My Service Dog, Jade

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Service Dog Training Class with a Pit Bull??

As I've said before, Jade and I are still attending service dog training classes every week, although we're almost done with the classes. Soon it will be field training only for some weeks before we achieve final certification. We are currently doing field work between classes, with a great field trainer, who really appreciates how quickly Jade is moving along.  
The last class we attended brought up a major issue for me.  Our trainer (no names will be used here) is currently fostering a pit bull, which she sometimes brings to class.  I don't like it, but I deal with it, because I trust that a professional trainer is going to be responsible as a dog owner.  She usually just has her pit bull tethered on the other side of the warehouse-looking training room, and it lays quietly under a table, while she conducts our class on the other side of the room.  I don't like it, as I said, being in the same room, but since it's such a big room, the pit is on the other side of the room away from us, is just lying down and usually sleeping, and because it's securely tethered, I deal with it.  However, during our last class session, the trainer was helping us to maintain our dog's attention completely while there are distractions going on all around us.  This might sound easy, but it's a very difficult task for dog and handler.  It needs to be practiced over and over again until both handler and dog achieve it.  It's something that is extremely necessary for service dog teams to achieve, as there will almost always be distractions when you and your dog are out in public. Your service dog NEEDS to learn NOT to be distracted and to keep its attention focused on the handler.  You can see why, no doubt.  So to practice it, the trainer and volunteers in the class provide a lot of distractions while me and Jade try to maintain total attention on one another.  Being a human, I do this MUCH better than my dog, but she's getting much better at it.  We've learned, through our training, that Jade keeps her attention on me much better when the distraction is human.  When there's another dog distraction, such as a dog walking by,  an off-leash dog, etc, she has difficulty maintaining her attention on me.  This makes a lot of sense for a dog.  Although, to be honest, it's rare that when we are out, we see many other dogs, as we are usually in a place where pet dogs are not allowed, and we really don't run into many other service dog teams.  It does happen though. Jade, having been attacked by a pit bull in the past, tends to become defensive if another dog gets too close to her, which in the service dog world can be troublesome.  So the trainer wanted to practice this exercise.  This, I understand completely and am very willing to participate. However, the trainer used her pit bull for this exercise.  She put it on a leash and attempted to walk it, which was impossible.  This pit bull, as many others, acted as though it had never been on a leash before.  It was pulling toward Jade, and staring her down, and the trainer seemed to have some serious difficulty holding that leash.  She's not a big woman.  Needless to say, had that leash broken, or had she slipped and fell letting go of that leash, the consequences would've been catastrophic! I couldn't really focus on the exercise, although Jade did great! She looked at the dog when I told her to, and then right back to me.  She focused on me and my cues and accepted her commands.  Impressive!!! I, on the other hand, was a sweaty mess! I should've said something immediately about how uncomfortable and frankly, how afraid, I was, but when I get that anxious and afraid, I tend to say nothing because if I do, it doesn't come out right.  I don't know if anybody can relate to that.  The exercise was soon over and I tried to relax again and finished out the class.  
As the days went by and I thought more and more about this experience and what COULD HAVE happened to me and/or my priceless service dog (and pet), I became more and more upset about this.  I asked some cherished friends advice on how to proceed and decided to talk to the trainer about how I feel. Being the chicken I am, I sent her an email instead of calling her, as I was not looking forward to her response. I pretty much associate any pit bull owner as a zealot nutter who will defend the breed at any cost.  As most of them will do.  I wrote the email, and waited.  About 30-45 minutes later, my phone rang.  It was her.  She said that she wanted to call and talk to me.  She wanted me to understand that this program is for me and my dog and that I should NEVER, EVER worry about offending her.  I have to say that I was very surprised at her response.  Pleasantly surprised.  She said, "Pit bulls are bully breed dogs and they're not like other dogs...their body language is very difficult for people and other dogs to read....a lot of people don't feel comfortable with pit bulls, you're not the only one." She said that she totally understood how I feel and would not ask me to be in that position if I am uncomfortable with it.  I am! She said that if I ever feel uncomfortable, I could tell her at any time and should never worry about offending her; even if I say it in an angry voice, she would understand and comply.  I was pleasantly surprised at her stating that pit bulls are NOT like any other dog, which is what almost EVERY single pit bull owner is trying to pass off as truth.  You can see that for yourself on some of the comments on the pit bull attacks I've posted on the "Service Dog Dangers" page.  See for yourself what the pit bull owners say about those dogs. I urge you to look into it.  I'm very pleased that my trainer, although she likes pit bulls, is a professional trainer, who understands that the program is for me and my dog, and not for the purpose of pushing her own agenda.  Thank you, trainer!