Assistance Dogs: Ability Dogs Canada to Launch Education Campaign on Interacting with Working Dogs

Service dogs are a great resource for helping people with mental health, anxiety or mobility issues, but people who use them are concerned, saying the public should be told how to respond when he meets one.

Shawn Floyd has had his service dog, Honey, since she was a puppy. Now fully trained by Ability Dogs Canada, she helps him cope with PTSD suffered after a career in law enforcement.

“She’s been fully certified for over a year. She’s really helped me get into big groups and I can direct my focus when things get tense and anxious,” Floyd said.

“At home, she’s company. When I start to worry, she lies next to me or I feel her right next to me as some kind of comforter.”

But Floyd says he has experienced troubling situations in public places with his service dog.

“Unfortunately my dog ​​has become a bit of a beacon when I go out in public,” he said. “People came into my space, very close, and started asking why I had the dog or what the dog was for. I don’t even know that person!”

Floyd says he even had people attempt to pet or feed Honey, causing more stress and anxiety in the situation.

“It became, unfortunately for me, very frustrating at times where I felt like I didn’t want to bring my dog ​​into the store or some place because I didn’t want that attention,” he added.

Shawn Floyd and his service dog, Honey, cross the aisle of a store. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

Samantha Cooper is the founder of Ability Dogs Canada, an organization that trains service dogs, and says she has received calls from handlers in the same situation.

“Somebody came over and said, ‘Oh, I know I’m not supposed to pet the dog,’ and then they started reaching out,” Cooper said. “What’s happening is, especially my people with PTSD, they’re freezing and they’re stuck in the store. Two people, I had to go and help them out of the store because they’re stuck. “

That’s why she’s launching an education campaign, reminding people how to react when they see an assistance dog at work.

“My goal is to help educate when you see a team, what’s appropriate and what’s not,” she added.

Cooper says a handler can use a service dog for many reasons and the dogs are trained specifically for that person.

“They don’t want attention, and sometimes they experience dissociation or flashbacks while they’re away and we teach dogs to nudge them to help them through that,” she said.

“When the dog is distracted, sometimes the dog doesn’t understand that the person is going into one of these episodes, so that creates a problem,” Cooper added. “Even though they love animals and their intentions are completely positive, they affect the person who needs the dog.”

Cooper says it’s important to remind people that when dogs are wearing their vests, they’re working, and not to disturb them to make their handlers feel more comfortable.

Samantha Cooper, left, and Shawn Floyd discuss Ability Dogs Canada’s service dog education campaign. These dogs are called Shanka, Coby and Honey. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

“You’re not going to walk up to someone in a wheelchair and start talking about their wheelchair,” Cooper said. “The person comes first. Just interact with them, smile at them, say hello, have a nice day, whatever you would do to anyone.”

Floyd agrees and hopes the message sticks and spreads across the country.

“I don’t mind someone saying, ‘You have a nice dog,’ but at the same time I’d rather they could enjoy watching the dog, just keep walking without trying to talk to me,” did he declare.

“It’s not that I bring my service dog into a situation for fun, she’s there for a purpose for me,” Floyd said. “If people can be aware of that, leave the animal alone and let the person with the service animal go about their business, that would make things so much better, not just for me, but I’m sure for others. others with a service animal.”

About Marilyn Perkins

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