Intelligent disobedience

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Intelligent disobedience is where a service animal trained to help a disabled person goes directly against their owner's instructions in an effort to make a better decision.[1] This behavior is a part of their training and is central to a service animal's success in their job.[2] The concept of intelligent disobedience has been in use and a common part of service animals' training since at least 1936.[3]


When a blind person wishes to cross a street and issues an instruction to the assistance dog to do so, the dog should refuse to move when such an action would put the person in harm's way.[4] The animal understands that this contradicts the learned behavior to respond to the owner's instructions: instead it makes an alternative decision because the human is not in a position to decide safely.[5] The dog in this case has the capacity to understand that it is performing such an action for the welfare of the person.[6]

In another example, a blind person must communicate with the animal in such a way that the animal can recognize that the person is aware of the surroundings and can safely proceed. If a blind person wishes to descend a staircase, an animal properly trained to exhibit intelligent disobedience will refuse to move unless the person issues a specific code word or command that lets the animal know the person is aware they are about to descend stairs.[7] This command will be specific for staircases, and the animal will not attribute it to stepping off a curb or up onto a sidewalk or stoop. In a similar circumstance, if the person believes they are in front of a step and they wish to go down, but they are in fact standing in front of a dangerous precipice (for example, a loading dock or cliff), the animal will refuse to proceed.[8]


  1. ^ Dr. Gifford Jones (December 5, 2003). "Seeing Eye dogs can teach us a lesson". Kitchener Ontario Record. 
  2. ^ staff (October 11, 2001). "A Breed Apart; Service Dogs Are Heroes With Fur". Washington Post. 
  3. ^ Elizabeth VanDyke (July 26, 1936). "New Freedom For Blind Americans Provided By 'Seeing Eye' Specially Trained Dogs Not Only See But Think For Sightless". Hartford Courant. 
  4. ^ Froling, Joan. "Assistance Dog Tasks". International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  5. ^ K. Kapur, Gopal (August 30, 2004). "Intelligent Disobedience". Computerworld. Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  6. ^ Sanders, Clinton (1999). Understanding Dogs: Living and Working with Canine Companions. Temple University Press. p. 46. ISBN 1-56639-689-1. 
  7. ^ Philip Morgan (June 21, 1999). "Life moves forward with help of dog". Tampa Tribune. 
  8. ^ Donna Alvis-Banks (September 16, 2005). "Another Pupil is Bound for Leader-Dog School; Helping to Raise Dogs for the Blind is 'Labor of Love' for VA. Woman". Richmond Times.