I have trained quite a few guide dogs and at least 120 wheelchair service dogs.What I trained them to do was the tasks that help people who are disabled. The dogs learn how to open doors turn off the lights at the light switch and watch for traffic and guide around bushes and low branches.
Once the dogs are placed a transformation happens. The dogs realize the person can't see, or the person can't walk. They move from simply doing what they were trained to do, to compassion, doing far more than I ever trained them to do. I can site example after example because it happens not to just a few of the dogs I have trained but to every single one.
A young girl who has Cerebral Palsy has a spastic reflex that cause her to movements to be jumpy and her muscles over react, even in trying to grab something to pick something up off a table. Her a dog a chocolate lab was trying to give her something she asked for. In trying to take it from him she would accidentally knock it out of his mouth and it would fall to the ground. The dog would again pick up the item and move to a different position to give the item to her. Again she would fumble the item and it would fall again to the ground. Again the dog would try and the item fall again. She began to cry in her frustration of her own body. The dog picked up the item and while in her wheelchair he came up on her lap. He laid his front legs and his upper body across her lap and turned his head and dropped the item between him and her. The item was now trapped between them. It gave her the opportunity to grab the item and finally hold it.
I never taught the dog to do this. I only taught the dog to retrieve. Most dogs would have given up. If you ask your dog to retrieve something for you and you slap or knock it out of his mouth every time he tries to give it to you, most dogs will quit doing it.
How is that possible? If you have no emotions how can you read them or understand or recognize them? In fact the they way communicate is with emotion. It isn't human emotion. I am not trying to say they have human emotions but yet they have emotions that are clear that we see in them and in fact they see in us. We are so similar it is haunting how similar we are.
|Think for a moment, why? Is this just a smart dog who just solved a problem? That isn't really emotion. Yet what made the dog keep trying? He knew she didn't mean to knock the item, or drop it. Her emotions were that she was trying. He understood that. It is often said that dogs are excellent reading human emotions. How is that possible? If you have no emotions how can you read them or understand or recognize them? In fact the they way communicate is with emotion. It isn't human emotion. I am not trying to say they have human emotions but yet they have emotions that are clear that we see in them and in fact they see in us. We are so similar it is haunting how similar we are.
You can see in dogs when they are excited, happy, sad, bored, jealous, lonely, afraid, confident, affectionate, nervous, careful, compassionate, angry, frustrated, depressed. You can see those and many other emotions. They see those emotions in us. They recognize the emotions we have because they have those emotions. It is they way they communicate. They speak the language of emotions.
But dogs are different. They lack an understanding of time as we know it. You have heard dogs live in the moment, and they do. Dogs have a very small brain. Far smaller than you think. They don't remember things that are not significant. They don't plan in future, nor are they vindictive. Their minds are not that complex. They do live in the moment. In many ways dogs teach us to be more human. Many of the lessons they teach us are often what we consider the real lessons that make us more human.
Paul White is a former guide dog instructor and for 10 years was the director of training for a service dog program Leashes for Living Assistance Dog School, in San Diego.
Posted with permission from Do More For Dogs