Sunday, November 4, 2007

Training Day 6 (Yesterday) - Access Issues!

Today we continued our longe line work. It is becoming truly difficult to find distractions that are so strong that Pete will venture to the end of the line. I was going to save Petco (I prefer them to PetsMart - they carry my brand of dog food) until later, but decided to take a trip there.

In all, we visited three places yesterday: Gensler Gardens, Petco and Old Time Pottery. At Gensler Gardens we met a friendly state trooper who raved about my nice little pup. Unfortunately, we met in the parking lot as he was on his way out - I would have liked to ask him to get out of his car and meet him, since so many dogs seem to have issues with people in uniforms. Our chat was through his car window. Going through the automatic sliding doors was accomplished after only one false start. Because there are food items, I did not allow him to check out stuff on the shelves. A small child whose parent was not watching him closely stalked us for a while and provided excellent distraction by anticipating our path and jumping out at us from behind display cases. Folks - this is why it is so important that people with service dogs in training have the same access rights as the disabled with fully trained dogs! There is no way to acclimate a dog to all the crazy things they'll have to deal with unless you bring them places where dogs are not expected to be. People get WEIRD. Reactions range from pleasant surprise to stalking to screeching in horror. I'm amazed at how much dog-phobia there is out there. And children can be counted on to be bizarre beyond imagination!

Our visit to Gensler Gardens was short, and most of our work was done in the parking lot and on the nearby footpaths. We loaded ourselves in my truck and headed off for Petco. That's a much busier location. We did more parking lot work, and there were a few dogs coming and going as well - excellent distraction. I can't think of a better place to test a dog on distractions (except, perhaps, a ball game). Naturally, I kept the line a little shorter inside the store, except where we had rare opportunities for me to let the line out full-length in an empty aisle. I chose my "break" spots near display cases with critters. I did break the "no talking" rule when he investigated because I like to teach my dogs the names of different animals. So, Pete met some ferrets, rabbits, birds and fish, through the glass, of course.

Folks around here are, in general, very well educated regarding service dogs. Most, when I tell them he's a service dog in training, say something like, "Oh... so I shouldn't pet him, then." Hurray! But as we are also socializing him, I tell them that they may ASK to pet. I explain the rules - no petting unless he is SITTING. If he stands or jumps up (hey... he IS still a puppy, after all), they are to stop petting. "Can you do that? It would really help his training," I tell them. Once they agree, I release him from command, then tell him to sit and commence that exercise. If he gets squirmy, I do help him to maintain the sit position. I do not correct for transgressions, since we haven't progressed to sit/stays in his training program yet - I just reposition him. After the petting session, I tell him "Back to work" and continue our leash exercises. That's working well so far.

Before our outing, I printed out a brochure about the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as a copy of the state law which grants trainers with service dogs in training the same access rights as a disabled person with a trained dog. Oh, yeah... I FORGOT TO PUT IT IN MY PURSE! So far, most everyone has taken my word for it. That is... until we entered the Old Time Pottery store. Grrrr.

This store has a long entrance way. I chose that store because it is huge and has very wide aisles and is not exceptionally crowded, so I'd have opportunity to let the line out if the dog was distracted. With line coiled, we started through the entrance. There's a little vending area before you enter the main part of the store. We attracted a lot of attention - all good. One child acted bizarrely, at one point bolting from behind a nearby table, screaming and running past him, arms flailing overhead, which startled him more than a little bit. What is it about kids that inspires them to ACT LIKE PREY when they see a dog? Is it any wonder that they get bitten? Yikes! Poor Pete's hackles went up all the way down his back, just like a cat puffs up when startled. (Hackles are not always a sign of aggression - they also indicate arousal of many types.) He recovered quickly and returned to a sit - good dog!

After running the gauntlet of the entrance, I noticed and officious-looking fellow hovering around the entry into the main part of the store. I was immediately suspicious. As we attempted to enter, he stopped us.

"You can't come in here with a dog," he said.

I introduced myself, told him I was a dog trainer and this is a service dog in training, and that according to state law, service dogs in training have the same rights as the disabled regarding access to public places.

"You can't come in here unless you are disabled and the dog is a full service dog," he said. "Corporate policy. You can't train the dog in here."

"I'm sorry, but according to Illinois state law, a dog trainer with a service dog has the same access rights. I have a copy of the law here..." and started rifling through my purse. Crap... I left it on the table at home.

I decided not to press the issue, but I said I would be back with a copy of the law and that I would like to speak to a manager at that time.

"I am the manager." Ugh.

I asked for a corporate contact and he gave me a card with the customer service email address. Hrumph. I will be contacting them as they may not be aware that their "corporate policy" constitutes a Class A Misdemeanor in the state of Illinois, and that every state in which they have locations have similar laws. I wasn't prepared to push the issue and that's a mistake I won't make again.

On general principle, I lingered a bit longer in the entrance than I would have, and regardless of the outcome of this issue, I will NOT be shopping anymore at Old Time Pottery.

You will see a new list of links on the right side of this page, "Cheers" and "Jeers." I will continue to venture out and I WILL post here and I WILL name names!

For you legal types out there, here is a citation and link to the law:
775 ILCS 30 / White Cane Law

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