I've encountered numerous questions in my few months of living with a service dog. Some people understand one aspect or another of what Jaba does for me. Many have never seen or heard of a service dog. So I've decided to give a little summary of what a service dog is and what Jaba does for me.
First off, let me tell what a service dog is not. A service dog is not the same as a guide dog. Guide dogs are typically for the visually impaired person. They aid a person in safely navigating out in public and around the home. Service dogs from the organization where I got Jaba are not mobility dogs. The service dogs are not trained to help someone walk by providing stability, though many other organizations do train dogs to help in mobility. These service dogs do, however, pull their handlers for short distances if necessary. Service dogs are not protecting dogs. They are bred to be very docile and friendly. This enables them to calmly enter any environment the handler is in. Service dogs are not your average house pet. Although they do get time to be dogs where they aren't working, their lives are primarily to serve their handler in order to allow the person to live as independently as possible. Their handler is responsible for caring for the dog and maintaining the health and training of the dog. Even when not working, there are rules of conduct for the dog. For the safety of the dog, I have to monitor the types of toys he plays with and the environment in which he plays. He is not allowed off-leash unless he is in an enclosed area where there are no dangers. But he does get time to run around and play. And it's fun to see how different he is when he knows he can play. He is a young, energetic dog. He loves to run around. And, yet, he settles down and is immediately ready to work when told play time is over.
So what does Jaba do for me? He picks things up and carries items. Jaba can pick up papers and even dimes. He can turn lights on and off. Opening and closing doors, drawers and closets is also in his job description. When out in the community shopping, he helps with transactions that need to be done. He can take money, including coins, put his front paws on the counter, give the money to the store worker, and then get the change and/or receipt. As mentioned earlier, he pulls me for short distances when I need it. Many of the commands Jaba knows help me get from one point to another. He can go out in front of me, get behind me, or go on either side of my wheelchair. Jaba also backs straight up. He can jump up on objects. He will get under objects such as tables, chairs, or benches. The object of having the dog is to make life easier for the handler. So, dogs eat and toilet on command. Dogs are not to bark or whine or make any noise, unless directed to bark. This is a command as a safety feature. If something happens and I'm unable to get to a phone to call for help, Jaba will bark and alert people that I need help. Of course, a big part of having a dog is the companionship. Dogs are great ice-breakers. People are naturally drawn to dogs and it is a great way for someone who may not get much social interaction to be accepted in communities. People are constantly coming up to me and asking questions or telling me stories of dogs they know that look like Jaba. And it's great security knowing I'm not alone.
Now that I've explained what I expect from my dog, let me explain what I ask of you, the public. Jaba is a working dog. His job is to help me go about my daily life. In order to do this job effectively, he needs to be able to focus on me. That is why there is a hands-off policy. Being pet by people walking by is really distracting. And it's disruptive if I'm trying to get him to do something for me. And since we're still getting use to each other, it is critical that he pays full attention to me and learns that he needs to be focused at all times, no matter what is happening around him. It would help us if you let us do our jobs of working together. I do welcome questions, though, so when you do approach us, try not to ooh and aah over Jaba. I know that's easier said than done. Even I have to be less affectionate with Jaba in public than I am at home. He gets really excited with attention and it will distract him, so I have to scale back on my praise for a job well-done. I can't get as excited as I would like. If possible, ignore the dog. He is basically just a resource for me to have more independence. As such, it is his job to do tasks that help me. It is his job now to pick up items for me. If the object is too big or heavy for him, I will still need assistance, but not unless I ask for help. When he's not needed, he is suppose to be as out-of-the-way as he can. And even when it looks like Jaba may be laying down on the job or sleeping, he is actually working and waiting for me to give the next command. The great thing about these dogs is that they love to work. There may be times when I will allow some interaction, but they will be few and far between. Thank you for your understanding.
I would love to answer any questions I didn't cover in this post.