Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shopping with a Service Dog

For a long time after I got my service dog, I did not like to take him shopping.  Oh, a quick trip to the grocery store was OK, as long as I had a list and knew where to find the items I wanted to buy.  But pushing the cart and holding the leash was a bit of a challenge, and holding a shopping list, too, well, that was even harder. 

I did OK picking up items from the shelves and tossing them in my cart, but I didn't like taking him shopping if I was going to an unfamiliar store where I would have to wonder around for a while to find what I was looking for or if I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for or if I needed to be able to take my time looking at things and reading labels and comparing items and stuff. 

It was hard to keep an eye on Isaac and look at, say, coffee makers, comparing features and prices and everything.  And I felt I had to keep a really close eye on him so he didn't decide to try to sniff the butt of some other customer also considering coffee makers, or try to jump up and kiss another customer walking by (who probably made kissy noises at him first), or closely examine (and sniff) the chocolate covered coffee beans that happened to be on a shelf right at nose level by the coffee makers, or decide to plop down and rest right in the middle of the aisle (all sprawled out so as to take up as much room as possible, thereby preventing any other shoppers from getting by), etc.  Oh, he didn't do those things all the time, just often enough that I didn't really trust him not to.  I felt he required very close supervision.

And I felt I needed at least three hands, because it took both of my hands to pick up a box large enough to hold a coffee maker in order to read all the fine print on it, but I also needed a hand to hold the leash.  I asked some other people with service dogs on an online forum, back when I first got Isaac, how they managed to hold everything, and they said in situations like that they would just kind of drape the leash over their arm or something because their dog knew to heel whether they were tightly holding the leash or not.  Well, my dog didn't.  Or maybe he did, but I didn't trust him to do it.  When I tried that, he was as likely as not to take the opportunity to drift away from me to sniff someone's butt or the chocolate covered coffee beans.  Or to make a sudden move, jerking my arm and causing me to drop the coffee maker I was holding.

It was frustrating to me, it was stressful, it made me wonder if my dog wasn't trained like he should be, and it made me wonder if I was somehow not doing a good job as a service dog handler.  It made shopping more difficult, which is the opposite of what a service dog is supposed to do.

Lately, I've realized that this has changed.

Oh, I still have to keep an eye on Isaac, but I can trust him a lot more.  Occasionally he does try to sniff the butt of another customer or to sniff some candy that is conveniently located right at nose level.  But not often.  It's been a long time since he tried to jump up on someone in a store and kiss them on the lips, and that's even when they talk to him and make kissy noises and practically beg to be kissed.  But mostly he stays right beside me.  If he decides to lie down, he usually does it close to me, not in anyone's way.

Last fall, about 10 months after Isaac came to live with me, I went shopping for new gym shoes and winter boots.  I did not take Isaac shoe shopping with me.  I thought it would be too difficult, sitting down, taking off my shoes, trying on shoes and boots, standing up, walking around to see how they felt, then sitting back down and taking them off, etc., all while holding onto the leash and managing Isaac. 

But about a week ago, I went to Meijer to buy vitamins.  They are the only place near here that carries the brand of iron that I like.  While I was there, I decided to look at sandals.  I saw a pair I liked and decided to try them on.  Isaac was with me and I didn't give it a second thought.  He sat down and sniffed my feet while I put on the sandals, then walked around in a circle with me while I tried them out.

Today I went to JoAnn Fabrics to get some material to make throw pillows for my new couch.  Um, I bought a new couch.  It's not here yet.  They didn't have the color I wanted in stock so they had to order it and it will take two to four weeks to get here.  But I decided I needed throw pillows.  I had no idea where the pillow forms were, so I had to wander through the store a while.  Then I had to look at fabric and that took me a while.  Isaac apparently got tired of standing, because he lay down to wait while I held bolts of calico up to one another to see what looked good together.  He followed me over to where they cut the fabric for you and lay down again.  You'd think the poor doggie was exhausted.

But my point is, he was good.  Really good.   And shopping with him was easy.  We've turned this corner.  It sure took a while, but it's good.

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