By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman For the Lethbridge Herald on June 10, 2021.
Chonita Sims is looking to bring awareness to the community in regards to service dogs.
Sims dog Hope helped her to become comfortable leaving her house after the Raymond woman had been housebound, only leaving her house for emergencies and necessities like groceries.
Sims had tried many different treatments, but nothing really helped her overcome her fear of public places, owing to childhood trauma, she says.
“Hope has brought me out of isolation and into a whole new world – one that I never knew existed before,” said Sims.
Hope’s training began when she was only three months of age. Sims worked with Amanda Labadie from Many Muddy Paws dog training on a weekly basis.
At six months of age after learning basic obedience skills, a puppy can become a Service Dog in Training (SDIT). At this point they can obtain public access.
“A SDIT is very much like an apprentice learning a job. As this dog’s job is to assist his/her handler it is very important for a SDIT in training to be allowed to go everywhere the handler typically goes. However, the Service Dog Act currently does not cover SDIT. Meaning these dogs are not allowed to enter all businesses. This must change,” said Sims.
When she first started training Hope in public places, they would enter a store, sit near the exit, and leave. As Hope became more comfortable in stores, they moved on to purchasing one item and leaving. The training needed to be done slowly, as it is done based on the dog’s comfort and skill level.
Once an dog in training reaches 18 months of age and has 250 documented training hours an assessment can be requested. Typically, most dogs are closer to two years old before this assessment, according to Sims.
“The assessment ensures your dog is able to complete over 30 specific tasks such as heel loose leash, is able to recover quickly after a loud noise, can ride an elevator, is well groomed, is able to ignore a nearby dog, can maintain a sit/stay. The dog must also be able to perform three tasks which help the handler with his/her disabilities. Also, the assessor is looking at the dog’s behaviour to ensure there is not a threat to the public,” said Sims.
Owner and dog officially become a certified service dog team once the assessment is passed.
Sims says she has discovered that some people have taken advantage of the service dog regulations and have created fake certifications for dogs that are not trained. This has caused problems for her with some businesses in the past, that have asked her to leave due to another dog misbehaving around Hope.
Another problem Sims says she has encountered is the fact that some people approach Hope and try to pet her. This has made Sims very uneasy, and she hopes that people would take the time to learn more about service dog etiquette, so other service dog owners don’t have to encounter the same problem.
For more information on service dogs visit http://www.alberta.ca/service-doginformation.aspx