There are many steps to acquiring a service dog, and the first few may surprise you. The first step is figuring out if a service dog is right for you. Living with a service dog can be a wonderful experience and a huge asset for someone with a disability, but it's always good to go into any situation with your eyes completely open. These dogs most certainly can be life-saving partners, but keep in mind that they come with their own needs and bring their own personalities to the table. Having a service dog can change every aspect of your life; here are some things to consider if the thought of getting a service dog has crossed your mind.
Ask yourself why do you want or need a service dog?
I realize this may seem like a basic question but its one that you should think through even before you start your search. There are many different types of service dogs - I suggest writing down what you want your dog to do as you can utilize this list when you start talking to service dog professionals later on to help you on your journey (MUCH more about this in another blog coming soon!) Do some research about the type of tasks you'd like your dog to do - in doing this you will help yourself not to get carried away by a fast and smooth talking scam trainer (believe me there are many out there.)
I would recommend spending some time in the research phase before moving forward and make yourself familiar with the type of service dog/tasks you'd like. Research organizations and posts and look for examples of people who have their service dog do the type of desired tasks on your list. At this point I would avoid looking at individual trainers as you're not quite ready for that step yet - but by all means if you stumble across a trainer that looks promising or is recommended to you by someone who has a type of dog that you want, jot down their information for later use.
While you create your list, keep these other things in mind.
1.) Are you willing and ready to dedicate your life to your dog?
True, these dogs are here to help us, but on the flip side you are now on their beck and call for everything that they need. Are you ready and willing to share every aspect of your life with your dog
and be as equally dedicated to them as they are to you? Dog's are not machines with an off switch, they are living, breathing creatures and as such have needs that you will be responsible for. Just like with children, that means that there will be times where it will be inconvenient.
2.) You are no longer a you, with a service dog you are a "we":
Yup, that's right. Your dog will share every aspect of your life, so that means you will have to think about how they fit in. When taking a service dog out in public you have to think about where your dog will walk, sit, stand where he is out of the public's way. You have to consider their hunger and thirst needs throughout the day and where they will relieve themselves. When out and about you have to make sure your dog is comfortable and out of the elements. Where will they be when you drive, when you walk to the store, where will they be when you are in the public restroom. Yes, even public restrooms they will go with you...
3.) Are there other animals in the home?
While it is not impossible to have a reliable working animal in the home where you already have pets, it is something to take into account as having a working animal there most certainly will change the already existing environment.Will your existing animals be able to adapt and/or do other members of your family want a working animal in their home?
4.) Are you ready to participate in continued training?:
In order to keep your trained dog's skills from deteriorating you will need to continue maintaining their good manners. What you don't use, you lose. Any trainer worth their salt will tell you that training is never finished - maintenance is forever. Also, specifically with Diabetic Alert Dogs (DAD's) you will be even more aware of your disability as your dog will be letting you know throughout the day when your blood sugars are out of whack. So be prepared to do more checking of your blood sugar than you were before as well.
5.) Service dogs have physical needs as well:
All dog's need proper exercise and have grooming, bathing, feeding and off-duty needs which vary from breed to breed. You will also need to take into account the cost of providing regular healthcare and preventative medication and make provisions for that in your budget.
6.) Are you ready for the public issues you will encounter?:
When you and your service dog are out in public you will FOREVER be answering the same questions and educating the public about service dogs and proper etiquette. Often there are difficulties utilizing public transportation and business owners will question your right to be there in their establishment. You will be asked for paperwork that is illegal, and hounded about "what's wrong with you." People with a fear of dogs or allergies will object to your dog's presence there and your disability will no longer be "invisible" as a dog will attract attention no matter where you go no matter how impeccably behaved they are.
I am not bringing all these things up to discourage you, but instead, to prepare you for what lay ahead in your service dog journey if you do decide one is for you. Tune in later this week for another blog in this series all about how to pick the right breed for your you!