6183190876_ba11dcc2bd_bOur family has spent 2 years now with a service dog. I’ve seen a lot, screwed up a lot, and learned a lot over those 2 years. (Major became ours on 10/1/11, there will be a post about that on that date). There are a tremendous amount of things that I had no clue about when we started this journey, so I would like to share some things you may not have thought of either.

We started down this road for several reasons. First, we were looking for any tool that would help to manage my daughter’s diabetes. She is young and active, and can’t feel her highs or lows. This creates issues when you are out and about, having a great time at a park or on the back of a horse, and she has no idea she is crashing until it becomes dangerous. CGM’s (constant glucose monitors) don’t help, as they are about 30 minutes behind real time. We heard about these amazing dogs that could alert to those fast drops and spikes and we were intrigued.

We love dogs. My wife works for Adopt-A-Pet.com and I volunteer for United Hope for Animals photographing homeless dogs at our local shelter. We have always had rescues, and at the time, we had a senior Rottweiler, a senior Terrier, and a maturing Great Dane. How much more work could one more dog be?

Now here’s where things get tricky. We contacted Canine Hope, filled out the application, did a home check, went to some events, and we were approved. We even requested (if possible) a rescue to be trained. You know the rest already, and we got Major.

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It was probably only 3 days after we brought him home that I had to make the first phone call to Crystal, telling her I broke him, he stopped working. And she explained to me AGAIN, that I needed to work and train with Major everyday. EVERYDAY. For the rest of his life. And not just a walk around the block.

So, my first piece of advice to you is this. Know that when you get your service dog, assuming you get a “finished” dog, if you expect him to keep working, you need to work with him daily. We still do sit, stay, heel, down, etc. Everyday. We do scent training, we go to rally classes, we go to training sessions with our group, we constantly look for new scenarios that we can work through. It never ends. But that’s the beauty of it. Those sessions help build a bond, and they keep the dog busy and entertained. And if it doesn’t get done, you just paid WAY to much money for a Labrador (or whatever breed you may happen to get). And you have a dog looking to get into trouble from boredom.

As for the pets? Well, let me let you in on another secret. That created more work for us. We couldn’t let the “pet” dogs mingle with the “working” dog. The working dog requires constant supervision to help him stay focused. When the working dog gets to play, it is still a very structured type of play, play with a purpose to it. There is no throwing them all out in the backyard and letting them back in 2 hours later. The working dog needs structure, needs to be on place, needs to be focused. So here is something else you should consider. Even when you are sitting on your couch watching TV, one eye stays on the service dog. The dog is on a place (an area/mat/cot where the dog will down stay). Not roaming the halls or out in the yard sniffing daisies.

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These dogs require some kind of attention constantly. Constantly. Constantly.

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As a service dog, you get to bring them with you everywhere. How fun does that sound? They come to the grocery store, restaurants, Disneyland, school, work. Here is the next piece of advice. Diabetes is what we refer to as an “invisible” disease. What that means is that no one can tell just by looking at you that you have it. There is no wheelchair, no white cane, no oxygen tank, no oxygen tank or chemo created bald head. Sure, there may be a pump, and you still need to check your blood sugar, but for the most part, you can get in and out of places and no one will ever know you might have any disease. But walking a service dog through a Target? You might as well strap on a huge neon sign that says “look at me” while playing the bagpipes as bubbles are blown out your.. well, you get the idea. So if you or your child are shy, or are uncomfortable as the center of attention, this may not be an ideal situation for you.

And while you are out in public with your dog, you will be finely tuned in to all that people say around you. Snide remarks, rude questions, stares, pointing fingers and people constantly trying to pet your dog will be the highlight of every trip out. It will require a much tougher skin then perhaps you would think. The quick trip to the market won’t be quick anymore. You will be stopped constantly with questions about what they do, or how long they are in training, or “I wish I could bring my dog”. It’s tough to filter out.

The amount of stuff we carry as parents of a type 1 borders on ridiculous. Backpacks full of meters, Gatorade, snacks, spare infusion sets, test strips and supplies, insulin, and on and on. Now, to travel with a dog, there is a second backpack which has a place blanket, water bowl, water, shoes, treats and treat bag, a reward toy, ball, etc. All these things are just as important.

These dogs also require more grooming than the prettiest poodle you’ve ever seen. If you will be taking your dog out, you don’t want to take a dirty, stinky dog into a restaurant. You don’t want to take a flea infested dog into a school or your office. That dog needs to be clean! And if it’s a lab, that’s a tall task. They are like Pigpen. Just let them out for a second and they find dirt, mud, something to roll in, an algae infested pond, it doesn’t take long.

And a funny thing happens when you get involved in the service dog world. When you start following people on Facebook with dogs, who are bragging about how their dog caught this low, and how their dog can get a juice box out of the fridge, and how amazing their dog is, how their dog alerted from 6 miles away while little Billy is in school, and your sitting there staring at a meter that says 238, and you just want to know why your dog missed that? It takes time to realize that these teams have been together a long time. They have experience, they have put in the work. They also only talk about the good. They don’t share how many times their dog missed the 238. Don’t get resentful. Use it as inspiration. Work towards being an amazing team. But also know that they are missing stuff too, you just don’t hear about it.

Add to all of this dog hair EVERYWHERE, more vet care, expensive dog food, training sessions, gear like harnesses, shoes, leashes, crates, cots etc, and these dogs are expensive to maintain.

So why? If they are so much work, why have one at all? Why would anyone want to do this?

Because one day, you’re going to let your guard down. You won’t check your daughter because it is an hour after dinner, so you know of course she’s high. And your dog will alert to you, and you will even consider not checking her, because you know. But you do anyway to verify the dog is correct, and you’ll notice that she’s low, and dropping fast. And you will get a head start on keeping her BS up as she starts to vomit 45 minutes later, and you will be able to make it to the ER before something disastrous happens 2 hours later, thanks to your dog.

Because one night you will sleep through your alarm, and turn off the snooze. And your dog will wake you up by jumping on the bed and sticking a cold nose in your side, and you will get to her with a BS of 52 instead of 2 hours later at 22.

Because after a long day at SeaWorld, you will be driving the long drive home. Both kids asleep in the back seat, and your dog will tell you to check, and your child will be asleep, 2 hours from home. And you will think that you checked her before you left, and she was 135, and she’s so cute sleeping there, and this is every parents dream to drive with them asleep, and holy crap she’s 46!

And because not a day or 2 after that dog comes into your home, you realize that the dog provides SO much more than just an extra tool for your diabetes management. That dog becomes SO much more important than the meter or pump to your child. That dog provides comfort, warmth, friendship, companionship, love, a soft place to lay a weary head. A running buddy and fitness friend. The dog doesn’t judge you. You can tell it your secrets.9180922322_407a98b889_b(1) 383682_323002014394704_1817019652_n 316318_305061602855412_1181966050_n 9177065604_f1d40ac354_o(1)

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So, my advice to you is to think hard before you decide to get a service dog. Know that this won’t be easy. Know that regardless of how much you research, it will be 3x harder. Is your life ready for one? Is your home ready for one? Is your family ready for one? Do you have the time and commitment to make this work? Because it is A LOT of work, and takes up more time than you think. With that hard work, the dog can become a valuable resource in diabetes management, and a beloved member of the family. Without it? The dog can become a very expensive elephant in the room, causing feelings of anxiety and resentment, which isn’t fair to you OR the dog. You could potentially be taking a great working dog from someone who IS willing to put in the work, the time, the effort, and make an amazing team.

Team Blackdogsrule

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50 Comments

  1. I so so so enjoy reading your blog. Such great advice!

  2. Wow. Ok that was amazing to read and finally one that didn’t make me cry….until the last paragraph before the pictures…and then the pictures, oh my. Too too much and so well done. Everyone considering a service dog should be required to read this. Seriously.

    • Thank you Didi. And sorry ’bout the tears thing, I couldn’t let ya off the hook though 🙂

      • I think this should be read by those who don’t have a service dog or a clue about them; then maybe they wouldn’t be such a nuisance when you and your service dog are in public.

  3. Black Dogs Rule has become such a wonderful tool for families dealing with kids with diabetes!!!! Your frankness is so appreciated. I read your posts and it could be my sister-in-law telling me about my little nephews struggle with diabetes….well the whole families struggle. We’re in Australia and all follow Black Dogs Rule. This article is fantastic!

    • Hi Andrea!

      Are DAD’s popular in Australia? And are service dogs in general accepted in public areas like stores/restaurants?

  4. Well said as always…love reading your blogs…and gorgeous photos!

  5. Thanks Frank, I love reading your blog, and seeing your pictures. I’ll be seeing you in october

  6. Great advice!! Thank you. Dogs are a lot of work and I can see these are 100 times more work. We are so blessed with out dog Bella which cannot tell us when our daughter is going to have a seizure but she behaves like any service dog and is Lyla’s best friend and companion.

  7. Frank, as you know I am working on finding a DAD. This article should be the first thing people do before considering a DAD. Really well done. Thank you for being so honest.

  8. This is the first of your blog articles I’ve read and I am SO impressed with it. I’m forwarding the link to everyone I know. The photos at the end brought tears to my eyes and lifted my heart at the same time and your main photo is one of the most stunning I’ve seen of two black dogs–so hard to photograph at any time!

    Thank you for writing this. Your post is going to do more than you can possible know for families with diabetic kids and everyone who has a service dog.

    Blessings!

  9. Wow. What a thought-provoking and well-written article/story! Thank you so much for sharing. By the time I got down the longer list of photos I was in tears. Such a fantastic bond and I had no idea how much hard work went into that. I take my hat off to you and your family, Frank. Respect.

  10. I truly enjoyed reading about your experiences and how your dogs have changed your family so profoundly. I volunteer with a service dog organization and it means so much when I can learn more about what these amazing creatures can do for folk. My organization doesn’t train medical alert dogs, so I’m appreciating this fresh look into this side of the service dog world.

    This post is way too good not to share; hope you don’t mind. I’ve put a link to Black Dogs Rule in the blogroll on my dog blog website at http://www.donnasword.com .

  11. Thank you so much for this post. We have been working with/on a service dog for our little guy for 18 months and I was feeling discouraged — just as you say, it is not 100%, never “finished”, and others only post the “good” stuff which can be very hard to read when you are in the weeds, so to speak. I also think that there is outside pressure to pretend the service dog is “super” and that it has been a magic bullet cure all… You don’t want to let folks down and see the struggle and hard work behind the scenes. Not to mention the frustrations with dealing with the public at large. Thank you for your honesty.

  12. This left me in tears as I read it and then read it to my husband. Our daughter has JME (Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy) and we have been working hard to raise funds for her service dog. We will be picking her dog up in three short weeks.

    It has been a struggle to get to this point and we are looking forward to putting in the work once we get home. This was so encouraging and helped validate our hard work.

    Thank You.

  13. Well said. As a (retired) university administrator with a disability and a service dog (SD) I’ve seen kids with a newly minted SD and a visitor with a SD whose training had been ignored, was obese, and a nuisance. And everything in-between. People don’t know how hard it is to have a disability. They don’t know how much easier life is with a SD. And they certainly don’t know how hard it is to keep up with this ball of fur who is more intelligent than you thought a dog could be, more curious than any cat, and more prone to getting into things when off duty than the most mischievous child if you don’t keep him in rein. Thank you so much for writing this post. Everyone needs to read it. Everyone. Especially people who are thinking of getting a SD and those who already have a SD.

    People think once they have a SD the dog can go with you everywhere. This is not entirely true. if you allow the training to lapse and the dog to become a nuisance, it is perfectly legal for an establishment to not allow the dog to enter or to kick the dog out. I, personally, have ousted SDs from our campus when they were acting up and their human partner did nothing to control the dog. These dogs were not allowed back on the campus until they (and more importantly, their human partner) had gone through retraining and the dog could be relied on to behave.

    SDs are intelligent and very work-driven. If you don’t give them a job, they will find something to do.What they decide to do may not be what you want them to do. You must be aware of what that dog is up to at all times and be in control of said dog.

    Again, thank you very much for writing about the nether side of owning a SD.

  14. This is such a perfect post! Thank you so much for writing it!

  15. Fantastic article filled with the realities of having a service dog. We are presently foster parents to our first future dog guide puppy and I found your article so moving. Good luck to you and your family.

  16. I am over 20 years in, living my life 24/7 with a beloved service dog. I completely agree. 🙂 <3 Thank you for your article. Shared 🙂

  17. Frank, thank you so much! What a great perspective on the realities of a SD. I have posted on our Big Paws Canine Academy fb page. We provide Service Dogs to Disabled Veterans and I appreciate the realistic viewpoint. As a 40+ year Type 1 Diabetic on a pump, I also appreciate the trials and tribulations. Please reach out to us. We are in So Cal, but would love too collaborate and provide some of my own personal experience with Juv Diabetes. Mary

    • Looking at your site Mary, you and I are probably neighbors. I too am in So Cal, and have played with the pups at Raahauge’s and Prado. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I’ll be in touch!

  18. I was so glad to read this. We have thought about a service dog for my daughter who has FASD. Now I understand the commitment one makes to making it work for the dog and family

  19. I loved your story. Thank you for posting it. Now it makes me want to tell my story to support your cause. I remember how hard it was when I first got my SD. You are correct it does take a lot of work. It’s just like another child in the family. You can have a PET or a SD Team it’s your choice. I agree with everything and will use your story to help me remember things I forgot but remembered when reading about you. I will post your link to my post. Thank you, Thank you, Rick and Millie

  20. This is my first time at Black Dogs Rule; I arrived here via a post on a yahoo service dog discussion board. And I’m so glad I did. I laughed out loud as I recognized so much of our own experience in this article. Especially the bagpipes and bubbles! We’re now a two-SD family, with our daughter’s DAD-in-training along with our son’s autism response dog. I love the reality check that this article expresses–I recently wrote my own, The Invisible Dog, for the online magazine, Literary Mama:
    http://www.literarymama.com/columns/seniormama/archives/2013/01/the-invisible-dog.html
    Thanks for telling the truth in such a warm way.

  21. This is the first time I have read the blog. I don’t deal with diabetes, but a service dog has been suggested for my PTSD. Thank you for laying it all out. This is very importan as my family and I embarq on the sevice dog journey.

  22. Two things:
    1) When I am out and about with my children and we see someone with a service dog I always tell my children as soon as I see the dog’s vest that the dog is working and that we won’t be able to pet them while they’re working. Is this a good thing to do?
    2) My oldest is on the autism spectrum and we’ve been dreaming, researching, planning, etc. to get a dog for her that would be more of a therapy dog. I’m learning the distinction between service vs. therapy dogs and wondered if you have any thoughts on that. Monetarily and general practice we’d rather find a rescue dog. My husband and I both grew up with “rescue” dogs as pets. But then I worry about temperament and “trainability”. There are some specific things I’d like the dog to be helpful with – particularly calming my daughter when she gets over-regulated and alerting me if she is running off which she does sometimes when she is mad and away from home – which is scary. I worry that just finding a rescue dog they might not be up for learning those tasks and/or I might not know how to train them. I feel like there is so much left to learn.

    • 1) Yes, thank you for teaching your children. Some service dogs work for attention, or could be distracted from doing their job

      2) There are a couple of issue with using a rescue (Major is a rescue). The biggest is health. A rescue dog has no hip/eye guarantees, no info on health issues,and no information into their background to know if something might set them off. As these dogs often require years of training, (and that training is expensive) generally we like to start young to maximize the lifespan of the working dog. Major was a perfect storm. We rescued him from an abusive trainer, she had his AKC papers and vet records, and we were able to track down the breeder, allowing us to be confident to proceed

  23. Thank you for your honest post about considering a DAD. I have two T1d children and have been considering/researching getting one for our family. I’ve yet to find a trainer on the East coast (Boston) that I’m comfortable with. They must be around, but I can’t seem to find them.

    This post is food for thought for sure! I already knew that having a DAD would not be all wine and roses, but you put a practical perspective on the ups and downs of owning/training one.

    • Jonna, I personally know a trainer in Vermont. If you are interested, I can email you contact info.

      • I would love that. Do you have access to my e-mail through this blog, or do I need to post it here? I’ve Googled New England trainers, and one person comes up in VT, but I don’t know anyone who has personal experience with her. Thank you!

        • Jonna, The trainers name is Maureen Brown. Her site is here: http://thepositivepoochvt.com and it has all her contact information. We first met back in May, and spent 6 days together at a DAD conference. Since then I know a couple of people that have worked with her and gotten excellent results.

  24. This is the same woman. Thank you so much for the information. I think one of the most important steps for me will be finding a reputable trainer, so I appreciate your help. I love your blog and your FB posts. It’s nice to know we’re not alone in our struggle, and as you can imagine, I can relate to what you post! Keep up the good work!

    Do you mind if I contact you if I have questions? If so, what is the best way to do so?

  25. This is amazing, we are in the fundraising process for a DAD, we have ‘pets’ and are trying to take the leap into service dog. I think I am up to the challenge, I don’t like to fail, I am going to have my daughter read this, and those pics are most certainly tear jerkers!!

  26. Pingback: How did we do it? | kyliesdiabeticalertdog

  27. Hello,

    I am so happy I found your blog. I am getting a service dog. I go to get him on Thursday after so many years of waiting, and much researching. Ben (that’s his name) is a black lab/golden mix. I am so excited to bring him home!! I fostered a service puppy before, and that was a lot of work but still great. Now it is my turn to finally get a service dog. I, my mentor, friends who know, and some family are excited for the new edition though I know many people will have questions and I don’t necessarily tell all of what my SD is trained (training) for in regards to my disabilaties. I love your post because it was honest, as well as heart warming. It made me feel even more ready to start this journey.

    Thank you for writing and I will definitely follow your blog!!

    • Anyone with a service dog should look at iaadp.org, the website for the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners

  28. I’m so glad you wrote this Frank. … For our T1Ds we will do anything but you are right I need to work with my little boy and getting his management under control before I can step into this. You rock. .. hooked on your blog.

  29. Laurie Farrell

    Thank you for your candid information. We are just starting to consider a DAD and needed a balanced, realistic view. Best regards~

  30. One of the best, most incitful posts I have ever read about service dogs. Should be required reading for someone thinking about or about to get one of these wonderful dogs. Absolutely spot on about the training being hard work and never ending. Although in our experience those “Did you see what he just learned!” moments help tremendously with that part of it.

  31. Oops! Meant Insightful, not incitful (even a word?) Thank you for your wonderful article.

  32. Your blog post was very informative. My 18 year old daughter was recently diagnosed T1. She is starting her senior year of high school. We are interested in getting a DAD so that when she moves out of the house she will be able to be independent and have a sense of some security knowing her dog can alert her to highs and lows (she doesn’t seem to be able to sense them). I had her read the article because I felt that it was important for her to have a realistic picture of what life with a service dog is,like, which you article definitely provided. Where you able to keep your other dogs once you got a DAD? Do you know any trainers in Kansas?

    • Yes, when we initially got Major we had a Great Dane, Rottweiler, and a terrier. Sorry, I don’t know of any trainers in Kansas

  33. Nancie Townsend

    I’m seriously considering getting a DAD, but there’s so much information out there, including warnings about unscrupulous trainers who cheat people. I don’t feel I could train a dog myself, though I know I could keep up with his training if I’m able to get one. I’m in the San Francisco Bay area, and would love to find someone nearby who provides fully trained DADs and doesn’t have a waiting list of over a year. Does anyone know who I should contact? Frank, thank you so much for your informative post. I could relate to every word. I’ve been insulin dependent for nearly 40 years now, and performing like a human pancreas is REALLY hard work. Having a DAD would be such a good addition to my life.

  34. Hi, thank you for this post. I know this was posted a while ago, but do you recommend any websites to find diabetic service dogs? I am having trouble finding a creditable one in my area. Thank you.

  35. So wish this could be reblogged – excellent

  36. Service dogs are great! love all the pictures you put on here.

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