Trust, Respect, Love and Total Obedience

Ziva, Belgian Malonois. Ziva is 1 year old.

Ziva,   Belgian Malinois.

I am left today with two ideas to express  my thoughts on, both of them tugging at my sleeve saying, “Choose me, choose me!” Both are dear to my heart, one being my husband and the other being my dog. Both are works in progress, however, I think my husband would like to share some of his own life experiences, so I’m going to choose my dog.

My husband says I choose my dog because of my title to this blog. He say’s,”After all, I’m not totally obedient.” (The title actually came about after writing this.)

My thoughts are not just of my dog today, as I am taking this opportunity to write about my feelings about Service Dogs and to give you some facts about them and their training, or lack of.

First, what is a service dog? It is a dog that is specifically trained to perform  a task for  its handler.

What is the difference between a service dog and a companion dog? A companion animal need not be able to perform a task. It is there solely to comfort it’s handler emotionally.

Are the two treated the same in respect to where you can and can’t take them. NO.  A service dog can accompany you anywhere, but a companion dog has some limitations. A companion dog is also sometimes used  as a therapy dog in nursing homes and hospitals and such.

My dog, Ziva, is a Belgium Malinois (pronounced Mal-in-waa).  This breed is known for police work and service dog work. It  very much resembles a German Shepherd in size and nature. They are intelligent and alert, appearing regal in their posture and expression. and thrive on attention. Some dogs live for toys. Some go crazy for treats and will do anything to get them. Ziva just wants love. That pat on her head, or to lay her chin on your lap makes her happy. She has huge, questioning, brown eyes, that just beg you to adore her. She couldn’t care less about the toys and treats are okay but your hand touching her is her ultimate pleasure. Ziva, is eighteen months old so really not much more than a puppy. In training though, we are far behind. I didn’t get her just for a pet. I had other motivations and had to have just the right dog to serve my needs. It only took me a minute to decide she was the one. Those eyes I think, yes, the eyes. She was mine the minute she looked at me. This dog, would be my Service Dog. She was three months old and pretty much a rescue. The people didn’t want her any more. After bringing her home I figured out why. We spent the first three weeks battling diarrhea. She was not well. I was worried. We finally won that battle, got her on the road to wellness and haven’t had one problem since.

As far as confirmation, Ziva fits the standard to a T except for her ears. The ears should be upright, stiff, and pointy. Hers,are flopping over in the middle..So winning any conformation contests would be out of the question but not to worry, as that isn’t why I got her.

The alertness, the desire to please, the devotion and the stamina of the Belgian Malinois makes it an excellent choice for a service animal.

Why do I want, no,  actually, why do I need a service dog? Most people, even those who know me well, don’t know that I suffer with panic disorder. Along with that, I have in the last several years become asthmatic. The two problems together can be most overwhelming. Asthma is one of the disabilities that is considered a disability warranting a service dog. There is a list of disabilities on the net that are for service dogs and another for companion dogs. This can be found on the ADA  (Americans with Disabilities) website.

What do you know about service dogs. Are you considering the possibility of getting one? Or, have you considered just getting a vest so you can take your dog (your pet) into stores and places you frequent? Please give that question a second thought. If you NEED a service dog, by all means, get yours trained to be one, or get a trained service dog. Legally, the dog does not require any special training or certifications but, it is just good sense and doesn’t take a lot of effort to realize that it is much safer to take a well trained animal into a public situation than it is to take an untrained one.  How much training ? First of all, it is required that your service dog is able to perform a task that is specifically to help you in your everyday needs. That being said,   I must ask you, can you absolutely swear to the fact that your dog will do a down stay, and not break no matter what happens, or who goes by? Can you give your dog a command and know that it will do as you asked no matter what else is going on? Does your dog stay focused on you at all times? Is your dog trustworthy around children and other dogs? These are the questions one must ask themselves before taking their dog out in a public place, service dog or not.

More questions? Does your dog need a certificate of training for service dog work?  NO. The dog is not required to have a certificate in the state of WA.  However, if you cannot answer yes to all the questions in the above paragraph, you should not be taking them out in public.Is a Service dog allowed on airplanes?  Yes. But give the airlines a courtesy call before your flight and explain the situation. Usually they have special seating arranged for those with service animals. Can you take your service dog shopping? Yes, but he must not approach other shoppers at any time. How about restaurants ? Yes, but he must be clean and well-mannered. He must not try to mingle with the other guests at any time. In short your service dog can go with you any where you need to go. A proprietor may ask what task the dog performs but cannot ask what your disability is.

In my opinion,  the absolute best thing to do for yourself and your dog, if he is to be used as a service dog  is,  get the vest, get your dog used to it, and  train your dog in obedience. Then have him trained as a service dog and in doing a job for you. Take him to the Good Canine Class in your area. Get whatever training and verification of training you can get on your dog. Next is to get a letter from your Doctor stating  your need for a service dog.  Finally, know, without a doubt,  that you can trust your dog, in any given circumstance, to obey your commands.

It is also a good policy is to carry a copy of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 with you at all times. (A card you can get offline, or print yourself after looking it up.)

So, if you truly need a service dog, GO for it, but if you are one of those people just looking for a way to get your dog into places by passing them off as service dogs,  again,  please re-think. People are doing this with untrained, unpredictable animals and it is making it difficult for those who need their dogs.It is giving service animals a bad name.  I myself, need my dog. She has her vest, tag,  a copy of the ADA statement and a letter from my Doctor.  I will not, however, take her out as my service dog yet, as she has not had the proper training. I cannot trust her to do all the things I have mentioned in this article. What if she inadvertently bit some one or broke away in a strange area. I don’t think it would happen but I can’t say positively that it won’t. I could be sued for anything and everything I have and more and they would probably win their case, even if they had instigated the confrontation.  Or I could lose my dog and never get her back. So, Ziva will continue her training for as long as it takes. I am training her here at home and will then place her in appropriate classes to get certificates and we will do the Good Canine Citizen Class. When I know I can trust her to follow commands effortlessly and without fail, when I know she will not break, when I know she will respond to my needs, she will then be my “Service Dog.”

If you are thinking of having a service dog, please look up more information on the internet. Please insure that you are well informed on all aspects of owning a service dog.  Make sure you are ready for the responsibility that goes with having a dog that is subjected to public confrontation. Make sure you have a dog that actually thrives in performing this job and make sure you have invested the time into your dog to insure that you and it have an unbreakable bond of trust, respect, and love. When you have established this kind of relationship with your dog, together, you will not fail you.

More information can be found under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Or call the Ada at 1-800-514-0301. The ADA is an agency of the US Department of Justice,Civil Rights Division.

Foot note: I advocate obedience training for all dogs, even if they are pets and will always remain pets. Once you have done it, you will understand.

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