If and when you decide a Service Dog is right for you or your family, you may already have preconceived notions of what life with that dog will look like after you get it. Perhaps your visions include watching a guide dog for the blind work, or you know someone that has a seasoned team, a handler and service dog that has been together for several years. Maybe your expectations have been set by watching my daughter and I with our dogs here on this page. And perhaps your expectations were set by an over zealous car salesman telling you exactly what you want to hear in an effort to sell you a dog.
That last one is proving to be a serious issue in the service dog industry. Sales people making ridiculous claims of dogs that never miss alerts, that come fully trained (I don’t even know what that means), that easily adapt to your lifestyle, that will be working from day 1 and for the next 10 years, all you need to do is write a check and attend a couple of training sessions. Regardless of what activities you do, what type of work you do, whether or not you need the dog to attend school with a child, this dog will be perfect.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You don’t get to point b from point a in a straight line. You don’t just wake up one day, get your dog, send the dog to school, and have alerts come right off the bat. You might not have a dog that will wake you up at 3am to an issue. You may not have a dog that has been scent trained at all yet, that has ever set foot in a house, or, believe it or not, been house trained at 10 months old.
One thing a good, responsible Service Dog organization will do is help manage those expectations. It becomes tricky work if one person is telling you life with a dog is beautiful, easy, and life changing, and someone else has to tell you that while yes, it is life changing, it is also a lifetime commitment of constant work and training. And that just about any lifestyle change will possibly require retraining and maitenance. New home? New surroundings? Time for training. Sending a child off to college? Retraining. Start a new sport like tennis or soccer? Is your dog trained to sit quietly while tennis balls go whizzing by his head? How about swimming? And it is one thing to sit quietly, quite another to actually be working and alerting if need be. What do those alerts look like? If your dog normally comes to you to alert, and now you are in a pool, what happens?
If you look at Stella and the work she is doing with Raven and think she makes it look easy, let me apologize, as that is not what this page is meant to convey. Please know that her recent foray into competing at rally was a long time in the making. My daughter has been involved with the dog handling and training since day 1 of Major and Raven. At this point it’s been almost 4 years that she has been working with trainers, myself, and the dogs of Canine Hope for Diabetics. She has been to every practice, every training session, every public access event, and a couple of multi-day, intensive DAD conferences that we have had access to. As a family, we also work the dogs at least 5 days a week in serious training sessions (along with the 24/7/365 “real time” life we live with these dogs). Every weekend we drive 60 miles 1 way just to attend a training session to help us become better handlers, make us a better team, and learn new things to teach our dogs. And when Stella decided she wanted to do rally on a competitive level and title her dog, our organization made arrangements to get us access to another successful rally trainer/handler for a couple of sessions. Crystal and Johanna of Canine Hope, and all the trainers, want to see their clients succeed. They want their dogs to be amazing DAD’s. They want their teams to be strong. It almost seems silly to think that other organizations wouldn’t want the same thing, that they wouldn’t want their teams to excel, all some other places want is your money. It’s nice to be in a place where the success of the team is such a high priority. After all, happy clients have got to be good for business.
Adding a service dog to your family isn’t a decision to be made lightly. If your expectations are not realistic, you run the risk of becoming the owner of a very expensive pet. A responsible organization will help you set your expectations properly, by being honest with what they are offering, what they are providing, and what they expect of you in terms of commitment and training, both prior to delivery and afterwards.
Repeat after me: “A service dog is a lot of work. It is a commitment for the lifetime of the dog. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely.”
And don’t let anyone tell you any differently…