3 Frequently Asked Questions about Orbit, The Autism Companion Dog
1. GREETING ORBIT WHEN ENTERING OUR HOME When people first come to our home they tend to ask, "Do I greet/treat him like a regular dog or do I need to be more businesslike about it because he has an important job?" The answer is different for different types of service dogs and probably for different families; for us Orbit is a companion and one of his jobs is to love Elliot (and others) and to be fun. So greet him and love him like any other dog because when you do, you are modeling how to be with a dog and Elliot is watching!
2. GREETING ORBIT OUT IN PUBLIC My friend Kristi who has two darling twin girls wanted to know: "So, how would you want people to interact, question, approach you? I know in the past when we've seen someone with a service dog I've told my girls to not approach the dog, or his owner, because he's working and can't be interrupted. Is that what we should do or is it different if a dog is with someone who is, for example, visually impaired than if they are with a person with autism? I know my inclination would be to stop my girls from approaching but it sounds like you may appreciate the opportunity for Elliott to allow the interaction with his dog to occur." - Kristi My reply: Gus, (aka Kristi :) Great question. Autism companion/service dogs are different than mobility dogs. With mobility dogs (like for people in a wheel chair) or dogs for the blind, I would do just as you mentioned and not allow your girls to pet or approach them. Interrupting them while working is not a good idea for various reasons that I'm sure you can imagine. However, part of an autism companion dogs job is to create a bridge for social connection. The question becomes, how can you tell? Some cases are obvious but others are not, especially because by law, service dogs are NOT required to wear a vest or labeling of any kind. Luckily for all of us, most do and most patches give you a hint to the dog handler's preference. There are patches that say "do no pet" or "ask to pet". But, like Orbit, not all dogs adorn such a patch, if this is the case I say ... feel free to ask. Just make sure your girls know that if the people say "no" it is just because the dog is working not a reflection of them.
Another suggestion would be to consider what the people are doing. For example, when we are waiting in line at Disneyland usually Elliot is happy to let people pet his dog, BUT if we are walking - i.e. trying to GET TO a ride, he usually doesn't want to stop. After all, there are only so many hours in a day and we all know that at Disneyland those hours whiz by :) BTW, the reason we haven't chosen a 'petting' patch is because we wanted to see how Elliot responded to kids approaching us. So far, sometimes Elliot seems to enjoy it and other times it seems to be overwhelming for him. So, at this point, for us, neither patch is really what we want to say to EVERYONE.
3. ORBIT'S "WORK" People also ask us if Orbit knows when he is supposed to work and when he is allowed to play: "If he has his vest on does he know he’s working?” I actually asked our trainers this same type of question and I LOVED their answer,” It’s all fun to Orbit, work is a word we humans have given a negative connotation to, but to Orbit his work and his play are all fun.” During my parents recent visit we all took a beautiful walk on the beach trail in San Clemente and Orbit was on leash but did not have his vest on; it is a dog-allowed trail so we just didn’t put it on him. This would be a time when we’d consider Orbit “working”, when he is on his leash his job is to pay attention to whoever has his leash. But really? walking this trail? could that really ever be “work”?