WINNIPEG – Dogs can be adorable. Be they big, small, fluffy, furry, spotted, or those ones with a single white eye, you just want to pet them. Sometimes they are so cute, they cause people to approach one that clearly says “SERVICE ANIMAL”. That is an absolute no-no.
George Leonard has seen it happen countless times as a Master Trainer of service animals and it always amazes him.
“You wouldn’t come up to a person in a wheelchair and go ‘Hey, do you mind if I wheel around in your chair for a while?’ It’s the same thing,” said Leonard.
If you come across a person with their service animal, Leonard has a few things he’d like the public to know.
“Please don’t interrupt the dog,” he said. “Don’t call the dog. Don’t try and pat the dog. Don’t bark at the dog. That’s probably the most annoying thing I see.”
The master trainer said seeing people bark at service dogs is not uncommon.
Leonard has trained more than 100 service dogs and matched them up with veterans and soldiers who suffer from a range of issues, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The made-in-Manitoba program, Courageous Companions, has made it all possible.
Dogs that are candidates to be service animals have to be calm in public and gentle and definitely non-aggressive. Leonard said labs, retrievers and Australian Shepherds are particularly good.
They go through training that can last from six months to three years. However, that training continues after they are paired with a person in need.
“If you have a disability, your disability is going to change throughout the years,” said Leonard. “So as your disability changes, the dog needs to be trained or modified to adapt to that situation.”
The issues can range from nightmares to severe anxiety in public spaces and some are more extreme than others.
For many its’s about calming the veterans anxiety and changing their focus to the animal rather than what is happening around them.