Are service puppies aware of their owners disability or do they just carry out training they ve received without any further thought

There is no way for anyone, no matter what their experience is, to tell you what a puppy is aware of. The best anyone can do is guess based on a dog’s behavior, which is very often influenced by anthropomorphizing.

So, like anyone, I don’t know what my service puppy knows or thinks. I can say that he is definitely aware that something is different about me and that I need his help. He is very aware of when I am having good days and bad days. He knows when it is appropriate to play and when he needs to by hyper-focused on providing stability or other assistance. He also chooses when to put my needs above his own, or when he can go potty, nap, get some water, explore a scent, etc. Does that mean he is aware that I am disabled – not really because disabled is a human concept, a legal term. Does he know that I need help? Absolutely. Does he know there is something different with me than with “daddy?” probably. Does he just carry out his training without thinking about why? In many cases, I am sure. I am sure, for example, he doesn’t understand that he is getting clothes out of the drier because whatever is wrong with me prevents me from doing so. It is just a fun game for him. But I am sure he does know that, for example, when he senses I am dizzy, if he gets my cane for me and helps stabilize me, then I will not fall and get hurt

I have my retired guide dog and my pet dog at home. I can say that i do think they know something is different about me, but they don’t rationalize this the way people do.

Both my dogs have learned to stand up, shake their heads or completely move when i approach them. While i do have some vision the lighting and contrast of where they are laying idn’t always good for me, so i won’t necessarily know they are there.

I have accidentally tripped and stepped on them so many times they learned how to avoid this. By either completely moving themselves, standing up so that they hit my knees and thighs, or making some kind of noise so i can hear them and take action before i step on them.

I used to feel so bad for our family pet, he was a older dog a little Shih Tzu. He couldn’t get out of my way fast enough and just so always happened to be in the way and underfoot. There was more then one occasion i sent him flying across the laminate floors after not realizing he was there. I now have been getting big Dogs. They can not only handle accidental collisions better but can also prevent me from falling.

The thing is, the dogs rarely get out of other family members ways. They will, but usually only after being accidentally kicked or stepped on then yelled at to “get out of the way”. Whereas with me, they will let me know they are there usually before i step on them.

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Vixen is aware of my disabilities (though I doubt she thinks of them in that context). She knows when a migraine, bout of vertigo, or blood sugar emergency is about to hit, and will warn me. She knows when I’m starting to spiral with PTSD, and will began her service tasks without prompting to try to knock me out of it. She knows when vertigo or joint slippage has effected my balance and ability to move, and will counterbalance, brace, and pull–without me needing to tell her to. In fact, the only time I ‘need’ to tell Vixen what to do when she’s on duty is when it comes to eliminating on command, or when I want her to reposition her body weight to somewhere specific. She is aware of changes in my physical and pychological state, and reacts to them–executing her tasks largely without any prompting from me.

On days when I feel fine, Vixen will watch as I take out garbage from wherever she happens to be, perfectly content to let me do the minor chore without assistance. On days where my joints are slipping, I have a migraine, or vertigo is starting up–Vixen will act like her heart is breaking if I try to take out the trash without her. She knows something’s wrong with me, and she’s determined to help me; she doesn’t care if it’s for something minor.

My dog lives full time with 3 humans. A fourth has lived here full time, then moved out but visited, and now is here several weeks a year.

My dad is fully abled, and 70. My mother, 73, is a paraplegic with vascular dementia. Chloe is my service dog. I walk with a cane, can’t bend easily, sometimes fall, and more, and also have days where my pain issues come in strong. My aunt has Lupus and sometimes is sick in bed.

My dog only notices if Dad drops food. She was only trained to pick up what I drop, but if Mom drops something and Dad isn’t around (he also habitually grabs stuff Chloe is running to get for me) she does it.

She watches anyone coming near Mom other than Dad, Pat and me. She realizes that the rest of us can get away.

At home she comes to me when scared but at the vet, it seems, Daddy is the one who has the means to protect her. In the waiting room she is against my legs. In the exam room she likes to be half on Dad and my abilities just aren’t enough.

She won’t try to get Pat out of bed if she seems out of it.

She remembers the 2 times EMTs carried Mom out. The 3 times Dad took Mom to the hospital and she was gone for days. Mama leaving the house upsets her (she is largely house bound). My leaving alone is not good. Dad? Just normal dog “can’t you rethink this?” but she immediately goes back to normal.

She knows the difference between us.

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Dogs do think. And dogs do relate differently to different humans. It is a leap from there to think that a dog understands what a disability is in an abstract way, but…

There are countless reports from guide-dog training organizations of dogs altering their behavior based on whether someone can see or not – even people that the dogs have never met before. This manifests, for example, in all of the dogs carefully moving out of the way of blind individuals while making sighted ones move around them.

My dog sees me as just me, but she responds to me and to my disabilities- not because she sees my disabilities as limitations or obstructions but because she just sees me as her companion and she likes to get favourable attention from me.