’ll make it through those months, but there is a very real possibility that he may wash out as a service dog because he cannot contain himself or his drive.  Only time and maturity will tell.  But a super drivey dog is not what is necessary and often times is not appropriate for the work.  This is NOT to say I want a driveless dog.

A dog with no drive is also useless as a working animal, as the dog does need to think independently, and have the motivation to do the work for the sake of the work.  Lord knows I don’t carry cookies around in my pocket for Strauss while he’s working.  The dog’s gotta do what I ask him to do, regardless of whether or not there is an immediate reward involved.

Mahler does many great things, and there are many great things about Mahler. He has a natural retrieve and has always enjoyed bringing me items He already fetches various objects.  Nothing by name yet, but he will pick up both dead (placed) and live (thrown) objects of any material (including metal) if I ask him to.

He is also a very biddable dog and WANTS to work with me.  He is very trustworthy off leash in a field with distractions.  If I tell him to come, he comes.  He likes to just hang out with me outside, and we’ll sit in the yard together, and watch the world go by.  I can pet him and hug him, and he’ll just stay there, with or without a toy.  When I’m ready to go, he’s ready to go, too.

There is still a lot of time to see if he pans out for work, but the reality is that I may have to be ready to place him in the event that he does not turn out.  A service dog cannot spin in circles because he does not understand what I am asking of  him, nor can he bark or squeak in frustration.

There will be times when Mahler will have to lay for hours under a table or next to a booth, whether I am dining out with friends, am at a movie, or even if I’m at the theater.

He will have to deal with the fact that at times he will need to make decisions independent of me, because I will not always be able to tell him what to do.  He will have to get over being so butthurt because he was corrected for doing something inappropriate.

He will have to be SILENT in his crate at dog shows, and not pitch a fit like the apocalypse is coming because I took someone else out to make a ring time, and he has to stay behind.

The life of a service dog, though gratifying for many, is incredibly hard, arduous, and stressful.  My service dogs work EVERY DAY in the real world.  They experience things that many schutzhund sport dogs never will.  They are out and about with the public in stores, at parades, at bus stations and airports.  They travel all over the country with me.

I protect my dogs the best I can, but the reality is that my dogs will be hit by carts, accidentally kicked/hit, will have items fall on them in stores, and be tempted by idiots who don’t know how to read and can’t leave my working animals alone.

It is a lot to ask of a dog.  It is why so many fail.  That failure is not a commentary on the dog or his breeding.  It’s just the cold hard truth of raising an animal that will work for real, and not just hit up a trial field to be “proven for breeding”.

When I am concerned about the progress of my dog, it also means that I am concerned about being able to live my life normally.  It means that I am concerned that I may have to give up an animal that I have grown to love, and am very attached to.  It means that I am looking out not only for my well being, but the well being of the dog and the public as well.

At the end of the day, the Butter Bean is a great dog.  Dense?  Yup.  But a great dog.

People can tell me that he’d be a great schutzhund dog, but that means nothing.  A great schutzhund dog does not equate to a great service dog.

All I can do is wait.

Flail on,
– Classical Spazz

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~ by ClassicalSpazz on October 11, 2012.

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