Skip to main content

Square peg, round hole: not every dog is a service dog

I recently had a customer struggling with her service dog on the other side of the counter from where I stood.  She was a shopper at the retail store where I work. 

"Get down!" she barked impatiently, a note of desperation in her voice.  "Sit!"  "Be still!"

I felt for the dog, a large black labrador retriever, and wondered whether impatience and inconsistency on the part of his handler was perhaps a cause rather than an effect of the dog's failure to satisfy her service needs.  I inquired--gently enough, I hope--where she had gotten him and whether she had received adequate support.

"Oh yes," they were plenty helpful, she said.  Then she blossomed with praise for him.

"He's been a wonderful dog."  He just wants to play and that's why he can be hard to handle sometimes, she said.

Then she said, "He was already taken back to them once, but I'm not going to give up on him."

Giving up on someone is one thing.  Trying to force them to be something they're not is another.  How many times have we tried to manipulate someone into acting a role that's not right for them?  How many times have we done that to ourselves?

We need plumbers as well as doctors.  We need janitors as well as accountants.  We need outspoken, opinionated people as well as quiet, cooperative ones.  And we need friends as well as lovers.

For a service dog provider or recipient either one to force a dog into that role is wrong.  Get another dog, and let this one go play with the kids.


  • Melissa Mitchell 5 years ago

    Thank you for this common sense article in defense of wonderful dogs that just aren't cut out for the demands of life as an outside home service dog.
    Thanks from me and my service dogs.

  • Eve Alexander - Clicker Training Examiner 5 years ago

    Wow! I admire your tact!

    I agree with you and Melissa - no animal should be forced to do things that are not a good fit with their aptitudes. Unfortunately, the investment to purchase and train a service dog has put the owner and service dog providers into a situation where this poor dog is forced to perform a role that isn't suitable for his personality, and put the service dog owner in a frustrating, perhaps even dangerous, position.

    For another take on service animals, you can read my articles about Mona Ramouni and her guide horse!

  • Yes 5 years ago

    That is true, although the problem also could be lack of exercise for the dog. If the dog has no outlet, he's not going to be able to behave properly. If this woman has mobility issues, it is harder to give the dog exercise (especially if she doesn't have a fenced/secure yard for him). If she doesn't have mobility issues, she really needs to get him out for walks/jogs/runs on a loose leash (or romp in the yard, if she has one).

    She should also make sure he is getting the appropriate type of food for his level of exercise and work as well as body size.

    And, of course, some handlers just are horrible at keeping up a dog's training; they need a "Supernanny" for dogs to come teach them how to discipline the dog correctly and issue commands correctly and praise the dog correctly.

    There are, of course, also some bad apple service dog schools out there - some are scams and some just don't train the dogs well enough. Many possible reasons for a "Service Dog Gone Wild".