Not All Dogs Are Career Dogs

Koala, a black Labrador, wears her guide harness.The post about Ida last week and some conversations with a local service dog trainer got me thinking about the many reasons that dogs don’t succeed in a career as a service or guide dog.

For Ida, the issue was anxiety; she was uncomfortable with unpredictable sounds, with airplane travel, and possibly with other unavoidable features of life as a working dog.

Why else might a dog bred or selected for training as a guide or service dog be released?

For many puppies, and even adults or working dogs, leaving the field is the result of a health issue. Alberta retired 7 years ago after losing an eye to a benign tumor.

For others, it’s temperament. They are too nervous to work safely in public spaces, for example. I’ve known dogs with top-notch skills who simply couldn’t function in a busy public place where pets aren’t expected to be, like a grocery store or a restaurant, or even a busy park.

They may be uncomfortable around unfamiliar dogs; Deni has encountered untrained “service” or “support” dogs in airports and other public spaces who growled or lunged at her working dog. These dogs are too scared and reactive to be safe working in public.

Some dogs have specific fears, like dogs who are afraid of thunder, that mean they cannot focus on their work.

Sometimes, the problem is behavioral: A dog who is so obsessed with food or distracted by squirrels or tennis balls, for example, that she cannot focus on her work will be released.

Working dogs need to be calm under all circumstances, keep working even when they are tired, and not react to other dogs, cats, small (or adult) humans who invade their space and touch them or repeatedly call their names. They need to be flexible and resilient and able to regroup, change direction, and keep their handlers safe.

Working as a guide or service dog asks a lot of a dog and exposes the dog to many things pet dogs never have to worry about. It’s not surprising that many dogs who begin the training don’t complete it. Or, like Ida, once they see what the job is like, they quickly realize that they are overwhelmed.

I am glad I met Ida. She’s a sweet, smart girl. I’m also happy for her that she will have the kind of life she needs and deserves.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.