“Oh, how cute, look at that face! Sooo adooorable.” For the disabled who use small service dogs, these endearments are unfortunately not met with the appreciative responses one might expect from a small dog owner. To a Service Dog owner their small and often ‘height-challenged’ wee ones are far from being “just another pretty face.”
A 9-pound Papillion, you may say with reserve and incredulity, is not a breed that can handle the job of a traditional Assistance or Service Dog. Hold on – that’s exactly where the public’s lack of knowledge can stop that small breed Service Dog – before it can get anywhere near the front door of many establishments.
Any Service Dog’s job is more than ‘just a job’ it’s breaking that job down into tasks that the dog can perform. Many tasks are layered by giving consecutive cues to complete the task.
For retrieval it may involve several steps to complete the task and can go as follows:
2) Get It
5) Give (or) Drop
As was a prior experience for Debi Davis, a double leg amputee who uses a power wheelchair for mobility and lives in Las Vegas with her husband and current small breed Service Dog, Cooper.
“Rolling through the front door, I spotted the manager heading toward us, to let me know we were not welcomed in his restaurant. I smiled as he approached me and my Papillion, Peek, in a sit position next to my wheel chair.”
In no mood for a confrontation, Davis waited until the manager was almost to her, and then noisily dropped her keys. “Oops!” Debi said, using one of her secret cue words for her dog to get the object. Her dog immediately responded, picked up the keys, assumed a “paws up” position with his front paws on the edge of her wheel chair, and held the keys in his mouth until she was ready to take them.
In this task-demo display, Davis was hoping for a positive outcome:
Task = Success = Entrance = Acceptance
Before the manager could speak, Davis continued with her people training, “This little dog also makes my bed and does the laundry. I don’t know what I’d do without him.” It was worth the two years of training, Davis said, to get her former Service Dog Peek, to his skill level.
The manager remained mute and a bit stunned to learn this fluff ball was a service dog, capable of performing a task in spite of his non-traditional appearance. Like many business owners, this man had no-doubt never seen a legitimate Service Dog, so small.
“Here, watch how he’ll get my cell phone!” Davis announced, with a twinkle in her eye, as the manager escorted them to their table; another convert to the world of small Service Dogs.
Small Service Dogs are the exception rather than the rule – or are they?
Many small Service Dogs and their owners tend to stay away from the public spotlight, unlike Debi Davis, who makes it her mission to educate the public rather than go on the defensive, or even worse, into isolation, as some small Service Dog owners tend to do for fear of altercations and out-right rejection.
Lately with the media coverage of “fake,” poorly-trained or insufficiently-trained Service Dogs it has made it even more difficult for the small Service Dog owner, who has to perform, if you will, twice as hard to get an accepting audience and admission into restaurants and on public transit.
Also, the public is used to seeing large breeds doing service dog work, but a small breed dog is almost immediately thought of as a charlatan – masquerading as a Service Dog.
Even Service Dog programs can sometimes overlook the abilities of small breed working dogs. The Golden Retrievers, Labs, and Shepherds tend to take over the spotlight. They are known for their even temperaments, size, and strength for pulling wheelchairs, opening heavy doors, and bracing, for maintaining a person’s balance, or for help with getting up and down.
However, not all disabilities require assistance with tasks involving heavy doors and a person’s dead weight. If it is an issue of mobility, the Service Dog may be needed only for the following tasks:
• retrieving objects
• sound alerting
• seizure alert
In many cases a small dog may be a better option, as a Service Dog, especially in large cities where most city apartments tend to be small dens – rather than grand mansions.
Many disabled seniors prefer a small breed Service Dog. Travel by car, cab, or plane is easier, the amount of food consumed is considerably less, and living quarters less crowded.
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations define ‘Service Animal’ as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability and perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to:
- guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision
- alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds
- providing protection or rescue assistance
- pulling a wheelchair
- fetching items
- alerting persons to impending seizures
Small breed Service Dogs are just as capable of performing a specific task as a large Service Dog and must be taken just as seriously.
So please don’t judge people — or dogs — solely on their appearance. And remember, great Service Dogs can come in SMALL packages.