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How task questions can get you in trouble....


This happens often enough I think it is worth some guidance.  I've seen several people take the same approach and wind up with hurt feelings for no good reason.  I say it is no good reason because they cannot possibly get the answer they want, and won't like the answer they get.

So here are some tips to avoid that.

1.  Don't make it personal.  As it says in the disclaimer at the bottom of the site, we don't give legal advice.  Now that I think of it, I'm going to add medical advice in there too.  We answer in generalities or a moderator will admonish us about practicing law (or medicine) without a license.  There is no way anyone here can know whether a specific situation would apply or not.  If you want specific information about your individual and specific situation, then ask a real doctor or a real lawyer.  If you want to discuss and debate the general nature of the service dog experience, then expect honest and direct answers.

2.  Don't make a list of your tasks or your proposed tasks and ask for people's opinions on them unless you really really want to hear their honest opinions.  Honesty, openness, and directness tend to be highly valued here because of the nature of certain disabilities represented within the community, including autism and brain injuries.  This ties right into tip number 1.  This is not a venue to seek unconditional approval of everything you say.  There are other places for that.  If you make it personal and someone disagrees with your position, you tend to get hurt. 

This group can be extremely supportive when you share an accomplishment (like getting a job, being accepted to college, graduating, etc.).  This group tends to be very congratulatory when you achieve something difficult, like overcoming a personal barrier, doing something that was difficult for you (regardless of whether it is difficult for the person giving the congratulations), or doing something of which you are proud.  It is a genuinely caring group, not a group of plastic Barbies that just want to pretend the world is a Malibu Dream House and everything is lovely no matter what.  When someone gives you a cheer, it is genuine and heartfelt, not just given because it is expected or PC.  Unconditional approval of anything and everything a person says is not real supportive--it is mechanical and cold.  It is made meaningless by the fact that there is no genuine emotion behind it and because any one can receive it simply for saying what is expected.

3.  Task shopping.  This never goes over well.  If you ask for a list of tasks appropriate for a given disability, you will not like the answer.  I'll give it to you right now.  Task sets are based on individual needs, not on canned lists.  If you want to know what a service dog can do to help you, ask about the specific barrier you are trying to overcome.  The answer may not involve a task or a service dog at all, but you'll probably get some suggestions that have been helpful to others.  If your true goal is to overcome the limitations of your disability, this is precisely the help you need.  However, if you start out by deciding you want or need a service dog, then try to figure out why, it's pretty obvious what the real reason is, and this annoys people with legitimate service dogs.

Task questions that work:

1.  Generalized questions about whether a task is likely to be a strong task (legitimate and easily proven in court), a weak task (legitimate and difficult to prove in court), or a bonus (helpful or useful, but either not trained or not truly mitigating the disability).  The whole purpose of discussions like this is to help people prepare their documentation so they are ready if ever challenged in court about the legitimacy of their disability and their service dog.  If that's not your goal, then it is probably best not to ask whether a given task is "legitimate."

2.  Asking for tips on how to train a dog to do X.  You are likely to get suggestions, but may not get what you expect.  You might hear why such a behavior should not be trained.  You might hear alternate approaches to the same problem that don't involve a task at all.  You might get solutions suggesting what sort of expert to consult because it's something that requires a specific skill that cannot be learned from reading on the internet.  You might get step-by-step instructions, or one or two sentences of an overview that will make sense if you know what you are doing as a trainer, and will be completely baffling if you were looking for a recipe and thinking you could train a dog the way you use a cookbook (by just following a set formula that automatically works for all trainers and all dogs).

3.  Asking how to overcome a specific barrier.  If you really want to overcome a barrier, you'll likely get suggestions.  These suggestions may not involve a task, or may not involve a dog at all.  There is no point in training a dog to do something he does naturally, like alert you to the presence of sounds, or to train one to do what a common and existing device does well.  For example, a watch can do just as well for med reminders in the majority of cases, unless you have a very specific, disability-related reason why you cannot use a wrist watch, pocket watch, talking pill box, etc. to remind you.


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