Right now, I have a lovely black German Shepherd guide dog that I trained for a blind woman 4 years ago. She is back to me to help her stop barking at other dogs. Why does she bark at other dogs? She was attacked by a pit bull in a grocery store about a year ago and now her blind owner can’t use her anymore. This isn’t a comment about pit bulls, it’s a tragic tale of how a fake service dog can destroy another, fully trained service dog in a flash of a second.
Each dog was standing in two separate grocery store checkout lines, the pit bull lunged at Onyx (the dog I am working with) and pinned her to the ground while her blind owner stood stunned and not knowing how to cope.
If this other dog had been screened carefully, and trained properly, there would have been no issues between it and the dog I am working with. I can say with utmost confidence that this dog was a pet someone put a vest on and pranced around as a service dog so they could take it into the grocery store on a hot Reno day. A fully trained dog with proper service dog temperament would never have acted in such a manner.
The guide skills Onyx has are remarkable. I took her out of my van for our first training together in 4 years. I said, “Left,” and she immediately turned left away from the van and then stopped at the street behind the van. She looked both ways, and then guided me across the street through a double row of parked cars. Then she stopped me at another street, going the opposite direction. She looked both ways and proceeded across that street through more parked cars to the curb where she indicated the curb to step up on so I wouldn’t trip. Her skills are astonishing and accurate. Anyone could walk behind her with their eyes blindfolded.
Onyx guided me through the Ketchum Farmer’s Market, never taking me too close to any table. She didn’t sniff the food, or look for food on the ground, even when I had her stop. She walked around kids, coolers on the ground, people standing while guiding me safely.
Then a sweet little mix breed on a leash appeared and Onyx barked and shook uncontrollably. I tried to refocus her with no luck. Eventually, she calmed down and was able to pass 3 other dogs without incident, but I was careful not to take her too close to them. She could see them, however.
Yesterday, we went into PetSmart. At the first dog, Onyx barked and tried to jump on me desperately asking me for help and to remove her. I didn’t ask her to guide anymore, gave her lots of praise for focusing on me and ignoring the other dogs. We left as quickly as I could. The staff noticed how nervous Onyx was and came to talk to me. I told them what had happened to her and they were so lovely by asking a few of the other dog owners to wait for us to leave the store instead of walking by.
The work to get Onyx through this fear will be enormous and frankly I am not sure I can change her mind about other dogs while she is in harness working. She gets along fine with my dogs when not working.
I wanted to share this story with everyone, especially those that think faking a service dog harms no one. It is devastating to someone whose dog has been through 300 to 400 hours of training and relies on his or her service dog for life-saving independence. For Onyx’ owner, it may be a huge financial and emotional loss. Shame on anyone who thinks faking their pet or poorly trained dog as a service dog hurts no one.
Copyright Fran Jewell, October 2018