Did You correct Him?

“When you like someone, you like them in spite of their faults. When you love someone, you love them with their faults.” – Hermann Hesse

Today, a friend and I were talking on MSN about how long we have had our dog guides and about our feelings leading up to the “big” day. We talked about some of the emotions we experienced and then began discussing the moment we put down our white canes. For me, it’s almost been fourteen years since I picked one up, but for him the white cane still comes out from time to time. I thought this was interesting and told him about Phoenix’s reaction to people who use a white cane.

It was at this point, he asked the question which inspired today’s post.
Friend – “Did you correct him?”
Me – “the first few times, but it did nothing so I just asked friends to fold up their canes and take my arm.”
Friend – “Well, my school teaches us…”

Are there others out there like me, who choose to just manage a “quirk”? or is it strange that I choose to accept these imperfections rather than punish my dogs?

As I mentioned in an earlier post
and then again in this post,
my dogs are not good for everyone, but they are perfect for me.

Ever since I received Phoenix in July of 1998, he has had an obsession with grabbing or bumping the white canes of people who walk past. The first few times I wasn’t sure what he was doing, but after I understood, I tried correcting him for it. He was not deterred by my corrections though, so after a couple months or maybe a year of trying to get him to stop, I just started managing the behaviour. I know this probably isn’t what other programs would want me to do, but this is how I’ve chosen to react and it seems to work for us. In most cases people usually just laugh when I explain why their cane just fell out of their hands or did a funky jolt. It can be a little embarrassing at times, but usually if I know someone is coming towards us with a cane, I’ll just stop and ask Phoenix to sit or try and stay between him and the person walking by. Phoenix isn’t trying to hurt anyone, he just seems to get a kick out of people’s reactions I guess!

I think Cessna’s most notable “flaw” is her never ending desire to chase small animals. No matter how much I corrected her or tried to discourage the behaviour, she still continues to jump around like a kangaroo in harness when a squirrel, bird or chipmunk scurries by. I remember the first few walks with her in training. We’d be walking along at jet speed and then all of a sudden my left arm would quickly shoot further to the left or right with an almost bouncing motion. I’d stop, tell her that was enough (while pulling back hard on the leash) and ask the trainer what the heck had just happened. He’d tell me that a squirrel had just run by and explain that she was excited because in Quebec (but, she was raised in Ontario) they don’t really have many – yeah, right! Well, after six years of working, Cessna’s still just as excited by those elusive little critters. Instead of yanking her back and getting upset by her reactions though, I’ve learned to just go with the flow. When I feel her getting excited, I’ll stop, ask for a sit and continue walking when she’s calmer. If we’re walking through a park though, I know she’ll be on high alert so I often just resort to putting on her newtrix and avoid the possibility of having my shoulder dislocated – she may be small, but she’s pure muscle!

These little eccentricities are part of what makes me love my dogs.

How many people can say their guide dog dislikes white canes?

Or that they have a guide kangaroo?

What are some of the “unprofessional” behaviours your service dog exhibits, that you’ve decided to celebrate instead of punish?


  1. As a clicker trainer, I don’t like to use positive punishment or negative reinforcement. To this end, I have to find ways of dealing with undesirable behavior, which don’t involve the traditional leash correction.

    Laveau loves other dogs, as in loves them! I have found that stopping, and having her sit, while asking her to target my hand works well to get her back on track.
    Bristol was also a squirrel chaser. I used a halti with her, and eventually she grew up and out of that behavior.

  2. I think it sounds like by managing the behaviors by say like having your dog sit and focus on you when the canes go by you are not just accepting but giving your dog an alternate behavior to practice when the canes go by-sounds like great training to me! 😉

  3. Pawpower – I just started switching over to clicker training and more positive forms of training 3 years ago so we’re slowly learning 🙂 We have seen the negative things harsh punishment can do to dogs and have vowed to learn all we can in order to train without those methods we were taught before. Canyon was actually fully trained without harsh methods and it’s amazing to see the difference. Cessna now only has the positive methods used with her and she no longer has her fear reactions from long ago 🙂

    Kathy – We’ve found that through teaching the dogs other skills or behaviours to use when they’re doing something we don’t like works better than just correcting or telling them off for it. Cessna is a barker so when she starts barking I’ll ask her for a down and she stops lol! I guess you can’t bark when you’re lying down??

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