Our ASDA service dog is named Trace. We took our first vacation as a family after we had welcomed him home five months prior. We checked in with the Director of Training and Placement, Kati Wolfe multiple times before we went as we were flying with him for the first time and wanted to cover all our bases. We checked on the requirements for the state that we were flying to, looked at airport maps to know where we could offer him a potty break, and triple checked the policy of the airline. We packed everything we could think of that we would need for him. Food: check! Vest: check! Leash: Check! Booties: check! Treats: check! We thought we had all our bases covered. Our destination had lots of wild chickens, so we exposed him to chickens for a couple of weeks before we left.
Our second night after we arrived, we went out to dinner and everything went perfectly. We met up with friends, who just ignored him like they were supposed to so he could focus on working. Trace stayed tucked away under the table, and no one really knew he was there. He sat by his boy and kept him calm and we actually had a nice, long leisurely dinner. It was AMAZING! One of us did not have to bolt with one of the children or go walk them around outside while everyone else ate. We were able to have a nice family dinner together on vacation with friends just like everyone else in the world. It was magical!
After dinner was a different story. While we walked around the courtyard and looked at little shops, we got quite a few people saying “beautiful dog!” or “AWWW!”. We would just say “thank you!” or smile and walk on. It was slightly annoying, but not a big deal.
Then a woman walked up to us. “What is his name?” she asked. “Trace” I responded. “I am a veterinarian and I HAVE A SERVICE DOG TOO!” She exclaimed as she dropped to her knees and started petting Trace. Trace did what most service dogs would do when someone comes into their bubble at ground level; he forgot he was in-pack (service dog vest) and soaked up the love and forgot about his boy. Meanwhile my son was becoming upset, and I was trying to disentangle the two lovebirds, while my 7-year-old daughter kept saying “She should not be touching him!”. The woman appeared to have been drinking and her teenage daughter who was clearly horrified was trying to get her mother to come away. Once the teen daughter was able to get her mother to let go, I simply had to say “Trace, let’s go!” and offer a treat as he turned away and he was back in “service dog mode” and able to recover. My son was not able to recover as quickly and was very agitated but luckily did not go into a full meltdown and elope. The whole thing was only a few minutes, but felt like forever and took a lot out of all of us.
We have noticed while we are out and about that people just can’t resist treating our service dog like a pet. Adults will talk to our dog in a high “baby” voice, put out their arms like an air hug, beckon him, and ask his name. I even had a man touch Trace repeatedly as I waited in line at the butcher shop. I have made the mistake of telling someone his name, then they say his name over and over and over, taking his focus off of his handler and creating an unsafe situation.
I stumbled on a solution. People almost always ask “What is his name?!”. One day I was in the grocery store and I needed something that a woman was standing in front of. I hung back and waited politely. She turned, noticed Trace and said “oh! What is his name?! I just love goldens!” To which I replied “Aristotle”. She began talking in a high baby-type voice to Trace saying “Aristotle! What a love you are! I used to have a dog like you Aristotle! I just love your feathers Aristotle!” Well, Trace just looked at her, then looked away. The woman said “Wow, Aristotle, you are such a serious guy!” To which I replied, “He is always serious when he is working”. It finally dawned on her that she was not supposed to be distracting a service dog (with several “DO NOT DISTRACT” patches on his pack). She said “Oh goodness I am sorry” and went on her way. It was brilliant. It did not distract Trace unduly, and the woman got a message in a kind yet firm way.
What about if your child will be bringing their service dog to school? The dog will very much be a part of the class and student body. Once again, I turned to Katie Wolfe, the Director of Training and Placement. Her suggestion? Give the kids something to do and say! She suggests letting children know that they can say “Hi!”. A little wave is okay too. That way they don’t have to work so hard to resist the urge to engage as they are still developing their impulse control, and there is minimum distraction for the dog. Minimum distraction equals MAXIMUM safety.
It’s funny because you would think children would have a hard time resisting the urge to engage a service dog, but adults are MUCH worse. Since receiving Trace I reached out to other people who have service dogs, and found out that many people choose a fake name for their service dog for this purpose. This may not be the right solution for everyone, but it works for us. Some folks I know simply walk away or ignore people, which is a very tidy way to get the point across as well. Either way, it’s wonderful to be able to be out and about doing activities that we could not do before.
Now our family has a solution that works for us and helps control and teach the untrained humans in the world. It’s also fun coming up with new creative “names” for Trace.