Social media - particularly Instagram - has created unrealistic ideals in many ways. We scroll through the edited pictures of influencers or insta. models, and our self-esteem plummets. We gaze in admiration at the amazing trips and vacations our old college friends are taking and contemplate our lack of adventurous spirit.
When it comes to the service dog community, we go through every video, picture, and service dog account. They all seem to be trained to perfection - trained “better” than our own service dog.
It is possible that these dogs on social media are trained better. But this does not necessarily mean that you or your dog are failures. Maybe the handler you follow has been training their dog for longer than you have. They could have assistance from a highly knowledgeable trainer. It could be that this is not their first service dog and they have loads more experience than you. Or perhaps their dog is simply more mature than yours.
But we have to remember that no one is perfect, and that social media portrays a skewed image of realty. As we crave the “likes” and the “follows, we want to show off the successes, like our dog performing at their peak and demonstrating their amazing skills.
Isn’t it only natural for us to want to show off our dog? Service dog handlers work so hard to train their dog. It takes time, effort, and consistency. There are many moments of frustration. So when we finally get that perfect medication retrieval or capture the moment when our dog flawlessly ignores another dog in public, we absolutely want to show it off to the world.
Sharing success on social media is not a problem. We want service dog handlers to be proud - you should be! But don’t beat yourself up when your dog is not perfect. Many social media accounts don’t show the imperfections or the “face-palm” moments, but the struggles are still there.
Atlas’ social media accounts highlight successes, but our flaws are still there. Our service dogs have had bad days. We have seen some Atlas dogs bark in places they shouldn’t have. They’ve sniffed a stranger or shown far too much interest. They’ve eaten something off the floor at a restaurant. They’ve even gotten stage fright and refused to demonstrate their skills while we were giving a presentation! Our handlers have definitely experienced shame and embarrassment.
But does a bad day here and there mean the dog is not a service dog? Absolutely not! Does the handler have a physical or psychiatric disability? Is the handler’s dog trained to mitigate that disability with specific tasks? Can the dog operate safely and appropriately in public? If so, then the dog is a service dog - even with the occasional bad day.
Going forward, Atlas plans to let you see its “imperfect” service dogs.
What it REALLY takes to get those nice looking photos
Judgment and Lack of Support
Another interesting phenomenon that has occurred within the service dog community on social media needs to be discussed. It’s the issue of Facebook support groups and their ironic lack of support.
In contrast, IG actually seems to be fairly supportive (even though it has its own faults by creating a lot of false ideals). Since people only post their successes, they might be more likely to get comments of encouragement and admiration.
Facebook groups, however, are often a place where people are encouraged to ask for training advice, tips, and actually share concerns about their dog. It seems that there is backlash when people open up about their less-than-perfect experiences with their service dogs.
There is no logical explanation to the negativity that happens in these groups. The amount of, “your dog is clearly not fit to be a service dog, stop,” “that’s unacceptable behavior,” “why would you ever train like that?” or even “do you even have a disability?” comments are flabbergasting.
It is not 100% bad, of course. There is also encouragement, good advice offered, and plenty of adorable dog pictures posted. It is just unfortunate that there seems to be more negativity and a sense of superiority amongst the members. What should actually be happening is support and acceptance in a community that exists to help its members through pain and hardship.
Atlas strives to create a supportive and encouraging environment for every one of our clients, trainers, and volunteers. Unfortunately, we do not have a solution to some of the issues seen within the service dog community, but we can try to make some small changes.
Let’s start changing the mindset. Let’s start talking about the difficulties encountered in training and having a service dog. Let’s be supportive of one another in those difficulties in a non-judgmental manner. We would love to hear your stories involving embarrassing moments or challenges you have had. Tell us what happened, how you felt, and how you recovered or learned from the experience. Trust us - you are not alone!
If you would like to share some stories with us and the service dog community, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will post them on our Facebook and/or instagram (if you want to send a picture) in a kind and supportive manner. Let us know if you would like to stay anonymous. If you’re okay with taking credit for your story, we will post your first name only.
What are YOUR thoughts on the online service dog community? How would you like to see things change? Let us know! And don’t forget to like and share!