The story of a boy living with Type 1 and his family's journey to raise and train a diabetic alert dog.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Is That Service Dog Team Real or Fake?

During our recent air travel with Bo, we encountered a couple at the airport with two service dogs. Upon noticing Bo, one of the dogs began barking and lunging in our direction. The handler held the dog's leash short and tight as we made our way past them and through the check-in line.

I worked Bo through the distraction using kibble to keep his focus. While I gave him the 'leave' command, marked his focus on me with the word 'yes' and fed him kibble, my family members used their bodies to put space between Bo and the dog. 

The handler of the barking and lunging dog stood in one place holding his dog's leash tightly. He didn't try to redirect his dog's attention, he didn't try to use body blocking to turn his dog around or put space between his dog and our team, nor did he try to use verbal commands or food to try to regain his dog's focus -- he simply held the leash tight. 
Placing On an Airplane

Despite the distraction, Bo maintained his focus on me and it was a non-event. But, the experience reminded me of a FaceBook post I once read about how to tell if a service dog is real. The writer asserted one need only look at how the human partner handles the dog to know if the service dog is real or fake. "Does she cue the dog, correct the dog, protect the dog? Does she pay attention to the dog's signals, moods, well-being?" The writer went on to list a number of other examples that illustrate the high level of attentiveness service dog handlers often demonstrate.

A real service dog may not be perfect 100% of the time; sometimes a service dog barks, gets distracted, or activated and doesn't behave to the standard of his training. How quickly a dog recovers and how well a handler manages the dog can be the distinguishing difference between a real and fake team. The following are some examples of what a real team may look like in an airport setting.

Placing Out of the Way of Traffic
A trained service dog will place out of the way of foot traffic by going 'under' a chair, bench or table. A trained handler will protect the dog's tail and body from being stepped on or bumped. In this picture, I'm using my foot to keep Bo's tail tucked tight to his body and to serve as a barrier from feet, luggage, wheelchairs or other moving objects that could harm or distract him. 

A service dog will place at the feet of its handler on an airplane. Bo holds a down stay on a flight, except for when he alerts. Before he alerts, he changes his position to a sit or stand. On our recent flights, Austin and I pre boarded the plane with Bo and sat in the bulkhead row. Our other family member joined us during general boarding. The bulkhead row is ideal because it provides more space for the dog and handler, however a service dog should also be able to place in a regular row with less space. 

We trained Bo for placing in tight spaces by having him load up into the wheel-well of our car and ride at our feet.  We also practiced placing in small spaces by having Bo load up in a cardboard box. 

Bo wearing a slip lead with no metal parts.
In preparation for taking Bo through airport security, we replace his gear containing metal parts (i.e., service dog vest, harness, flat collar and leash) with a slip lead made out of rope and a plastic loop. As we make our way through the line, we keep Bo in a heel position and use our bodies to block little humans from petting him, as well as wheeled luggage from bumping him. Once it's our turn to go through the security check point, Austin gives Bo the stay command, goes through the metal detector and then calls Bo through the detector. Bo does not get a security pat down because without his gear he doesn't set-off the metal detector. Austin however, gets his hands swabbed to test for traces of explosives.

Video: Austin and Bo Going Through Airport Security Checkpoint


  1. Wow what an absolutely amazing dog Bo is Jenn. You have done a remarkable job with training Bo.

  2. Thank you for your kind words Josylin. It's been a team effort to raise and train Bo. We had the pleasure and good fortune to work with one of the BEST professional dog trainers in New Hampshire -- Helen Nicholls St. Piere of No Monkey Business Dog Training.