I posted this a month ago, but had some technical problems with the photos. Having resolved those, I’m ready to try again. Thank you for yoru patience. In gratitude, next week next week I’m going to share with you my mom’s Magic Tea recipe. Is it possible to do a cooking blog post without a dozen photos and a mundane anecdote?
Original Post Date: 6/6/2022
Today is the 4th installment on that lengthy old post I’ve been splitting up for you. Instead of going through concept by concept, though, I thought I’d share a series of tips I’ve concocted from a combination of advice from TSE trainers and personal experience.
The Seeing Eye tries to provide training for the widest variety of the most common places their dogs and graduates are likely to find themselves. They work throughout Morristown, have a couple of rows of old airline seats and a small gym set up in the basement, and have their dining room set up like a restaurant. Each of the dorm rooms includes a desk with space for doggy to curl up next to or beneath it.
Training includes a bus trip, a train trip, metal detectors and revolving doors, and pet stores. This covers commuting in most environments, a typical office environment, air travel, shopping, and civic business. But what about dentist offices or pools, beaches, country roads, yoga classes, hiking, boating, performing on stage or busquing or playing gigs at coffee houses? What about going to the movies, or a college cafeteria?
There’s no way to fit all of even the most common life experiences into three or four weeks’ worth of training, in addition to all the behavioral and coordination training, canine healthcare and psychology lectures, and time for dogs and humans to catch their breaths. Students are encouraged to ask each other and the trainers about their unique experiences and how to fit dogs into them. Sometimes trainers can arrange special outings for one or more students, such as to places of worship or other common destinations, too.
So, I asked questions, and I’ve lived a little, myself. Here are some guidelines I’ve learned for stowing service dogs in strange places.
1. If I sits, She Fits
Seeing Eye dogs are trained to view the space beneath raised surfaces as perfect hidy-holes. When they see a bench, chair, table or pew, they dive down and curl up. Noses, paws, and tails disappear into a place of safety where they can’t be tripped over or stepped upon while their partners conduct the strange business of human existence.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked out of a restaurant or de-planed only to hear people loudly whispering to each other “oh my gosh, I didn’t even know there was a dog here!” Because both Prada and Greta followed their cave-dwelling instincts and fell asleep beneath my chair.
Incidentally, on my flight home last week I got to be on the other end of this experience. As my friends and I slid out of our row to deplane, one of them noticed that there had been a large black dog on the plane, in the row directly in front of us, with no one the wiser! We later learned his name was Bentley, and he was trained to some rather deft leash maneuvers, but did not inquire about his specific job.
There are some tricks to this, though. Dogs may hesitate to crawl under chairs or benches with support bars beneath them. Those aren’t comfortable to sleep on. Restaurant tables with booths tend to be more comfortable, too, because the dogs can fit under the benches, and if not that then the tables rarely have central legs that take up the dog’s space.
My friends and I often joke that Seeing EYe dogs are semi-liquid because they can curl up in such tiny balls, then slowly ooze outward to fill any space not taken up by my feet.
This strategy doesn’t work quite as well for bleachers at sports’ fields, but the larger fields often have wheel-chair accessible spaces that will accommodate a dog just fine. Just make sure to reserve or at least ask about the space ahead of time.
2. Bring back the hitching post
In the olden days when people rode horses or drove horse-drawn vehicles instead of cars businesses and government buildings would provide convenient places to tie up the animals. Riders and drivers knew how to loop the reins over these posts in such a way that if the animal were to be startled and pull free, they could safely escape. But in general, the animals had water and sometimes hay provided, so there wasn’t much incentive to go anywhere.
This works for dogs, too. I’ve taken dogs to tai chi classes, pools, and greenrooms and left them perfectly content safely leashed to a stable object, with water or a chew-toy provided for longer stays. Safety is important when restraining an animal of any kind, of course, so here’s how TSE recommends tying down a dog.
There are two rings on a choke-collar. The one used to tighten or loosen it is called the live ring. This is what the leash is usually clipped to in order to allow the handler to make Leash corrections. The stable ring is called the dead ring. When tying down a dog, move the leash’s snap-hook to this ring so that the dog can’t hurt itself when restrained.
A leash clipped to the live ring of a choke collar.
The leash has been moved to the dead ring on the choke collar.
I usually leave my dog with a bone or antler to chew, a mat to sleep on if the floor’s particularly hard or cold, and sometimes water if I know I’ll be busy for a couple of hours. Prada was very patient in the greenroom during several performances at college, and she flirted in vain with very respectful life-guards while I swam laps nearby. She only violated her tie-down once during an acting class in college. I portrayed a character very emotionally distraught, and Prada dragged the metal chair I’d leashed her to across the room to console me. I must have done a good job faking it!
3. It’s ok to leave her home sometimes.
When I first got a service dog I was so terrified of fracturing our bond that the idea of leaving her unattended for more than three hours stressed me out. TSE put a lot of emphasis on taking the dog everywhere. The whole point of access laws is to be able to take the dog everywhere! But you know what? Some places just don’t work for dogs, and it’s ok to say that. Dogs are great partners, valuable tools. But not every tool can do every job.
I don’t take dogs to fireworks shows. I don’t take myself to fireworks shows, either. But the point is that none of my dogs have appreciated the loud, unexplained noises. I also don’t take them to martial arts classes that involve sparring. Play-fighting is a very natural activity for dogs, and it stresses them out to feel they’re excluded from this fun pack activity.
I’ve taken my dogs camping, fishing (in a boat and off a bridge), to fairs and festivals, exotic restaurants, beaches, aquariums, and all kinds of unusual places. I assume it’s possible until proven otherwise, but just because something is possible doesn’t mean it should be done. Greta flirted harmlessly with a sea lion at the Seattle Aquarium, but putting her and, say, a tiger at a zoo under the stress of seeing each other from either side of an enclosure fence just wouldn’t be kind. There’s training, there’s training that overrides instinct, and then there’s survival instinct.
There are some places that aren’t suited to dogs, and there are tasks dogs aren’t suited for. And as the necessity of life has taught me, a dog-handler bond formed and maintained over a lifetime can survive separations of several days, even weeks. Good things in life are rarely as fragile as our fears of failure would have us believe.
Today your favorite blindfluencer dares you to assume a challenge you face is possible until proven otherwise.