So, there is this stigma in the service dog community. One that everybody's service dog must be perfect 100% of the time. And if you admit to a flaw in your handling abilities or your service dog, you are typically eaten alive on the internet. But, it is foolish to think that every service dog is perfect every minute of the day. It's also foolish to think that every handler is perfect every minute of the day.
However, it is important when you have slip-ups you recognize them as a service dog handler and take steps to correct them.
What would make me a bad handler would be if Owen and I had a problem and I didn't take steps to correct it.
So what's our big dark secret?
Owen seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to ignore food on the floor.
In fact, at times he thinks I'm not paying attention (even though the leash is wrapped around my body) and he will swoop down to try and grab food on the floor. *cringe*
And I know this is completely my fault.
When we went through team training I was told that I needed to practice "leave it" at least every few days. I have not been doing this with any sort of consistency.
We practiced once this week (and it was obvious that Owen hadn't done it in a while), but before that? I couldn't tell you with any certainty when the last time we did this was.
I have also been very lax with Owen when he is off duty. My whole life our family dogs have eaten food that falls to the floor when cooking. So, when Owen started doing that I didn't think anything of it.
But now, Owen can be extremely pushy when I am eating meals at home, and I have to be vigilant when we are out in public making sure Owen ignores food on the floor.
If he knows I am paying attention, he is on his best behavior. But, if he thinks I'm not paying attention to him, he will try and steal whatever is on the floor even if I get him in trouble.
It's not fair to Owen that I've let him get lax on his training. It's not fair to Owen that because I got lazy with his training that he is now getting in trouble out in public for doing the same things I let him get away with at home.
When we work with kids, we say that you have to decide if what you are about to do is worth going to war over.
This is something that I am going to war over.
Starting tomorrow, Owen and I are going back to "leave-it" bootcamp. I am going to do all the things I am supposed to. Owen is not going to be allowed to eat anything off the floor, on- or off-duty. He will not have any people food, at all. And we will work on this every day until he is 100% consistent with it. (And once he is consistent with it, I will continue to practice so that he maintains his good manners.)
I also want to teach Owen a "watch me" command. This is not a task, it has nothing to do with my disability, but I want him to "watch me" (look up at me) when asked. This is the behavior he is supposed to do when we are practicing leave-it (he only gets treated when he makes eye contact with me), but I want to encourage it elsewhere. Owen is great about checking in when we are working, but I want to be able to get his attention at other times too (especially when he is a little spacy).
We are also going to start really practicing all of his tasks for about 20 minutes a day.
Having a service dog is a serious balancing act. I can't just keep living the same life I lived four months ago. I've gotten good about going on long walks 3-4 times a week (although Owen is still sleeping in his kennel - I think we both sleep better with this arrangement), and now I'm going to have to be just as regimented about incorporating training into our daily routines.
Owen and I are still learning, there are moments he still acts like a complete goof and there are times where I forget my job too. The first three months of our partnership were about keeping our heads above water, about remembering everything I needed to when we went out and about being a good steward out in public. For these next three months I intend to focus on Owen's training and not letting me or him get lazy.