Max is a labrador living in suburban Melbourne. He enjoys liver treats, sniffy walks, and tummy rubs. He was interviewed by Mark Brown. Special thanks to Claire the human, for assistance with fact-checking. And for more on Clickability’s dogegory campaign, click here.
Max, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.
My pleasure. (Tail wag)
For the readers at home, what is a service dog, and what do they do?
Well, it’s an umbrella term. It just means a dog that helps a human with a disability or impairment or some kind of different need. So you’ve got your ‘guide dogs’ and ‘seeing eye dogs’ — they help people with vision impairments get around; and there’s ‘assistance dogs’ and ‘therapy dogs’, ‘PTSD dogs’, ‘diabetes alert dogs’. The training varies greatly depending on what the human needs and when and where they need it.
My human, Claire, has Cerebral Palsy, and uses a wheelchair. I help her with a whole lot of tasks. But I never really think of myself as a ‘service dog’ per se.
What term do you prefer?
Can you give us an example of some of the tasks you help with?
Sometimes, Claire’s doing human work and might drop a pen, and I have this urge — this urge to run get it and bring it back.
Next thing I know, she’s chucking a party! “What a good boy. Thank-you for getting my pen!” That makes me realise that little things, that are easy for me, could make a big difference to her.
She plays heaps of games with me. Games like press-the-button-at-the-traffic-lights, tug-open-the-kitchen-drawers, and the stand-on-my-footplate-so-I-can-attach-your-lead game. I do the thing; I get a treat or verbal praise. Great fun.
Now, you know how the guide-dogs, and the other official dogs that wear a uniform get to go into shops and restaurants and other places?
Sure, that’s called public access, right?
Right. Well, I get to wear this special jacket, and Claire takes me everywhere: to the movies, to shops, everywhere. Even my predecessor Toby, a bit of a late bloomer, used to help her get to university lectures – and even helped with meeting Claire’s bloke, Mark, and gettin’ him to put a ring on her finger. So cool! I hope to be as cool as Toby.
What advice would you give to aspiring service-dogs?
Look, not every dog’s going to be a service-dog. But, even if you’re just a family pet, pay close attention to your humans.
It doesn’t matter whether they have a disability or not, if you watch them carefully, and pay attention to how they smell and sound, you’ll come to understand them. And remember, even though you’re the one getting the treats and the verbal praise, the relationship is just as rewarding for them as it is for you.
But if your human does have a disability, even just your presence can make a big difference. Claire calls me her ‘social equaliser’. She says, before I came along, people would cross the street to avoid her. Now they talk to her, and stare at me, not at her.
What should the general human public know about service dogs?
Be aware that there are all different kinds of service dogs, with different training, helping in different ways.
If you see us in public, for heaven’s sake, don’t pat us or distract us — we’re working.
And know that, although we may seem very serious when we’re working, at the end of the day when our jacket comes off, we’re a normal dog. We play; we sleep; we eat; and we would love lick your face.
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