International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners
FINDING A SUITABLE CANDIDATE FOR ASSISTANCE DOG WORK
by Joan Froling
Note: As author, I have decided to avoid gender preference by referring to a dog as "him," but either gender can be a fine service dog.
When a dog has passed the health screening and temperament screening with flying colors, that is only the beginning. The 30 day evaluation period or first month of Placement is also utilized to assess the "compatibility factor." Once in while, a dog may simply be "too much dog" for a particular person to handle safely. (e.g. too rambunctious or too dominant ). Sometimes the opposite occurs. For example, a dog with a very sensitive nature may be too intimidated by someone with a boisterous or belligerent personality and loud booming voice to perform well. Yet he might do well with a soft spoken handler who gently encourages him with praise. Some handlers can easily adjust their handling style to suit a dog's personality. Others seem inflexible and require a very confident dog who tolerates human foibles with good natured stoicism.
One of the most important factors in successful match-making is a dog's energy level. Someone with a busy lifestyle full of extracurricular activities outside the home won't find a sedate laid back couch potato to be a good choice for their particular situation. Someone who leads a quiet sedentary lifestyle won't get along well with a high energy dog who needs plenty of work and stimulation to keep him content and out of trouble.
On occasion, the dog's companionship potential can make or break a partnership. Some people want a dog with a "velcro personality." One that is demonstrably affectionate, loves to cuddle, prefers to sleep on their bed and rarely leaves their side. They would be miserable with an independent cuss like my first Samoyed service dog who always sought out the coolest place in the house, cottage or hotel room (usually the tile floor of a bathroom) and only showed up if summoned to perform a task or if he heard somebody munching on snack food. It is a subject that a private trainer or program should explore with the client prior to selecting a dog for that individual. It is something for an owner-trainer to keep in mind. A dog with a velcro personality will need a human partner who is delighted to meet the dog's emotional need for close proximity and frequent displays of affection. Some of us would prefer or be just as happy with a more independent dog who is content to curl up in his own favorite spot and ignore us while we carry out work that requires long hours of concentration.
Other factors which may be extremely important to one person and a matter of indifference to another is the breed choice, the dog's color, gender or size. If one of these factors will skew the way you feel about the dog, it is something you should emphasize when talking to a program director or a private trainer from Day One. If there is something you strongly dislike or fear, that too should be discussed in advance. We should not expect people to read our minds. Owner trainers need to do a self-assessment, then search for a dog whose energy level, companionship potential, personality type and other factors will be compatible with their way of life.
© Copyright Joan Froling, 1998. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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