(11) Delinquent Canine: Reinforcing Dog Commands

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)


Is it necessary to practice commands with your dog?

When Molly’s trainer dropped her off at our home, he stressed the importance of working with her on the commands ten minutes twice a day to keep her memory fresh. Our ten minutes twice-a-day lasted one morning. Molly responded so well to the commands that William felt the regular reinforcement sessions were not necessary. Recovering from Lymphoma cancer and exhausted, I did not argue nor did I accept responsibility for the twice-daily refresher training.

Molly's plume tailMolly enjoys working. She holds her Great Pyrenees plume tail high and stands tall when called upon to dress (position herself for us to put on her service vest) for a day at work. If she had her way, she would practice 24/7. Unfortunately, we do not cooperate and seldom take her out in public or use her as a service dog.

Recently, the doctor removed two toenails from William’s feet (ouch—does the Geneva Convention consider that torture?). He needed assistance with balance and with getting up from his chair. Calling Molly for assistance, he gave the command brace. Instead of standing tall and digging in to support William’s weight, Molly sat down while he tried to use her for balance. He caught himself and used her as a sitting anchor and not as a standing anchor. Despite her delinquent behavior, she helped him balance.

Molly sits as William soaks his footThis reminds us that Molly’s first priority in our lives is as a service dog for William. After that, she is a pet—not the other way around. With a sweet soul like Molly, the temptation is to treat her as you would a pet with plenty of hugs, treats, and, relaxation. If we do this, we will spoil her work ethic and lose her as a service dog. Fortunately, Molly loves to please us and wants to work so we are back on the path to refreshing her skills.

When we do take Molly to our favorite big box retail store, she attracts the ogles of most shoppers because of her size and gentleness. Because of his PTSD, William needs Molly to serve as a barrier between him and strangers so he has no difficulty telling shoppers that she cannot be petted while in her service vest since she is working. I, however, cannot resist the mother with a wide-eyed toddler wanting to pet the “horsie.” Even though her vest clearly states, “Do not pet; working dog,” I give in to the tiny fingers and allow a brief petting. Molly loves the attention, of course, but my failure to enforce the rules for a working service dog creates confusion for Molly and reduces her effectiveness in service to my disabled veteran spouse.

Next week, Molly accompanies William to his follow-up doctor’s appointment to make sure his toes are healing. We are practicing her commands and dressing her in the service vest for that new experience.

By the way, we asked William’s Podiatry doctor if it is a problem for William to bring his service dog into the examination room when we return for his follow-up appointment.

“We frequently see service dogs in here,” commented the Resident, who treated William. “We might ask you to keep the dog outside of the room if you brought her when we do a surgical procedure and need a sterile environment but otherwise, your service dog is welcome in here with you.”

That is what we like to hear­­—a VA (Veterans’ Administration) doctor, who understands ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) public access and appreciates the value of our Miss Molly as a service dog. Now, if only I can get with the program and take my own advice!

Please check out our Veterans & Caregiver’s tab on the top navigation bar to read about the Golden Paw Awards and the first entry of In the News.

Post your Comments :

Have you taken your service dog to the hospital or doctor’s office? Did you have any problems with public access? 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.