(12) Doggie is a Foodie: The service dog in the restaurant

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)


Doggie is a Foodie: What Motivates Your Dog?

Upon introduction, Molly’s trainer explained she works for two things: affection and food. At least in the beginning, Molly thrived on affection—a pat on the head, kind words, or even just a smile. Any of these gestures earned us a tail wag. While a treat made her happy, too, affection served as her primary motivator. This is a good trait for a service dog, assisting a veteran with PTSD.

Now that Molly’s assimilation into our family is seamless, her foodie motivator dominates her emotions. I assume she knows affection is guaranteed so she seeks treats with rigor. Her sweet face, big brown eyes, and back that wiggles like a slowing kingpin semi-tractor trailer, makes limiting snacks and treats difficult. I am tempted to sneak her a savory piece of bacon, a table scrap, or a bite of my sandwich.

Sometimes, Molly prepares her own meal of people food by helping herself to food I have left on the counter. Her favorite help-your-self snacks are chocolate cupcakes (bad for the dog), bacon, and unsalted butter, which I used to leave on the counter to soften for baking. Molly’s reach is six feet so I have learned that no food is safe on the countertops.

To be a successful service dog, her foodie urges must be controlled. Tasting people food may make the dog eager to catch scraps under a restaurant table. Even sniffing food or picking up a fallen morsel is taboo for a service dog in public. The best way to food-proof your service dog is not to give her people food at all. As the appetite for people food diminishes, she gets used to no special treats, and becomes a dependable service dog with proper behavior in the restaurant.

The time for the dog treat remains after your meal and after exiting the restaurant to reward her for good behavior in public. Until then, a pat on the head suffices.

Be sure to keep her tail and legs fully tucked under the table. Restaurants often use carpet sweepers to keep walkways tidy. A yanked tail results in a yelp and could get you booted from the restaurant.

Knowing what motivates your service dog is the first step in keeping your dog satisfied. If your service dog is a foodie, however, be sure to reserve the people food for the humans. Lots of hugs and affection are a good replacement if your dog is a foodie, like Molly.William hugging Molly

A trip to a restaurant—out in public–is difficult for a veteran with PTSD. Adding to that his/her responsibility for a service dog can be enough to make the veteran stay at home. Once the veteran has made the leap to venture out and feels comfortable with the service dog in public, the dog can help the veteran feel safe and calm. Many restaurants will sit a patron with a dog in the back of the restaurant or in a location less populated, when available. The advantage may be that not only is the dog less obtrusive but the veteran is more comfortable with the less populated place.

When you consider the difficulty of training a dog to behave in a public place like a restaurant, a veteran and his/her caregiver may feel it is easier to stay home. William’s psychiatrist urged him not to do this. His doctor also told me how important it is for William to get out as much as possible so that he stays connected with the world around him. As well, his independence in the long-term requires he gets out even though the temptation is to stay at home. Being homebound is not healthy and restricts freedom. Our goal as a caregiver/spouse is to help our mate function as normally as possible. A well-trained, well-loved service dog will help accomplish this goal.

Penny’s 10 Rules for Service Dogs in a Restaurant

  1. Dog must be well-groomed (this is required by ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
  2. Dog’s behavior must not be aggressive–do not bite the waiter
  3. Dog must be controlled at all times (also a specific requirement of ADA)
  4. Dog must be located under the table unless the restaurant sits you in a corner or other place where there is unobstructed room for the dog
  5. Dog should not eat food on the floor
  6. Do not feed the dog in the restaurant
  7. Occasionally acknowledge the dog for positive behavior with a soft word or pat on the head
  8. Make certain the dog is fully tucked under the table, including the tail and legs
  9. While not required by ADA, carry identification for your service dog with you or dress your dog in his/her service vest
  10. Give the dog a doggie treat after exiting the restaurant for positive reinforcement

Post your Comments :

Have you had a difficult or embarrassing moment with your service dog when eating at a restaurant? If you do not have a service dog, have you observed a patron with a service dog having difficulty in a restaurant? 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.