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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

PTSD and Cognitive or Memory Issues

PTSD and Cognitive or Memory Issues

I was asked what it is like with cognitive dysfunction and memory issues being a huge part of our everyday lives. So let me explain…

A prime example was a few days ago, Craig looked at me and asked, “So what project are you working on next?” I sat there for a second and realized what type of day it was going to be, not that that is a bad thing, I don’t view it that way anymore, but it told me what was in front of us. It was one of the more severe cognitive days. To Craig, it was just an honest question because to him he did not know.

See, last week we talked in depth, over multiple days about my next projects. We talked about what I wanted with these projects, what he wanted, threw around different ideas of likes and dislikes, how to move things around, where to put things, etc. I am always working on something, so that part seems to stick in his memory, it’s a part of my daily routine to work a little on something. I am also doing some extra Spring cleaning before starting some projects, as well as have a couple of outside projects I am working on getting to. So we had talked about these.

So, I’ve spent the past week preparing, a little each day. But to Craig, it just did not “stick” in his brain what we had talked about. This is something that has been a part of our lives for years now, we are used to it and know how to manage it.

The cognitive problems can lead to repeating things, not understanding that something has taken place, or something was said, the confusion, frustration and/or anger that comes with it, misplacing things, not recognizing the body’s signs of being hungry or not knowing if he has drank fluids or not… or believing he has when he hasn’t, same with showering, brushing teeth, etc, medications have to be given to him not just taken… for safety reasons, not recalling people’s or pets names… that includes my name as well. There are also many safety protocols we have in place.

Movies, something that is no big deal in reality but, 😉 do you know how many times a person with cognitive issues can watch the same movie and not realize it? Not recall any details of the movie? I believe we are up to 13 times for the same movie, for multiple movies watched at home. How do I respond? I just go with it! I don’t mind re-watching movies anyway.

So, those are just a few of the many things that are a part of daily life for us. The best way I can describe it, is he has to have guidance with many things each day, things that he can’t or does not know to do by himself, things that many people don’t even have to think about to accomplish.

I have actually documented things, to see if there is any rhyme or reason behind different things, because with PTSD‬ as well as depression‬, there can be concentration issues and lack of focus due to anxiety, flashbacks take one away from reality while they are occurring, dissociative episodes are the same way, and other things that some things may be related to other than true cognitive or memory issues. There has still not been any rhyme or reason discovered to why some things stick and other things don’t when it comes to true memory or cognitive issues. Some things or bits and pieces of, flow in and out of memory. Then some things are just not there at all any longer.

These things are a part of both of our everyday lives, but there are days that are worse than others, really just like any other symptoms or medical conditions. There are going to be somewhat better days then there will be the really bad ones.

Don’t worry, I’m not by any means throwing Craig to the wolves here lol! Craig likes for me to write about things we go through, with total honesty. He says it helps him. So, I’m just bringing an understanding about how life is different for us, as well as many others. By the way, Craig approves what I write about and many times will ask me to write about things so he has kind of a record of things to look back on. 😉

(Just to note here for Craig… he uses my writings as a guideline to help with cognitive issues and as reminders. 😉 I am working on re-flooring my son’s bedroom, painting inside, forming a ground level stone area to sit the outside fire pit on… so I don’t have to keep moving it to mow or have to weed-eat it, and re-doing the backdoor stones that have shifted.)

I do want to state up front, I am using the term “cognitive” more than “memory” because doctors are honestly not sure what to call what Craig experiences and cannot answer what term fits best. He has multiple diagnoses along with PTSD… overlapping symptoms, and I have basically been told to back off from using the term “memory” as much, which is what doctors have always used as well, until they are able to sort out exactly what ALL he is and has been going through the past 11 years. “Cognitive dysfunction” is a term that has been used since day one no matter what other terms have been additionally used (“memory loss” and “memory impairment, which long term memory has been affected just as short term memory has been), so for now we will stick to “cognitive dysfunction”, which has been described as dementia like symptoms he experiences.

I have been asked, “How do you handle this as the spouse?” and “What is this like for the two of you?”

I think the simple answer is, I handle these days with extreme patience. Back at the beginning though, patience was not something that was understood as needed. It was the quick comments of, “You already said that“, “I don’t understand why we are discussing this again“, “We already talked about this“, “That never happened” or “Why did you do that?“, “You said you would do… but did not.“, “Why did you go here when you said you were going there to take care of…“, etc. It was pretty frustrating, not only for myself, but for both of us, some situations came across as untruthful when in reality to him he was telling the truth, not recalling things lead to arguments.

I guess the best way to describe days like the other day, which was based around conversations and what I have already accomplished around the house and am working on, is they are like deja vu to me. Like the day is replaying itself, which in a sense it is, to me at least. I know we have already gone through this (whatever it may be based around), or something similar, but outcomes are not always the same. The fact is, this is life, this is what it is, and we go with it and make the best of each day.

I do prompt Craig at times, or give some small amount of information, if the situation is correct for it (in other words, as long as safety is not an issue), it’s a way to try to help him and his brain function, work at recalling things or part of things, and at times can help to a certain point. The brain is like a muscle, and it does take exercise, as well as this also helps spark the neurons in the brain. So the prompting is important to do, but there is a limit if higher levels of frustration and PTSD start stepping forward, so there has to be a healthy balance.

I don’t know if you would call it an advantage or disadvantage really (the repeating things). At times it is easier the second or third time around because I kind of know what’s coming, what his thoughts were last time, or where things lead, especially with conversations, so I know how to respond or better yet, how not to respond. But yet on the other hand lol it’s coming again and I know it will be a day of listening and having the same conversations again, having great patience, and understanding/empathy of what he is going through, and just going along with the repeat of the day, which doesn’t really bother me anymore. It took time for me to understand what he goes through in order to know how to respond or to know what I need to do, how to handle what he experiences. I’ll be honest, at times it’s still frustrating, but it’s something I understand and accept so I can also let go of frustration easily if it comes, so I can help him through the day.

But to Craig he does not comprehend that something has already taken place, to him it’s new. I think the toughest part for him is knowing me so well or seeing how other people react to him. There are times that he picks up on my pause to answer… looking for the right words or me already knowing it’s best to just listen and not reply, my/others facial expressions or lack of at times, me sitting too quiet while I listen again, in general my/other’s body language.

See, just because he has cognitive problems does not mean he is any less intelligent. Sure, he has lost part of what he had learned, some things take longer to accomplish, or he has to look up how to do something now, but he is still intelligent. When he picks up on something it’s now an instant “We already talked about this, haven’t we?” or “That already happened, didn’t it?“. He can many times put those pieces together even though whatever it or the situation is, for lack of better words, is gone. Then at times he gets frustrated, irritated, with himself and tries to recall things. That leads to a lot of negative thoughts towards himself which are not good for him… the “Wow did that make me feel stupid“, “They really looked at me like I am crazy“, etc. He can’t help or control his cognitive function, he tries though. I’ll give him a big “good job” on that one, he always tries with everything.

We have a lot of days where we will sit and just talk, he’s learned to state “I am just really lost today”, express to me how he is feeling which in turn helps me up front know how to help manage the day. There are many times where he will ask me to tell him about a photo, an event, what he did yesterday or what he had for dinner the night before, etc. Or, if I mention something and he has that blank look on his face I will just go ahead, second nature, and tell the story to him or what went on based around whatever my comment or his was if i already see lack of recalling is frustrating him. I learned to read his body language too, so I can tell when there is a “blank space” there and it needs something to fill the gap. We learned to talk and communicate, which has made it more manageable for both of us. I don’t view it as we have settled into a routine, I view it as we always try new things and use what works best.

Craig and I really work as a team. We have had doctors state in writing “His wife IS the other half of his memory” (oops there’s that word). We have had doctors state “He can’t make it without your help.”, which I have been his full time “official” caregiver for over three years now. We have heard all sorts of things, honest statements of facts. But even so, there are many that frown on this, they feel it causes him to rely on me too much. Fact is, they just don’t understand, at least not yet, what his disabilities are like and how we do things, our rules/boundaries we have for each other, and that we do what we have to in order for Craig, as well as we as a family, to be able to function. This view and lack of understanding from others is probably one of our toughest battles, but at the same time we have had this as a part of our lives for so long now, that majority of the time we just let things or comments roll off our backs, so to speak. Negativity from others just can’t be a part of life with battling what we do to step forward each day.

I watched Craig fall into the deepest hole there is when cognitive dysfunction, PTSD, etc. became a part his life. It took time to pull him out of it, and honestly it still pays a huge toll on him daily. But we learned how to manage it together the best possible, basically what he could/can not honestly manage alone. We have those who don’t understand that Craig goes through different things now, that if he is going to spend time with you, without me or someone from our home around that understands how to manage things when they come, there are things you need to know, there are ways of doing/saying or not doing/saying things. There is an overlap in symptoms which does cause life to be managed differently, and that cannot be dismissed.

We have been told in the past that we are co-dependent on each other. There have been ones concerned that it was unhealthy. Which is not the complete truth, which was proven, but we still went through the accusations of what comes with this type of disability being at hand. Not to state this in a negative way, but I can function and manage life on my own, independently… which is healthy for me to be able to do. Craig could/can no longer do that. I’m not saying that to sound mean or like I don’t care, it’s just a fact and what comes with this type of disability. We will never lose hope that things can get better for him, he and we will always try, but on the other hand we are not blind to the facts either, it has been 11 years and a lot of professional help. There is a different type of bond that does form, how could there not be? But co-dependent, as in a negative aspect of the term, no that’s not a fitting term in our case.

But, there is also the humorous sense or side that comes with this type of life and disability. Humor is important and healthy in the right situations. Due to the cognitive issues, Craig does not recall what he likes or does not like… especially foods! 😉 If it is on his plate or I fix something, his brain processes it as “I must like that” and he will eat it. He now eats a lot of healthy foods that he did not like or would have never eaten before! Again, those body signs come into play, he will eat something then recognize the grin on my face, it’s hard to hide the grin. Next thing that comes? “Do I like this or is this a new food you gave me?” My response 😉 “Looks like you like it to me”. 🙂

We did also go through the kids playing on dad’s cognitive issues when they were younger, and mom here had to put a foot down to it. If one of them was in trouble, had something taken away, were told they couldn’t do something, etc. they learned rather quickly that they could wait for mom to be out of sight and ask dad if it was okay to do something, etc. Of course dad would say “Sure”. So, there became a lot of “What did mom say?” over time. Now, with the kids, Craig is still included in everything, decision making, and we talk about things regarding the kids. It’s important even with the cognitive issues that he remain involved, it’s important for him, his self-esteem and self-worth, as well as good for the kids. Now, will he recall any of it later? Normally not but that’s OKAY!

Bottom line is, cognitive dysfunction or memory issues, no matter what the reason for it is, it’s tough. There are a lot of things that come with it. I will tell you that, and Craig will tell you that, it’s just a fact. But, there are so many things and ways of learning how to live with it, learning how to manage things differently, and continuing to live and work towards positive things. I still love Craig the same, I still view him the same ways as I did before his disabilities. You never lose hope, you never stop trying, and you remember to still live. Life is just simply different than what others view as normal or what life used to be like for us. And hey, some things you get a second chance to try again. 😉

~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

Category: Service Dogs, Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,  Comments off

“PTSD vs Avoidance”

“PTSD vs Avoidance”

You know how you do things and just don’t think about it? Well, back when I first injured my knee I was headed for another cup of coffee, bummed knee so hobbling, and I thought, why don’t I go the other way through the kitchen? It’s a pass through kitchen and I take the long way…every time. So I turned direction and went the other way, the shorter way. Then I realized why I take the long way…there’s not a light switch for the kitchen at the other end.

**Again, I’m not a doctor of any sort and can not give medical advice. These are only my personal opinions and experiences.**

Ahhh…I was going somewhere with that, wasn’t I? 😉 One of the true symptoms of PTSD‬ is avoidance. You avoid crowds, gatherings, family, friends, events, relationships, the news, tv or newspapers in general, maybe things that seem simple to others such as a trip to the grocery store, emotions, thoughts, etc. You may avoid getting close to others, relationships (emotional or physical). The list is endless.

Are you really avoiding all of those things? Or are you really avoiding the “what if” that comes with them? The situation which may arise or happen? The feeling that you are different? The mind set of something bad is going to happen? The chance of a trigger happening? The avoidance of feeling or emotion?

Avoiding things has it’s good as well as it’s bad that comes with it. It’s a way of coping right then and there, short term. It helps you get through a situation or the what if’s. You might feel like you want to cry, or on the flip side lash out. Avoiding the thoughts and emotions of what you have been through can help keep these things from happening. One that many do, you get quiet. Which at times, and I clearly state at times, can help avoid tricky or uncomfortable situations, arguments, conflicts, and helps give you time to cope and think… which can be a good thing.

However, long term avoidance can be more damaging. Avoiding things and seeing it helped you hold back those feelings or did avoid that tricky situation, can lead you to being numb. Pulling you away from family and friends or even things you used to enjoy doing. I know, that feeling of if I face it am I going to lose control or something bad happen? Control of the tears, control of the anger, and everything else that may come with it. Are expectations going to come?

Sometimes you have to just have that trust, that trust within yourself. If I face this, I won’t lose control, I can have a grip on it. Sometimes it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to face things…you are human!

I have watched my husband become a hermit because of PTSD avoidance along with it’s other symptoms, and depression. I have also seen him bounce back at times for small amounts of time. And when he does find the strength to face some things, it’s not easy! Anxiety goes through the roof. But I also see his reaction when he has made it through something, done something, gone through a motion even without emotion…and nothing bad happened! That smirk on his face of ”I did it.” That smirk is priceless!

Walking out that front door is one of the hardest things for him to do. It takes a lot and every ounce of energy he has, and many times I do kindly remind him it’s healthy to go outside, how he will feel better when he does even through the anxiety and what if’s. The fresh air, seeing things around you other then four walls, the sounds of nature. It all plays a roll in being the best you can be, even if it’s just for that moment.

Mark it on a calendar, I’m being serious! “Today I made it outside for 10 minutes”. Do you know what that can do? Come tomorrow when you look at that calendar you might think “Wow, yesterday I went outside for 10 minutes. Hum, today I can make it for 15.” It gives you something to look at, to put into perspective of what you accomplished and a goal to work forward from. Maybe today is a day you can’t pull yourself from your bedroom. Mark that too. When you start seeing on paper, in your own handwriting, hey I haven’t made it from my bedroom in 4 days, what do you think you will do? I bet you make it to the living room. 😉 It’s okay to have those bad days, they are going to be there, but they are also something to build from.

I always direct you back to a wall calendar. My reason, you can see it plotted out by days. You can see how many days have passed by, you can see accomplishments you have made, you can figure out where you want to improve things from here. How about “Today I didn’t have any triggers”, then another day you might have 4, write them on there. It helps you notice the triggers and at times may help you figure out exactly what they are. It can help you face them in a way that you don’t feed the avoidance…with your own writing. You can also flip back when you want to an look at things. Just something to think about. 😉

There is something else that works really well that a doctor told us once. Take a sheet of paper. Write down what it is, whether it’s a fear, something you want to do, etc. Then make 2 rows. In one row write what would be positive or accomplished…the facts of the situation. In the second row write the negative or the facts that could lead to a negative outcome… the facts. Everything is based on the facts. For example, “I don’t want to go on a cruise because the ship will sink.” Okay, that might very well be true, but what are the odds? Take the facts and numbers of how many incidents have in reality happened and weigh them against the unlikeliness of it happening. Odds are, you are more apt to have a good time and enjoy your trip than the likeliness of the ship sinking. You can use this method for viewing the reality on paper which can lead you past the fear to try. No, I’m not saying the fear will just disappear, we know it doesn’t, but it gives you a factually based guideline to help you do something that you would normally avoid.

Avoidance is going to be there, it’s all a part of PTSD and what you have been through and I’m by no means saying it’s not. However, sometimes in some situations looking at the facts can help you get through the avoiding feelings and help you get a little piece of life back that you thought or feel is gone. You might just find out that you are stronger than a lot of those avoiding feelings. Again, it won’t happen every time, so don’t view yourself as a failure if something doesn’t work out, but trying will make you stronger and help you find new boundaries to your limits of avoidance… as well as the limits you thought were there that you can step past, even if it’s just a small step.

PTSD is so overwhelming that you can lose sight, and focus on the “who I was”, “what I was”, “I let you down”, “I’m such a burden”. Getting past that, or to a better place than you are right now is hard! Beyond words! Finding the good and positive in things is a difficult task and no one can do it for you. It’s a step you have to take or try for yourself. Does it make the horrors go away, no. Does it make the triggers stop, no. Does it stop the anxiety, no. Does it stop avoidance, no but it can help. But does it put things into a perspective you can understand and look at? Yes. It helps you with the avoidance.

Battling avoidance… Easier said than done? Absolutely! But then again, what in life is easy? Especially when PTSD is with you. Nothing! The calender idea and making a fact sheet are just a couple of ways for you to be able to learn and watch your path, to see when coping is needed as well as what does or does not really need to be avoided, and simple ways that may help you learn to live again. There are many things you can try. PTSD is not the end, I refuse to believe that! You all are worth more than anything that could be put into words.

A simple example. How many of you have avoided posting on here? I bet at times every single one of you. I know I myself bit my tongue at times. 😉 Why? Because someone may judge you? Someone might not like what you say? Someone might think you are crazy? SO WHAT! Do those things really matter? You are who you are, and that is a very special human being. One thing you think and don’t post, know what that one thing might do? It might just save someone’s life, might make another person stop and think, it might even educate someone close to you that didn’t understand you or PTSD. Look to the good my friends, at times it’s there and just hidden or masked… and you might be surprised at what you find there. (And no, I don’t expect everyone to post! I leave that to each of you and your comfort zone! That was simply an example 😉 )

Sometimes avoiding things is needed, but other times it’s not. Will I stop taking the short way to the kitchen when it’s dark? Yes, I sure will, there’s no way of having light from that way. But will I take the short way when it’s daylight? Yes, it helps me with my bummed knee. There’s 2 ways to look at everything, always remember that. 😉

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Facebook page

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Helpless, Hopeless, and “This isn’t fair”

spouse partner PTSD

Helpless, Hopeless, and “This isn’t fair”

As a spouse, I remember when I felt those things, I remember saying those words “This isn’t fair”. I remember the endless days of crying, asking who was this person I am married to, I remember complaining about the changes in life as well as our relationship. I remember feeling the deepest darkest place I had ever felt in my lifetime, and thinking there was no way out and no where to run to. I also remember the thoughts of “How do I save him… and us… and how do I save myself?”

I will also be the first to admit that at times SOME of those feelings do return for a brief moment, depending on the situation at hand. Those are all a part of grieving, part of the process that comes with the changes in life, and a part of you yourself changing.

Those things can also cause a person to become “stuck”. Just because you are a spouse/partner or family member does not mean you can’t or won’t experience becoming stuck, just like one with PTSD can experience.

But I learned a lot through those stages that seemed so unbearable. They also made me the person I am today! And that’s not patting myself on the back, because I am only one person, and I am human just like the next person, and I’m sure not perfect.

I was stuck, once. I did not even realize it. I was in such a grieving and dwelling stage due to all of the changes, the unknowns, everything we lost, desperately trying to figure out what changed in Craig and why along with everything else we were experiencing. But then something changed…

Years back now, I had a Vietnam Veteran Spouse get blunt with me. She said in a very blunt way, “Bec, get over your pity party.” Oh I got mad, I was appalled that someone would say that to me with everything we were going through, with the hurt I felt, with how lost I was in what was happening. I thought how could someone be so cold hearted towards me? Then the next thing I knew the anger turned into crying.

I thought to myself, why am I crying? Why aren’t I still mad at her for what she said to me? How she said it to me. Why all of a sudden do I feel different now? Today, I can sit here and tell you why.

Because she told me that out of concern and love! It took another spouse telling me in a blunt way, for me to realize I was stuck. And it was one of the most important things that changed my life, my husband’s life, as well as our family’s lives. I was given a serious push forward, that was needed!

Every single person has the right to cry, to scream, to get mad, to feel that life is unfair. But you cannot allow yourself to get stuck there. You have to feel, grieve, process, but then you have to take steps forward. If you don’t, the days ahead of you are going to become overwhelming and possibly unbearable.

I get asked, literally every day, “Bec, How do you do it? How do you keep going, maintain a positive attitude, and stay healthy even with everything you and Craig continue to go through? How do you take care of everything? How do you balance this life and your family?”

The answer is actually rather simple. I learned how to prevent myself from becoming stuck…

I make the time to process things, I have support people I trust and can vent to when I need to. Notice the term “complain” turned to “vent”? There is an important difference. Complaining brings becoming stuck and brings an unbalance, venting helps you find ways to move forward and also brings forward others that want to help because you are trying instead of complaining, and they can give opinions that may help or may just be an ear to listen.

I cry when I need to and allow myself to experience the feelings or emotions I have at the moment then know to move forward.

I learned and accepted that I am only human and not a superhero that can save the world.

I remember to see the positive things in life, I use humor when appropriate, and I learned to make the best of each day no matter what it contains. Tomorrow is never promised, a very hard fact of life that you cannot forget.

I am feet planted firmly that if there is a “why” to something… I’m going to look for an answer and/or find a solution or what will work best for the situation.

I learned to take care of myself mentally and physically, which is a must do!

I learned coping skills and techniques, and I practice them daily whether they are needed or not, because they help me maintain a personal balance which leads to maintaining a family balance.

I learned that I, like everyone else, do have limits and where to draw the line when those limits come… boundaries are healthy for everyone.

I also learned that if I need help, it’s okay to ask for it!

I also had to learn and accept that nothing happens over night, there is not a quick fix to anything, but patience, trying, learning, and giving things time… can bring huge positive changes.

These things don’t make me or you any less of a person. They make us stronger!

Helpless, Hopeless, and “This isn’t fair”? Sure, every single one of us will feel those things and that way at some point in time, maybe more than once as life changes. This life contains PTSD‬ and everything that comes with it, and no, it’s not fair… to anyone, and it’s sure not fair to the person who has PTSD either. They did not ask for PTSD. It’s not easy, every single day may bring a new challenge or many new ones, some days will make your head spin.

What you do or choose to do, how you choose to view things, those will be what bring changes. I will not sit here and tell anyone to “Get over your pity party”, but I will tell you what can help you, to prevent becoming stuck. 😉

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Facebook page

You asked for photos… so here they are! ;)

 

Morning. 🙂

Well yesterday was for sure a busy day, lol. The teens had fun, I got to see my side of the family for my dad’s birthday for a few hours, and I did manage to get my hair colored before the busy day started. And… for those of you that wanted to see my hair (no, I have not had it cut yet) and those that mentioned that you would like to see or I needed to post an updated photo of me lol, since I’m always the one taking photos around here and avoid the camera haha 😉 these are for you… the face behind the keyboard and writing. 😉 Photos taken yesterday.

Now, let’s get this new day going… with coffee in hand of course. 😉

~Bec

A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Facebook page

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