Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What breeds make good servce dogs?

Recently, a blog entry discussing the selection of breed of dogs for use as service dogs arrived in my email.  The focus was on children with autism and the severe problems some breeds of dogs have caused.  I was upset, not because certain breeds were singled out as problematic, but because young children were being paired with dogs they could not handle and the parents and caretakers were not closely supervising the interaction between the dog and child.

My response follows:

Having gotten our first Doberman when our first child was 3 days old (in 1966) and sharing our home--3 kids in 4 years--with as many as 3 Dobes at a time, I am appalled at the people who really think the breed dictates the temperament.  It's not the breed, it's the breeding. 

The person who bred our Dobes, Peggy Adamson (Google her, she was really interesting.), was credited for domesticating the breed in the US.  She brought her first Dobe in from Germany, recognized the unusual temperament and then spent 40 years line breeding with attention solely to the temperament of the dogs.

Our Dobes were trustworthy.  But, they were big dogs, and dogs are still dogs.  Would I have given one of my very young children sole responsibility for any of our dogs without close supervision? No. Because children are still children and they can be as unreliable as dogs.

I've been working on a research project to demonstrate the effect of service dogs on the quality of life of MS patients.  For a service dog to be effective in helping the person afflicted with MS, the dog has to be large, strong and sturdy.  Balance and wheelchair issues have to be addressed.

But, when partnering a PSD with a small child with autism or Asperger's, a child who by nature could be unreliable, why would we use large breeds?  Unless the interaction between the child and dog is monitored 24 hours a day, you are looking for problems.  Children who are affected by autism or psychological disorders really need communication and interaction.  What is wrong with small dogs for small children?

When my granddaughter was very small and we frequented Universal Studios, I had trouble understanding the reason she was frightened by the costumed characters wandering around.  She loved Dora the Explorer, but the adult in the Dora outfit was way bigger than the Dora she had met on TV.  How would you feel if you were confronted by a character the size of a gorilla?

Little children relate to little things, little animals, little playhouses, little stuffed animals. The children affected by any psychological issue, and there are many more than just autism, could relate just as well to a small PSD.

If we saw the world through a child's eyes, we might do better in partnering them with a service dogs.  Unless the child needs physical support similar to the MS patient, why can’t we use a small breed?  You can get into far less trouble when a small dog gets out of hand, and the child would be strong enough to be physically responsible for the dog.

As an aside, why would anyone allow any living being, child or adult, to mishandle a dog?  Sorry, supervision is the order of the day.  My children never tortured any of their pets.  We just didn't leave them alone long enough to give them the opportunity. Think of the feelings of the dog.  Although the dog might not react badly and become aggressive as a result of mishandling, it doesn't mean the dog isn't suffering.

OK, I think I've stepped on enough toes and it isn't even 6 AM yet.

Joanne Gruskin

1 comment:

  1. Joanne, I have PPMS and am fascinated by the work you do and service dogs for those afflicted with MS. I was diagnosed 3 yrs ago at the age of 50. When my daughters were little,we lived with the most loving and gentle Golden Retriever. She was trustworthy and loyal. Having said that, she was obviously a dog and well kids will be kids. I was never caviler in respect to supervising their time together. When playmates visited, my vigilance increased, even though our dog never gave me a cause for concern, our kid's playmates sometimes would be found trying to roll around, or ontop of the dog. Not at all acceptable to me. Your analysis is spot on as far as I am concerned.