I went to a local dog friendly restaurant with a training therapy dog named Murphy. Every Tuesday afternoon I take care of this beautiful dog and train with him. I try to take him on an outing every week so that he is comfortable in an ever-growing situation. Today’s session was about getting lots of goodies from people in hats. Like many dogs, Murphy is a little nervous with those in hats. He loves restaurants!
Everywhere I take Murphy people say hello and greet him. They love to stroke him and comment on his sweet personality, calm demeanor and the softness of his fur. We’ve had essentially the same interactions with a wide variety of people lately. Since they love him and vice versa, I mention that he is a therapy dog in training and they immediately stop petting him and say, “I’m sorry! I know not to stroke him! “This tells me that it is common knowledge that working dogs should be left alone and that they are not a free game to pet.
I am delighted that this lesson penetrated the culture because it makes life so much easier for friends and clients with service dogs. It is a bad form of distraction for dogs who are supposed to be alert for an impending seizure, detect a drop in blood sugar, follow instructions from the human team member, or perform other tasks for which they have been trained. This is why it is not okay to pet or play with a service dog.
However, not all working dogs are service dogs, and that includes Murphy. As a therapy dog, it will be his job to interact with people and positively influence their emotions. So it is important for Murphy to have a good time interacting with people. He has to get used to strangers caressing him. This is very different from a service dog, whose focus should always be on the human member of the team. Service dogs are trained to focus their attention on the person they are serving and to ignore other people in general while at work. Therapy dogs are trained to interact with anyone who wants to interact with them. (Another big difference between these two types of working dogs is where they are legally allowed. Service dogs have wide access to places where dogs are prohibited, but therapy dogs do not.)