(7) Tigger Trigger: Not all service dogs are trained alike


Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly:

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


The Tigger Trigger: Not all service dogs are trained alike

Profile of Tigger

Tigger was a friend but not a trained service dog

 Molly came into our lives as William’s second service dog. Our first dog, Tigger, did not work for William or his disability. While the dog trainer/owner of Tigger selected Tigger specifically for William, Tigger did not match his needs and actually became a trigger for his panic attacks.


Tigger and William play frisbee


Tigger in the river

Tigger in the river




Tigger’s trainer used a method that Molly’s trainer described as “pound and stick.” The method did not work for us. It required yelling at the dog and yanking his leash when the dog did not respond properly. What we found is that the dog’s good behavior left with the trainer. Even Tigger’s veterinarian commented, “This is not a trained dog.”

In our first visit to a restaurant, Tigger jumped on the table with his front paws. That would have been cause for the restaurant to ask us to leave but the manager and server demonstrated great patience. If there had been more than three customers at the time, I’m sure we would not have made it through the beverage service.

Tigger, a registered yellow Labrador, became a pet—a rather rambunctious pet. He possessed more energy than did my husband and I put together. He often broke loose from the leash and took off for an hour or two at a time.

Finding the perfect service dog

A friend suggested we take Tigger to a new trainer, one she used to find and train her two dogs. Within two minutes of meeting the owner, he took Tigger away and we never saw him again. Tigger had triggered another panic attack and my husband felt a failure—he could not make the dog behave even though he raised and trained Ridgebacks for years.

“He’s not a trained dog,” the owner said. “As well, you need a dog with a different temperament.”

It took six months of searching rescue shelters before the owner’s wife found Molly. Prior to finding her, William met three different dogs and became attached to one of the dogs. As it turned out, that dog bit my hand and snapped at a young woman, working at the shelter. That terminated the relationship, as a dog that has bitten someone or acts aggressively cannot be a service dog so the search continued until William received a call about Molly.

We ended up donating Tigger to the trainer, who retrained Tigger with the positive reinforcement technique used with Molly. Our condition for surrendering Tigger was that he had to be placed with a disabled veteran. Six months later, the trainer informed us that Tigger became a gift to a female veteran in a wheelchair, who suffered from seizures. Tigger anticipates her seizures and is able to fetch assistance. The veteran wanted a high-energy dog to keep her active and engaged. Tigger does just that for her.

Know how your dog was trained before adopting

We learned a difficult lesson—know the training method and trainer before engaging in a relationship with your service dog. A positive reinforcement method is critical to the success of the relationship. The eHow site in this link compares several methods of positive reinforcement training for dogs. Proper training of a service dog is expensive with a cost between $20,000 and $25,000.

The VA (Veterans Administration) may provide the funds and a program for the veteran to acquire a trained service dog under certain circumstances. It is recommended the veteran start with a discussion with his/her primary care physician. Acquiring a service dog through the VA may require the veteran to work with the dog under the trainer’s supervision for several months before the dog goes home with the veteran. The program may require residency at the training facility due to its location and holistic approach where they want the veteran to learn 24-hour care for the dog. This is the best way for success.

Even the best-trained service dog misbehaves on occasion

In reading about the ADA standards for a service dog, the ADA.gov website mentions that even the best-trained service dogs may misbehave on occasion. For that reason, the rules state that a dog owner may be asked to remove a dog if the owner cannot control the dog.

Although our dog, Molly, was not working at the time (I did not have her service vest on, which tells the dog she is working), I took her for a walk. Molly pulled a 101 Dalmatian’s moment and decided to chase a small dog long after we had walked past the little dog and his owner. She dragged me behind her for at least 300 feet. Approaching the dog’s owner, she ran between his legs and wrapped her leash around the owner and me.

I froze, looking up at the owner. “I’m so sorry, so sorry.”

Fortunately, the dog owner was a soldier, who was not intimidated by a 130-pound dog galloping towards him in tow with an unknown female. He graciously unwrapped the dog and me. I slunk away with my dog and left the park, mumbling, “So sorry.”

Post your Comments :

What is the most embarrassing moment you have had with your dog? Please comment below. 

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her husband, William, and dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.