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Choosing a Service Dog (SD) candidate and Self-Training or Not

PTSD service dogs

Service Dogs for PTSD (or other disabilities): Part 2
Choosing a SD candidate and Self-Training or Not

Okay, I had MANY questions coming to me after my Alex and service dog write-up yesterday, which I felt calls for a Part 2. PLEASE understand that training was my profession/career for years before becoming a caregiver, so I do have the knowledge and years of experience needed for training and training service dogs (even though Alex is not one, by choice).

This write-up is only intended to help you to be aware of what is involved in choosing and training a dog with the goal of it becoming a service dog. I cannot tell anyone if self-training or use of a service dog is for them or not, that is something that only you can decide for yourself. I do ask that you be completely honest with yourself before making a decision. There is a lot involved in training and/or using a service dog, that man are unaware of.

In order to understand what is involved in having and using a service dog, and deciding if a service dog is even right for you, you HAVE to do a lot of research! Another thing that I will preach, is are you far enough along in your treatment and continuing treatment to use a service dog? This is very important to be honest with yourself about! A SD is not a cure all! You have to consider… can you control anger/frustration, will you be able to manage your symptoms well enough for the dog’s safety, will you be able to tolerate when a SD acts like a dog, will you be able to keep up the dog’s training after fully trained? Will you continue to dedicate yourself to that dog, as that dog is going to do for you? You are a TEAM when you use a service dog.

Using a service dog is a choice for the one with the disability to make (exception would be service dogs specifically trained for children or adults with disabilities which require a guardian, the guardian is responsible for the SD and works with the team). If a person with a disability does not want to use a service dog, please respect that decision! A spouse/partner cannot make that decision for them, however they do need to know they will at times be in situations to where they are needed to care for the SD, it happens. A service dog is your lifeline and takes dedication to be a team.

And the biggie… Have you tried everything else first to see if other options of treatment help before jumping straight to “I need a service dog”? I have personally seen some with PTSD get a service dog right up front when diagnosed and symptoms are high, the first thing they turn to, then once that person gets used to getting back out, learns coping skills, or other treatments help, that SD gets left at home. When this happens it is NOT a good situation for the SD! They are trained for the job and love to work. A service dog is literally with you 24/7! Are you ready for that responsibility and for the number of years that SD is capable of working and their lifespan?

Another thing I will state up front, a SD is an animal and unforeseen things happen, medical expenses, dogs do get old… Are you prepared for those things? The reason I want to address this up front, and many people don’t unfortunately, is because once you get used to using and having that SD with you all of the time, one unforeseen thing can cause you personally a mental setback if that SD can’t work any longer. I saw this personally with Craig! His first service dog had to be retired after less than two years working due to an unforeseen vision problem, and Craig hit rock bottom again when she had to retire at such an early age. That’s why Alex became a part of our family, and why I trained him, even though Craig has chosen since then not to use a service dog. I do personally feel and have seen the benefits of a service dog to Craig, however he is not ready to use one again and I have to respect that decision, it is a choice only he can make.

If you do not have, and make the time to research, then you really should not even consider self-training, not to sound harsh, just stating the facts. Learn the service dog laws (Federal and State), talk to other service dog teams, visit quality (a word you will hear me say A LOT!) organizations, talk to trainers, watch how quality service dogs actually work, see for yourself what goes into training, learn what expenses are involved in maintaining a service dogs health, and understand that you will at times have issues when out in public if you choose to use a service dog… you have to know how to “correctly” handle these situations. Outbursts over a service dog conflict, especially in businesses that are uneducated are NOT going to benefit you or other service dog teams.

There are many GREAT self-trainers out there. It will all depend on the time and effort you put into it, as well as the dog’s ability! Not every dog will be a service dog, just a fact. Many may make great emotional support dogs (which do NOT have public access rights) and many may make great pets. Be honest, if a dog is not a service dog please have respect for SD teams out there and don’t take it out into public as a service dog.

For those of you that are asking how to pick a suitable candidate (dog/puppy) to train as a service dog. Honestly, it takes experience, and even then not every dog will make it to full service dog work. If you are not experienced in choosing a dog, basic and advanced obedience training, task training (a task is a specifically trained command(s) to mitigate a disability), and not experienced in animal behavior, I HIGHLY recommend getting help from a professional if you choose to AND can honestly dedicate the time needed to self-train!

If you know your life has many interruptions that could interfere with the time the dog needs then you may want to look at professional trainers or find a suitable, quality, organization. Also know, when you self-train, you are putting all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Not all dogs make it to full service dog status, so keep in mind all of your hard work, time, and money (oh yes it costs money even with self-training) may leave you with a pet or having to decide if you would re-home the dog if it washes out of training, develops health issues which would prevent it from working, and you have to start over with a new candidate. I think it’s 1 in 10 dogs tested/chosen make it to full service dog “quality” work, the last I read.

First, what breed is suitable for YOU, your lifestyle, and family??? What size of breed will be needed for the tasks needed, as well as compared to your own body size… the reason I state this is if you are a tall or larger built person with PTSD‬, a smaller dog may very well draw more attention to you than what already will be. 😉 We learned that one with Craig’s now retired service dog Maya (who I used in the photo), she looked like a puppy compared to Craig even though she is not a small breed. You CANNOT pick a pup/dog because they are cute, pretty, have loving eyes gleaming at you, or you feel you need to save them! The activity level of the breed and breed characteristics you choose MUST suit your lifestyle or the lifestyle you want to get back to or get to, and the tasks that will be needed. It is also important that the dog be matched correctly to you including personality and willingness to work for you.

Then decide if you want to get a pup from a breeder or not, and if you want and have time for a puppy or younger dog. If you choose a pup or younger dog, I want to state, there are different stages that pups go through and it is important to know and understand those stages, so training can move forward with as little setbacks as possible. There is also a stage where the pup can very easily pick up on and mimic anxiety and other PTSD symptoms, maintaining balance and training is important so that does not happen. IF it does, you may need to seek professional help from an animal behaviorist to assist you in training.

There are pro’s and con’s to every age level of pup/dog. A young pup is my personal choice. However, young pups take MUCH more time, house training, etc. and the late night outings are usually not an issue with PTSD being a part of life because majority of us are up anyway. 😉 The older the dog, the more corrections in behavior you “may” find need to be done.

Now, as an example, Alex was 6 months old when we got him, even though I personally prefer an 8-10 week old pup, he tested beautifully, however 3 weeks into having him and everything going great, we discovered he had a fear of large chains. This was a fear that I had to work him through and correct, which he did recover from the fear. However this is a good example.

With shelter dogs, as much as I do love them and they have my heart, I’ve had many over the years and they were/are awesome, you have to be prepared for any behaviors, temperaments, quirks, etc that they may have developed or experienced and be prepared, have a plan, for anything that may come up. Now, a young pup may go through the same exact thing as they develop, they may form fears, behaviors, etc. They are animals not robots and things can happen. Being prepared on how to handle or know how to handle different behaviors which may develop is important.

There are testing guidelines out there for choosing a pup/dog, however if you are not familiar with them and animal behavior I HIGHLY advise having an experienced trainer (that has service dog knowledge) help you choose a puppy/dog, even if you choose to do the rest of the training yourself or only turn for professional help for task training. Again, do your research first before getting a pup/dog!

Testing a pup/dog includes a lot to look for/at, such as temperament, aggressive responses, desensitization level to other animals, sounds, vision, touch, objects, etc., startle response and recovery time, dog’s body language and what each action/stance/position actually means for THAT pup/dog, social interactions, degree of dominance/submission, ease of handling in different situations, level of focus, retrieval, and anything that would be needed for specific disability work. Emotional support, comfort, love, and “making you feel safe” are NOT tasks and do not qualify as such.

(Remember there is no slacking, it takes hundreds of hours to train a service dog, a good base time frame is 2 years of training. Then after becoming a service dog they will need reinforcement training to keep them up to date on skills and tasks.)

Expense of a Service Dog. Please do not think that just because you adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, or are given a “free” puppy/dog, that there is going to be less of an expense. NO dog is free, and especially not a service dog. Again a service dog is a lifeline, with that comes maintaining their health and other things needed, including quality food and treats, vaccinations, health exams… such as eyes and hips, proper work and/or vehicle equipment if or what is needed, toys/training toys, poop bags and clean up kit/hip pack, classes (which I recommend doing), CGC certification… this is not required or not in all areas however I highly recommend it for all service dogs, lead and collar, water/food bowls and travel bowls, liability insurance (another thing I recommend, they are still a dog), some people get health insurance for routine or emergency medical expenses, flea control, heartworm preventative, grooming if you are unable to do it yourself (Want to see someone frown on seeing a service dog in public? Take an ungroomed one out and that’s what you will get along with a lot of rude comments), nails MUST stay trimmed/short… or it can be a safety hazard out in public for the dog, as the dog ages there may be a need for medications or special beds… you have to keep in mind dogs age, and many other things… but those give you a basic list of expenses.

Another question I was asked…
Can my pet dog I already have become a service dog?

Some dogs do have the ability to. Some are still at a young enough age to train, age is important to think about… how long will that dog once fully trained be actually capable of working before retiring IF they make it through training? And is the dog of age to train for what is needed for the job?

The other thing to consider is what amount of pet training has already been put into the dog and MASTERED? Let me define mastered… having to tell a dog multiple times before the dog responds is not a skill mastered. Sure, they are still dogs and will have bad days where they don’t respond every time, but overall they should respond when commanded. This is also for the safety of the dog, there are many situations you will come across and proper response can be urgent.

However, I personally frown on this option of using an existing pet dog, I will never say it can’t be done because it can be in some cases, but there is a lot to consider, let me explain why. A dog that is an awesome pet and great at home with you, may not be the same way out in public around many people, new places, sounds, sights, smells, elevators, buses, trains, planes, other animals, food, etc etc. Some dogs can train through this, many won’t. Many are already settled into the home environment and routine, changing that may be stressful on them, which may bring on new behaviors.

The other large things to consider are habits that have already formed at home. People food is a huge one, many people don’t think twice about feeding their pet dog from the table or allowing them to eat food that dropped on the floor. Service dogs cannot do that! Those are already formed habits that would have to be corrected. They MUST be well behaved out in public which includes not sniffing which includes other people, animals, or food, not picking things or food up unless commanded to, not focusing on a child, squirrel, etc… focus needs to be on the handler and tasks trained to help the handler, barking is considered disruptive unless it is a trained command for alert or get help and used correctly, not using the bathroom or marking in stores or non-designated areas, not pulling to the end of lead (that is considered not being in control of your dog)… a SD should be right with the handler unless commanded otherwise such as pulling or opening a door, and the list goes on.

So you may find a lot of time has to go into re-training to correct habits already formed if you choose to attempt training a pet dog you already have. It can be done in some cases with some dogs, however you will be putting in additional time correcting any unacceptable behaviors. So that is something to keep in mind as well.

Okay, I think I’m writing a book here. 😉 So let me close with this, quality service dogs are awesome! I support them 110% and then some, I have seen firsthand how they change lives for those with disabilities, as well as for the family, for the better. They are by all means worth every second of time, work, and money that goes into them… and even worth the wait time it takes to train one or wait for one to be trained for you. But they are not a rush to or quick decision to make, and they are not a cure all. They will be your partner, and your lifeline if you choose to use one and honestly need one. Please take the time to do the research, think about what you need, as well as what they need.

I hope this helps answer many of the questions that have come to me.

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Facebook page

Service Dogs for PTSD (or other disabilities): Part 1

Service Dogs for PTSD (or other disabilities): Part 1

Okay, I’m breaking my own rules here, I am going to talk about Service Dogs for a moment! But first, I want to share something that is special to our family…

It was four years ago today that I made a trip to the local animal shelter to see this crazy, goofy looking, little pup that Craig insisted that I take a look at and test… that he saw online, to see if it would be a match to him, and capable of being trained for the job of his service dog. Sure enough, the pup tested wonderfully and was a good match to Craig. That day we named the silly pup “Alex”.

I trained Alex to mitigate Craig’s disabilities, put in the time… hundreds of hours, effort, and a lot of daily/nightly work including task training. Alex by all means could carry the title service dog, however he is NOT a service dog. Craig has chosen not to use a service dog (at least at this point), which is OKAY! Alex works for Craig at home and is a wonderful part of our family. I could not imagine our lives without him! I think the picture collage to this says it all. 😉 These are random photos from day one of Alex being with us to present time.

For those of you that do not know much about tasks or are just starting to learn, let me tell you about the photos. They include retrieving items (due to memory/cognitive issues), alerting to people or unusual sounds, working depression, nose/scent work… which he is trained to alert to migraines, he also does house searches, helps with getting one with PTSD‬ and/or depression‬ outside, grounding from nightmares… he is also trained to get me out of the bed when nightmares start if I’m not already awake, working anxiety and grounding from triggers, grounding from flashbacks and helping maintain focus. There is a list of other things he is trained as well. 😉 For a more complete list and my personal writings regarding service dogs, please visit the service dog section of my blog…
“My Journal: Service Dogs” A Spouse’s Story PTSD

So now that I’ve taken a moment to be so very thankful for Alex, let’s get to the service dog talk!

I do want to state up front, I do NOT like spam. 😉 So please do not post specific names, trainers, or organizations. I have found it’s better to keep SD talk in general.

There is one major thing that I have discovered when talking about service dogs… Many do not know or have not seen a “quality trained” service dog! There are many out there, however do you know what they look like, act like, and what they should be like? There unfortunately are many people that take their pets out into public as “service dogs” when they in reality are not or are not trained correctly for the job at hand. Which in return makes it extremely difficult for the true service dog teams.

So I thought, how can I show others what a true service dog looks like? How can I show the extensive hours of work that goes into them? What is a true service dog like out in public (I found a good video that shows the differences as well 😉 )? I mean come on, there are some awesome obedience dogs out there, why can’t they be a service dog? Because a service dog MUST be specifically trained tasks to mitigate a disability, and the handler must be disabled and need a service dog. Not every great pet or obedient, loving, dog will be able to complete to a full service dog working status, just a fact. Even though all dogs are awesome in their own ways and we love them, it does not mean they can all be service dogs.

So I set out on a mission… to find videos for you to watch, that show what quality is and tasks trained for different disabilities. Boy was that a serious mission, lol! Finding quality service dogs (or good examples of SDiT) at work, exercising tasks correctly, and not just people telling about their SD or advertising for someone… was a difficult task. But I found some. 🙂

Just to note: Myself, this page, and my website are in no way affiliated to any of the following people, trainers, or organizations. I have not personally seen these dogs in action or met their handlers, and have not visited any facilities which may be linked to the following videos. They are NOT in any specific order. The videos just show the quality of what I look for to be in a true service dog. 😉 that I wanted you to be able to see.

Tribute to an Assistance Dog

David and Saint skills“- Canines for Service

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks (pressure)“- Rebecca Potenberg

Block/Cover Training“- ServiceDog Vlog
… And let me tell you, this young lady has done a great job! So you may learn a lot from her other videos too. (please note this is a fully trained service dog which is being re-trained from wheelchair work to chutches, so learning a new position for this task)

Canines for Service Skills Demo“- Canines For Service

How to train a one way alert to service dogs (hearing and medical alert dogs)“- Donna Hill
…This is another great trainer to watch even if you are not self-training. By watching Donna’s videos, they give you a good idea of what is involved with training a service dog, as well as seeing the quality results.

Service Dogs and Public Etiquette” (Bad and Good etiquette examples)

So today as we enjoy AND appreciate Alex being such a huge part of our lives, and Craig’s life… even though he does NOT carry the title service dog, I hope those of you that have been curious and asking questions about service dogs enjoy the videos I found. 😉

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Facebook page

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Let me introduce “Alex” (NOT used as a service dog, but wanted to introduce him)

 

I know I have introduced Craig and myself on here, but for those of you new here… let me introduce you to my/our sidekick Alex. Alex is my dog, so Craig says lol, he is actually very bonded to Craig even though he works for and loves me too. So I think the safe wording is the three of us work as a team. You will hear me talk about him from time to time. I adopted Alex at 6 months old, he was a pound puppy, and showed great potential, skills, and temperament to be a service dog. (I am a retired trainer now that I am a full time caregiver.) Alex was actually matched to Craig and I trained him to be Craig’s service dog, but Craig has chosen not to use a service dog. So Alex works for Craig at home. Just to note, Alex is not considered a working service dog at this time, in other words he is trained for the job but is not used full time (away from home also).

However, Alex does have a gift and is a huge help to us! The dog has it and more lol. Alex is task trained to work PTSD, Depression, Migraines, anxiety, physical tasks, and more. I have put MANY, MANY hours of training into him. Some of the things Alex can do include:

* Blocking (keeping personal space between you and another person from any side with or without command and also by signal)

* Migraine Alert. He will alert me to when Craig is having a migraine so proper meds can be taken. This is done by that keen nose of his by the way. 😉

* Retrieval. He will go get and bring back anything as commanded. Including medication bottles. Socks or shoes, which help one with depression know it’s time to get up or out of a chair. Water bottle. Really anything you command him to.

* House searches. He will go through every room in a house to make sure the house is secure, no intruders. Lighted or dark house.

* Nightmares/Terrors. I trained Alex differently then most do on this one… to our needs. I needed Alex to alert me first when Craig starts having a nightmare so I can get out of bed and out of the nightmare’s way. 😉 This allows Craig and I to still sleep together in the same bed. So Alex alerts me, once I am up and out of the way then he goes back to Craig to help calm him, and help him get through them and grounded. Alex is also trained to lay across Craig’s feet/legs when his legs are restless which helps calm him without completely waking.

* Alert to people. He has been taught to alert to people who enter the property, each distance from the house being a different “tone” of alert to me.

* Carrying items etc. I have nerve damage in my hands, so Alex has been trained to carry things or place items in certain places when my hands act up. His favorite is doing laundry. 🙂 He can load the washing machine and unload the dryer into a basket. He can also pull a basket.

* Removing one from a situation that brings on stress or anxiety then helping them calm.

* Finding another person when help is needed. “Find dad” or “find mom” etc. (Kids love this one, a doggie form of hide-n-go seek which is helpful to the entire family in case of an emergency to make sure everyone gets out of the home if need be.)

* Alex learned to provide balance even though it is not needed, he learned this while I was on crutches (the first time).

* Alerts to alarms. Smoke alarm, timers on stove and microwave, and clock.

* Alerts when it’s time to get up (if I’m not already up. 😉 ) As well as when it’s time for him to eat, for us to eat, for him to go out, and when it’s time to get the children up.

* Will wake one (alert) to strange noises (out of the normal) in the house.

* Will 😉 harass the mess out of you if you are in an emotional overload by nudging and/or licking, or dancing/circling in front of you… this gets your attention on him and off other things.

* Will assist during panic attacks by pawing up on your lap and laying across you.

Alex does a lot of things other then these as well, but this gives you some ideas of the basic tasks I have trained him. Yes, there are a few tricks in there too! 😉 He loves to “work” so I am always training him new things to meet his intellectual needs… and by doing so also keeps me active in my “dog world” which I love! He’s good for not only Craig, but for me. 😉 Anyway, so this is our sidekick Alex and a huge important part of our family!

Update Oct. 2014: Due to me being on crutches again with a knee injury, Craig and Alex have really bonded. Yep, Craig is calling Alex “his” dog now. 😉 So maybe that will open a future door to me getting a pup of my own to train once my knee is healed. 😉 We will see!

~Bec
“A Spouse’s Story PTSD”

What to do when on a Service Dog waiting list…

The wait for a Service Dog.

I know I talk from time to time about the importance of finding the right place to obtain a service dog, what to look for, things to keep in mind, etc.

But what about once you are on a wait list?

This can actually be the most stressful time for one with PTSD. You have accepted the fact you need a service dog, you know where your dog will be coming from, but now there is the wait. In many cases the wait times can average between 2-4 years once you are on a wait list and going through which dog is compatible to/with you… a correct match.

During this time you have to find ways to stay positive! Here are some things that I have found will greatly help with the wait:

* Buy things your service dog will need gradually, over the time of the wait. Don’t go out and purchase everything at once.

* Find a special leash and collar and put up a hook that it will hang on, and hang it there. This will help remind you on those tough waiting days that it is still reality and the dog will be coming to you.

* Find a special bed for the service dog. Go ahead and figure out where you want the dog to sleep and place the bed there. Not only does this help with the wait time, but it also gives you time before the dog gets there to decide if that’s where you really want to it be as well as gives you time to move it around to find where it best suits you.

* Same thing with food/water bowels. The wait time allows you to shop and find a set that is special to you. I recommend raised bowels and not ones that sit on the floor for proper eating levels. Majority of service dogs are medium to larger dogs, so buying a raised bowel is a pretty safe guess.

* Toys. With toys I recommend waiting until a dog is matched to you just to add this in here. Many service dogs are trained with certain toys they are use to and sometimes will not accept other toys.

* Another good things to do is educated the places you like to go on service dogs. There are still many public places that do not understand what a service dog is and educating them ahead of time before you get your service dog, even if it’s just a simple printout explaining what a service dog is and ADA guidelines can be a huge help for once you get yours. I like saying “There are service dogs working in your area and I just wanted to help out by letting you know a little more about them”, managers and store owners normally welcome this information.

* Volunteer. Many organization that train service dogs will accept volunteers. This gives you time to learn the ins and outs of an organization, learn how service dogs work, and can make it easier to be matched because those within the organization have a chance to get to know you better therefore can make for an easier time when it comes to matching the correct dog to you and your needs… and in some cases the dog might find you. 😉 Just be careful not to over do it! Do not volunteer or feel you “have to” outside what you are comfortable with! Now, I do want to state with caution, if you find that an organization is not what you thought it would be or you don’t like what you are seeing, simply find another one and don’t get discouraged! This does or can happen in reality. But don’t give up on finding the right place for you.

These are a few examples of things that can be done while you are waiting for your service dog. The important time is to focus on the joy and life changes that will be coming and not so much on the time you will have to wait. Stay positive and don’t allow wait times to play a negative toll on you! That dog is for the service dog’s lifetime, it makes the wait well worth it! 😉

~Bec
“A Spouse’s Story…PTSD”

Service Dogs/PTSD Service Dogs

Service Dogs/PTSD Service Dogs

As many of you know, I’m a retired dog trainer and had my foot in the service dog industry for more then several years. I do still get the topic brought to me quite often and I also try to help other people out, well, truth is I say it like it is and sure don’t sugar coat it. Awareness about service dogs is greatly needed! And sometimes I seem to step on toes when I say it like it is but it goes back to the saying “sometimes the truth hurts”.

To be completely honest with you, I don’t even like talking about service dogs much anymore because I at times experience panic attacks/heart palpitations just talking about the subject due to the things that I have seen that are just out right wrong in the service dog industry, from personal experiences of things seen, and what those things are doing to ones with disabilities. It’s a subject that truly hits my heart as a former trainer and a spouse of a disabled Veteran. But from time to time I do speak up because it is something dear to my heart and I do know how a service dog can make a huge change in a person’s life.

I use to really push service dogs, because I do indeed know what they can do. However, the industry has changed. I’m by no means saying there aren’t any quality service dogs out there, by ALL means there are and some organizations/trainers are awesome!!!! But these days you really have to use caution. I know many get into the industry because their heart is in it and I am grateful for that, however there is more to it then just heart. Others get into it because of money or personal gain. And then there are your true people that have what it takes to produce a quality service dog, skills, quality, and heart all.

When I write something, you can bet there is pretty much a damn good reason for it, pardon the southern lady mouth on that one, but it’s true. And any quality trainer/organization/business out there would agree with me on what I’m have to say!

To start with, I do support PTSD service dogs 110% and then some. But I’m also seeing what is happening in the industry due to the high demand for them. Quality is getting harder and harder to come by. Then, I am seeing what is happening to the one with disabilities when quality is just not there in the dog they received. And I’m sure there are some if not many here that know exactly what I mean.

This is by NO means meant to scare anyone away from the service dog industry, this is meant to educate you so you know things to look for or recognize when searching for the right organization/trainer/business as well as dog for you. There is nothing worse to me then someone contacting me and asking me for help with their “service dog” when that dog should have already been trained before being placed with them, that hits the heart hard that people are having to go through that.

Here is a person who got this “service dog” to help better their life and they are faced with issues which add to their stress. It’s not that I don’t want to help anyone, so please don’t take it that way, it’s that they shouldn’t be in a position to need my help. And I’m good at directing people to quality trainers since I no longer train, but it goes back to the fact of that dog should have been completely ready to work and know it’s tasks as well as the person should have been taught what to do with the dog, educated.

So, with that said I want to go over some awareness. To the trainers out there, you are more then welcome to add to this list because I know many of you are having issues from the lacking of others out there. Just please NO SPAMMING! I try to keep this page clean of names of businesses or organizations that train so we can keep the service dog topic on topic of things people need to know and not about the organizations/trainers directly.

When considering a Service Dog:

  •  Make sure you “need” a service dog. There are many people that have heard so much about service dogs and what they can do for you, that the person jumps straight to wanting one. This is not always a good thing. You are not giving yourself a chance, especially if you are newly diagnosed with PTSD. First, if you can not cope with life and yourself, how are you to the point of taking care of that dog right now? You probably aren’t and need to wait before even considering a service dog. See what will work for you… medications, therapy, coping skills. Learn to cope with your anger, you sure would feel awful if you took your anger out on that dog that is helping you… and you might just end up in trouble over it, no one wants that. There have been many to jump into getting a service dog then discovering they really don’t need one. When this happens the dog normally ends up becoming a pet when time and money were put into it to help one with their disabilities and that dog should be working. And I can almost guarantee you once you discover this you and that dog are already bonded and you won’t be able to give it to someone else, and it’s not fair to the dog either. Not everyone is going to need a service dog. As I like to say it, let a service dog be your last resort when other things are not helping to the point you would like to achieve for yourself.

 

  •  Educate yourself on what a service dog is! It’s not a pet!! A service dog is a dog trained to do specific tasks to mitigate one’s disabilities that they can not do for themselves.
  •  Learn what is involved with having a service dog. A service dog is with you 24/7. It’s not left at home while you run out to eat or to a store. It’s not left in the yard. It’s not away from you in the house. And if you sit on the can, you can bet your dollar that dog is right there beside you!
  • Learn what cost is involved. You might get your service dog from a not for profit where the dog is “free” to you, but fact is that dog is not free, someone paid for it. And it also comes with a lifetime of care that is more then a once a year vet visit and shots.
  •  Learn what it’s like to have a dog in public. Many think “oh no problem, that’s cool”. But in fact there are many negative things you might encounter in public… examples: restaurants that are not educated on service dogs resulting in not allowing you to enter, other public places where a confrontation may occur, kids running up to pet the dog and have to be addressed they can’t pet it, other people wanting the dog removed from the place it is, people asking you questions of why you have the dog, and there is a long list that goes with this. Truly ask yourself if you are ready for all of that. Now don’t get me wrong lol, a service dog will sure get you socialized again. 😉
  •  Know what to look for. When trying to find a service dog you are going to come across some of the best speakers you have ever seen. You will also encounter ones that can give a great show. But, when it comes down to it, can they give you the full package?
  • Look at the dogs themselves. ALL of them! Don’t be shown only one dog that seems to be a great service dog. See what all of the dogs are like, especially one that they say is a match to you.

Do they have house manners?
Are they good with the other dogs?
Do they have yard manners?
How is their obedience on and off leash?
What is their age compared to how they are performing?
Is their nose into everything or are they paying attention to the person who is handling them?
Will they work without treats to get their attention?
Do they leave food alone on or off of a table?
Know your service dog tasks for your disability and ask to see the dogs preform them.
There are many dogs with great obedience, but do they have the whole package for the job at hand?

  • Socialization… make sure the dogs have been socialized with other animals, people of different races, children, out in public, different forms of transportation, different environments, cars, doors, elevators, anything that goes with everyday life in general. AND don’t be afraid to ask the trainer to show you! Go out with them and watch how the dog responds to things.
  • Health. This is huge. I know over time health issues may arise, that’s part of any living thing. However, you should not be getting a service dog that has health issues right up front.

Ask to review the vet records of the dog that is your match, and this needs to be done AT the vets office not at the facility unless they have a full in-house vet that takes care of everything, which is not always common. In these you will want to make sure all shots have always been kept up, that temperament testing has been done and on record, fecal exams and blood work have been done routinely, hips have been x-rayed and good, if there were any other health issues the dog had that could be long term damage… on these you can talk to the vet and get a second opinion from another vet, eyes have been checked, etc. If there is a breed-line history get a copy of it and do your research.

If you ask for these and hear or something along the lines of “we are a not for profit so we run off of donations and don’t have the funding to cover those things.” I personally would keep on looking for another place. If they can’t put the needed things into the number of dogs they have, then that’s a red flag to me.

  •  Rescue dogs. I know you are now asking about rescue dogs 😉 There should still be a history of health records even if it is not from birth. Service dogs are not trained over night, they take many, many hours to train and with rescues they also may have behaviors that needed corrected, so the timeline should be there.
  •  100% success rate. REALLY? Be cautious of anyone who states this! There is no such thing as a 100% success rate. Only approximated 1 in every 8-10 dogs will make it to full service work, quality work. A service dog’s job is very serious and not every dog is cut out for the job. Yes, there are many quality dogs out there but quality service dog work are some of the best. Many that do not make it full service are placed as pets, do therapy work, some can be trained for different areas of work other then service depending on their individual skills. But there is no such thing as every dog making it to a job for full service dog work.
  •  Self training. The one question I have asked to me the most.Yes, by the current laws you can self train HOWEVER I do see that law changing, and in the near future. There are many out there that have self trained and do have awesome service dogs. But on the other note there is also the opposite. Self training takes a lot! If you are not in some form of dog industry work or have been I would highly NOT recommend trying it.

It takes thousands of hours of training and dedication to correctly train a service dog. And the hard fact to it is you are putting all of your eggs in a basket on one dog. You might have a dog that is great with you and helps you but that still does not mean it would make a great service dog. Being out in public carries way more then how a dog is at home. Your dog might be an awesome “emotional support dog” but not be able to do full service work.

You are going to put many months and thousands of hours into one dog you hope makes it, and it goes back to the success rate numbers, what are the odds? Probably not good. You can have one of the best dogs out there and just one thing set it off course and what if during that training time the dog has an injury or medical issue come up? Your eggs just got dropped.

I know you will still love the dog no matter what happens, but service is service work and now you are looking at either starting all over with a new dog or trying to locate one.

This is where quality organizations can be a plus to you. They have a variety of dogs in training and you are not stuck on relying on just one dog, which you’ve already bonded with, to make it.

My own Alex is a great example here, we hand picked him as a match for Craig… and he is… and by the skills I saw possible in him and his temperament. However a few months into it I noticed skin issues which bothered me, we got him at 6 months old so we did not have any background information on him except his mother was a German Shepherd.

So we started researching organizations so our choices would not be limited to one dog. I have found a trainer and breed line I like, however Craig is unsure of where he stands at the moment on using another service dog, so time will tell. Craig’s first service dog had to retire a year into working, that hit Craig hard mentally and caused him to slide backwards. Something to keep in mind and also prepare for.

Alex is awesome yes, by incredible means he is! He works PTSD, depression, as well as migraines like a charm, he also helps me physically when my nerve damaged hands act up (laundry is his favorite task lol) and many more tasks I have trained him (too long of a list to type out)… but will he make it full service now that his skin issue is solved? I can’t answer that. He has a nose of a bloodhound and I fear it might get in his way of service work, so I might direct his training elsewhere. So only time will tell with him, but this shows you a real life scenario that even a great task working dog still has the chance to fail service dog work. Something I am very honest and true about. I accepted that fact when we adopted Alex, and he is by no means a failure to us, with the many things he does do, but full service work? We will see, I’m not blind to what a service dog needs to be and I’m honest with myself about it. In reality, he would make an awesome search and rescue dog! But my ol’ knee and hands are not up for that line of work anymore. (Update: Craig has chosen not to use a service dog, so Alex has now become my dog, but does still work the tasks trained for Craig and I both. So we decided, Alex is NOT labeled as a service dog.)

My point is, be honest with yourself. Don’t become one of the many out there that don’t truly have a “service dog” but claim they do. It only hurts others, and none of us want to do that!

  •  Can I suggest an organization/trainer?

I know this question is coming 😉 so let me go ahead and say it. Find an organization/trainer that is right for you and can show a proven track record of real service dogs. There are many awesome trainers out there and there are legit organizations. I’ve given you a guideline to go by, use it and don’t be in a rush! Take time to really keep your eyes open to what you are seeing in front of you and you will find the one for you.

A service dog is your lifeline! Don’t take it’s quality lightly! You deserve the best! Take the time to educate yourself, make sure you really need a service dog , make sure a service dog is the right step for yourself, and by all means do your homework and don’t just jump into something. There really is a lot to consider and think about.

To say the least this list could have been much longer, but this will give you a good start.

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD

Some of the first things to keep in mind regarding PTSD Service Dogs…

~Journal Aug 29, 2012~

PTSD Service Dogs are unique. Not just any dog can fit the job, not just any trainer has the knowledge needed to train them. Knowing PTSD first hand, putting the time into the actual “tasks” are best done, in MY opinion, with the person the dog will be working for, someone who suffers from the same, or one who honestly understands PTSD…not just what you read in a book. Of course the normal guidelines for a service dog have to be met, however there is much more to it then that. Psychology, on the human level as well as the canine level is a huge part of it. A dog can know when to wake a person from a nightmare, know when to remove them from a stressful situation, how to ground a person during a trigger, they know when that person needs them to be close but also when that person needs space, it goes beyond commands…you have to use the instinct of the human and the dog together.

Then you have the commands and other tasks, other then obediance which is a must in the first place. For PTSD the dogs can be trained to do house searches, turn on lights, “block” or keep the personal space of the person out in public…which should not have to be commanded but also has a command, retreival is an almost must due to memory issues, alerts based on what the person needs, they can even be taught to bring medications or/and remind a person to take them, get another person, call for help in an emergency situation, they can be trained for example to bring a person their shoes for going out…which also gets a stuck person unstuck, some canines have the ability to alert to migraines too and other medical conditions that alter the human body! This list of things is endless.

So the first question I am always asked is, “How do I know where to get a service dog from?”

VERY good question! To start with, do your research! This service dog is your lifeline. You want to make sure that the trainer/etc. understands PTSD and has been around someone who has it or has worked hand in hand with ones who suffer from it. Ask about the dogs themselves, go see them if you can or send someone you trust. I hate to say it, but there are ones out there that have a great talk but might not be able to deliver what you think you would be getting, or should be getting. You can’t go by only what you see on the internet. Find out what their program is like, make sure they follow their actual program of training, form a list of questions to ask, anyone can match a dog, but you want to make sure it is correctly matched…how is that or those dogs doing that have already been placed? Were they matched correctly with that person’s lifestyle and activities?

Find out the health history of the dogs. Anyone that is unwilling to share their vet. records on a dog that might be yours would be a red flag in my book. Ask to contact the vet. for the dog directly! See how the dogs at a facility are behaving or not behaving…keep in mind these are service dogs! They should be well behaved in any situation or environment. Before getting a dog you can see if proper screenings have been done such as hips and eyes (at appropriate age), blood work, heartworm testing, etc. You want to make sure you are getting a healthy dog, goes back to a service dog is meant to work until a retirement age. Now, there are times when something will come up that was not expected in the health of a dog, they are still an animal, however the precautions can be taken to get the healthiest dog possible. Temperament, extremely important! Has the dog been exposed at correct ages to the public, How many hours of public training it has had, exposure to children, cars, buses, etc. and especially other dogs. Just because a dog is raised with other dogs does not mean it might be good with them. These things prevent incidents from happening in public. And if you get a dog that has or develops issues of any sort, bring it to attention so it can be corrected before it turns into a bad unwanted behavior!

How do I know the service dog has been trained correctly?

Rule of thumb, you should be able to point out ANY dog at a facility and be able to see that dog “work”. Service dogs start normally at a very young age, especially if the facility has a breeding program. The acception would be rescued dogs, they might be a little older but should have had testing done before being rescued to make sure they have what it takes to do the job. At the least, every dog at a facility should have their obedience skills, the rest will depend on their age, when they were brought into a program, etc. When visiting a facility you should be able to watch the trainers work the dogs. The dogs each should have hands on training almost if not daily. An example, if you visit a facility that has 50 dogs in training and 10 trainers actively working, that would be 5 dogs per trainer daily, very possible! But if you see 50 dogs and 2 trainers, what are the odds that the dogs are getting the hours of work they need each day? Now don’t get me wrong, dogs still have play time too! But should respond to obedience commands, have manners, and sure know how to work on a leash…and without pulling.

There is such a high demand for PTSD Service Dogs that sometimes you will find the training and time put into the dogs compromised, be careful of this. It does not mean they don’t have qualified, great trainers, it means there are not enough hands on the dogs.

If the program works on a foster system, where the pups are raised and trained in seperate environments, there should be a training plan. This includes regular outings with the dogs. Find out how often they meet for outings together, how many dogs are in this type of training and ask if you or someone you know can tag along. Seeing things firsthand I have found is very useful in choosing a trainer or organization. You can not choose a service dog because she is pretty or seems so loving. You have to look at what training the dog has and how it is being handled. Remember again, this is your lifeline. On these outings the trainer/handler should have complete control of the dog, make corrections to any behavior that is not accepted such as sniffing, grabbing food, jumping on other dogs even if it’s a playful manner, sniffing other people…The dog is there to work and should be using complete manners and tasks while on leash or in cape/vest.

Here’s a good one for you. Are the dogs trained to potty on command? This is a great thing that not all trainers might train. I have found it is VERY useful when you go out into public. You never know when you are going to be stuck in a long checkout line or at the airport and oh no your dog needs to go? With training potty commands you can prevent this from happening as well as helping keep your anxiety down of having to stand in that line again because you lost your spot. 😉

There is a difference between a service dog, therapy dog, emotional support dog, and a pet. We will go over those things as well over time.

Well, I think this is a start to things in the service dog world. Never feel that this is too much to ask for or to do, it is very important to make sure you cover all of your basis when it comes to a dog that is going to be your partner and give you more of life back. You have the right to be picky, look into more then one trainer/business/organization. A service dog is a responsability, one you CAN handle 😉 Just make sure you do your homework! It does and will pay off in the end.

So, this conversation will continue and there is so much more then just what is here to talk about. Education is a huge key! 🙂

 These are my personal opinions and some my feel differently. My opinions are based on my personal/family experiences, what I have personally seen, as well as my dog training experience (Now retired).

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