Rules exist for a reason and when it comes to working dogs and the law, too many people have come to view them more as “guidelines.” Whether it’s someone who wishes they could take their dog everywhere or someone who has chosen to break the law by misrepresenting their pet as a working dog, both actions cause damage and harm to the guide and assistance dog (often referred to as working dogs) and disabled community.
From time to time, when a guide or assistance dog handler or a bona-fide instructor are out in public, they’re approached by someone with a wistful look and a story about how their dog would be “just perfect” for guide or assistance Dog work. They wish they could take their dog everywhere too, but there’s one problem: they don’t understand that the right to be accompanied by a fully-trained guide or assistance dog comes with a cascading pile of problems no sane person would ever wish upon themselves.
Most people love their dogs, and usually, when someone tells a guide or assistance dog team they meet in public that they’d like to know how to make their dog a guide or assistance dog, their likely intent isn’t malicious or meant to be hurtful.
Nonetheless, it’s a poorly thought-out aspiration. It’s similar to saying, “no offense,” before insulting someone.
This issue is far more complex than it seems on the surface, especially when it comes to able-bodied people who actually carry out their wishes by misrepresenting guide or assistance dog status with their pets. Read on to learn more about what you’re insinuating by wishing for a guide or assistance dog if you’re not disabled, how masquerading pets as guide or assistance dogs is not only extremely disrespectful, but also harmful, and some important points to consider about guide or assistance dog partnerships and the working dog community.
1) guide or assistance dog Handlers have a Disability.
guide and assistance dogs perform tasks that their disabled owners would otherwise have difficulty completing on their own. If you do not have a disability, then you do not qualify for a guide or assistance dog. Period. End of story. Full stop. There are no exceptions. By expressing a desire for a guide or assistance Dog, you’re also wishing for the accompanying disability. For a disabled person, hearing an able-bodied person openly wish for a disability (even if you don’t actually say those words) is deeply hurtful. It suggests you don’t take them or their disability seriously and furthermore, it makes light of the thousands of hours of training and socialization their partner has undergone to perform his job.
You’d never say, “Boy, I sure do wish I was blind, had a wheelchair, walker, cane, crutch, oxygen tank, or prosthetic leg to take with me everywhere!” Wishing you had a guide or assistance dog is exactly the same.
You would never approach someone with a cane and enthusiastically remark, “Nice cane! Hey, you know, I’ve got a stick at home. Do you think I could make it into a cane? I’d just LOVE to use a cane everywhere I went just like you; I really think it’d be perfect to use all the time! Come to think of it, that’s a really rad limp. I wish I had a mobility impairment that awesome. Tell me, what’s it like to fall down all the time and to always live in fear of losing your balance? I bet it’s just so epic; I can’t help but wish it were me!”
Think carefully. When was the last time you heard someone say or you’ve said any of the following, either out loud or to another person?
- “Man, I wish I were deaf!”
- “Too bad I don’t have severe balance and mobility problems!”
- “Being blind or partially sighted is SO COOL. Wish I were that way.”
- “I’d love if my blood sugar was entirely unpredictable and fluctuated
- without warning to the point of possible death. That sounds like fun!”
- “My life would be so much better if I were forced to face crushing panic
- attacks and flashbacks every time I set foot out of my front door.”
- “If I could have debilitating seizures, you’d bettered believe I would!”
Seems a little ludicrous when presented in that light, doesn’t it? Furthermore, when you consider how guide and assistance dogs are actually classified (as
disability-mitigating medical equipment), the sentiment, “I wish I could
have a guide or assistance dog!” or “How do I make my dog a guide or assistance dog so they can go everywhere with me?” becomes even more outlandish.
There’s a simple solution to this problem: say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you have questions about guide or assistance dogs or about the job guide or assistance dogs perform, ask their handlers, as long as the question isn’t, “How can I make my pet a guide or assistance dog?” or “How can I take my dog everywhere, too?” The answer to those questions, unless you’re disabled and your dog possesses the aptitude for guide or assistance dog work, is ALWAYS: You can’t.
No equipment, vest, harness, special leash, ID card, “Do Not Pet Me” patches
or anything else can make your dog a guide or assistance dog unless you’re disabled and your dog has been specifically trained by a recognized guide or assistance dog training facility. If all of that isn’t true, then it’s ILLEGAL to misrepresent your pet dog as anything other than a pet.
2) guide and assistance dog Handlers Are Frequently Greeted With Judgment.
guide and assistance dog handlers are often greeted by judgment and conflict – sometimes from the public, sometimes from friends and family, and occasionally, even from other guide or assistance dog handlers. guide and assistance dog handlers are regularly forced into confrontations concerning their canine partner’s access rights. Even though Canadian provincial legislation is very clear concerning the rights of a guide or assistance doghandler to have their dog accompany them in public, many handlers, especially in smaller towns or more rural areas, face recurrent skirmishes. From the “What’s wrong with you?” questions to, “Show me his papers,” life with a guide or assistance dog is rarely smooth. When you blithely announce, “I wish my dog were a guide/assistance dog,” let alone misrepresent guide/assistance dog status or claim your pet is a guide/Assistance Animal, you’re not only making light of the discord faced by the disabled community, but also the hassle, lack of privacy, judgment, strife – and sometimes outright hostility – that accompanies guide and assistance dog partners.
Impostoring guide or assistance dogs only contribute to this problem. Dogs exhibiting poor training, manners or behavior while marching under the “guide/assistance dog” banner cause everyone who came into contact with them to view the next team they meet, even if it’s the best certified team on Earth, with suspicion and judgment.
Under Canadian law, people have rights. Dogs do not. A guide or assistance dog without its disabled partner is just a dog.
3) guide /Assistance dog Handlers Have other significant challenges Functioning in Daily Life Without Their Dog.
Individuals with a disability who partner with a guide or assistance dog require their dog in order to gain an additional degree of independence and functioning they may not otherwise possess. Their canine partner is not merely “company” or a “companion.”
If you are not disabled and your dog does not have a fixed set of duties performed to diminish the impact of that disability, your dog is not a guide or assistance dog.
4) guide/Assistance dogs Undergo Hundreds, If Not Thousands, of Hours of Specialized Training.
Being a guide or assistance dog is hard work. It requires a specific, rare temperament, an aptitude for training, serving and learning and a degree of stability most dogs simply don’t possess. Beyond that, though, guide and assistance dogs require hundreds of hours of socialization, public access training, basic obedience training and advanced training for their task work.
Even exceptionally skilled pet dogs rarely possess the degree of training most guide and assistance dogs undergo. Claiming your pet, no matter how fabulous he may be, is a guide or assistance dog is like graduating from high school or community college and proudly waltzing around claiming you’re a medical doctor. Both sets of actions are misleading, highly illegal and fraudulent. Don’t mock a guide or assistance Dog’s hard-earned skills by misrepresenting yourself or your dog OR by making comments like, “Well, all he’d need is a vest and then I could take him everywhere, too, right?”
5) “Impostoring guide/assistance dogs Do Serious Damage to the working dog Community.
Imagine you’re sitting in a coffee shop, enjoying a good book and a hot drink when suddenly, the peace is broken by a woman and her loudly complaining dog entering the business. The noise is constant, high-pitched and without pause. The manager approaches and informs the woman that pets aren’t allowed, but she breezily waves the manager off with, “Oh, she’s a assistance dog.” The dog jumps on the counter while the lady is ordering and growls at the barista – and when she gets her table she feeds the dog part of her cookie.
After an experience like that, what will you think the next time you see someone with a guide or assistance dog? Of course, you’ll be wary and suspicious. If you’re a business owner, you may even ask the team to leave. The experience tarnished your view of guide and assistance dogs but more importantly, it may cause lasting difficulties for other teams that follow in their wake.
Additionally, that damage is massively exponential if the story becomes news. Every person who reads the story or watches the report will be affected by it. Every incident involving an “assistance dog” that’s negative casts a shadow on the entire community.
6) Distracted guide/assistance dogs Can Result in injuries to its handler.
Certified guide and assistance dogs are doing work for their handler. They’re not just hanging out. Even if it doesn’t look like they’re doing work to you, they are. If there’s a dog around who isn’t trained for public access work, they’re probably going to be a distraction.
The same goes for people who intrude on the team’s right to work and be in public without interference. If a dog is meant to be continuously scanning for their handler’s drop in blood sugar and they’re not because a poorly trained dog who shouldn’t be in public has pounced on them and the Assistance dog is struggling to perform their job as a result, it’s entirely possible the assistance dog could miss the drop in their handler’s glucose level and thereby result in a serious medical emergency. If a person is relying on their canine partner for balance and mobility support and the assistance dog is accosted by a person with an out-of-control canine impostor, the assistance dog’s handler could fall and be injured.
When/If a person fraudulently takes their pet with them as a “guide/assistance dog,” the pet dog could distract or harm a certified guide/assistance dog, which could result in injury to the certified dog’s handler. In Canada, many provinces have laws that protect both the handler and the guide or assistance dog if harm is done or the team is knowingly interfered with.
7) The Media – and Well-Intentioned People – Can Do the Most Harm.
Most people will never encounter a guide or assistance dog. However, the degree of suspicion guide and assistance dog teams face is further complicated by well-meaning – but ultimately hurtful – news, blog or social media stories that give the public the impression society is being overrun by impostoring guide and assistance dogs. The unintended effect is causing the public to be suspicious of every guide or assistance dog team they meet. While one poorly behaved animal in a restaurant can create a bad impression for 20 people, a story or social media post about the event will exponentially create a bad impression with hundreds or thousands – or millions – of people. The effect is exponential.
While people who misrepresent guide or assistance dogs are a very real problem, the only sure-fire way to easily identify impostors is by their forged identification and/or guide or assistance dog’s unacceptable behavior . When it comes to impostoring guide or assistance dogs, actions speak louder than words. Guide or assistance dog handlers are generally taken at their word. This allows individuals of questionable ethics to skirt the law. However, if the integrity of the dog is in question, service providers are permitted under Canadian law to request identification for the dog. But telling them apart from legit guide or assistance dog teams is simple. Real guide and assistance dog manners, behavior and training cannot be emmulated.
Think twice before making blanket statements about an impostoring guide or assistance dog. While you’re trying to help, you may actually be doing more damage than you think.
1. Impostoring guide or assistance dogs can often be identified by their lack of manners, obvious lack of training and ill behavior. If a “guide/assistance dog” is interrupting the daily operations of a business with its behavior, it’s a danger to anyone or its conduct is NOT conduct acceptable of a guide or assistance dog (i.e. barking, growling, stealing food from other clients, knocking people over, jumping, or many other behaviors ), by law, the service provider has every right to ask the person to remove the dog from the premises, “guide/assistance dog” or not.
2. There are many different types of disabilities, and there are many different types of assistance dogs. You can’t determine if a guide or assistance dog is “real” based on sight alone. Guide or assistance dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds. The only indicator that team may be “legit” is the dog’s behavior. guide and assistance dogs are well-trained, well-mannered, calm, unobtrusive and handler focused.
As a result of society appointing themselves as the “guide dog police” and the media’s sweeping statements concerning the guide and assistance dog community, all working dog handlers, especially those with invisible disabilities such as hearing loss, diabetes, PTSD or a seizure disorder, face a sense of distrust from bystanders, service providers and the public that is sometimes palatable. Handlers frequently face silent stares, pointed digs or inquiries, outright invasion of privacy and many other difficulties.
You know that feeling you get when you walk in a room, it goes quiet and you feel like everyone is staring at you? Well, for many disabled handlers with guide or assistance dogs, that’s an everyday reality. Imagine encountering this almost everywhere you go. Please do not make light of the requirements and difficulties of guide or assistance dog partnerships, because when you do, this is the contribution you’re making:
As more people learn that assistance dogs can help with a wide range of disabilities, both visible and invisible, the numbers of guide and assistance dogs will rise. Under the law, two things mark a dog as a guide dog:
a) Being specially trained to perform specific tasks or work that a disabled
handler would otherwise have difficulty completing; and
b) Partnership with an individual who has a disability.
“If you can, help others. If you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.”
The message here is simple:
Don’t misrepresent guide or assistance dog status.
Don’t make light of a disabled individual’s history or circumstances.
Don’t make a mockery of the work that goes into shaping a guide or assistance dog.
Don’t make universal judgments or statements
Think before you act or speak, and the working dog community will be a better place.
Anything Pawsible’s goal in sharing this article wasn’t to point any fingers, name names or do anything except provide a reality check to those who consider misrepresenting guide or assistance Dog status with their pets to be acceptable. It’s not. Period. “Taking your dog with you everywhere” carries a lot of weight, responsibility and repercussions. Wishing for it nonchalantly or with a casual attitude not only makes light of people with disabilities everywhere, but also demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding concerning the realities of life with a certified working dog. anything Pawsible recognizes this article is likely to offend some people and if you’re one of them, you probably shouldn’t be claiming your pet is a guide or assistance dog. If you’re one of those who likes to longingly wish you had a working dog and share that desire with every guide or assistance dog team you meet, please recognize that behavior can be hurtful. Their only wish for you is that you think about both what you’re saying with words and what you’re implying with the statement.