© Tammie Rogers 2023

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Expectations of the Dog Please take a moment to contemplate and to answer these questions: What tasks or skills will a Service dog perform that will provide positive intervention for my disability ? How will a Service dog make my life better than it is now? Give these questions a moment’s time. Should you choose to move into the application process, you will see these questions again and will be asked to put them into writing. It’s interesting how many people think that they want a Service Dog, but have not considered the very specific details of how the dog will assist them on a daily basis. A Service Dog does not change the physical disabilities that you have. The media often portrays only the very best, most rewarding side of owning a Service Dog, so it is easy to believe that it will change your life completely. A Service Dog can help you adapt to situations in a way that you were once unable to do. But, in order to do that, specific tasks must b identified and then reinforced. You may find that it is far easier to use a walking cane for mobility issues than to have a dog with you at all times. You may find that you are rarely away from someone (even a helpful stranger) who can pick up a fallen object from the floor, on the rare occasion that might happen to you, making a Service Dog truly unnecessary or cumbersome, if that is one of the jobs your hope your dog will provide. Specifically identifying trainable tasks is critical in making the final assessment as to whether a Service Dog is the right option for you. A psychiatric service dog can mitigate panic/anxiety disorders or PTSD by helping the individual determine things that are not real (if a door bangs shut and yourdog remains calmly at your side, you can use that information to determine that things are OK - your panicked feeling is not "real"). But, a Service Dog's job is not to assess real threats or act as a Security Guard. Personal protection dogs are are not granted equal access under the federal ADA law, nor should a Service Dog be trained to perform protection tasks, in our opinion. A dog that is expected to be hyper-vigilant cannot also help ground their handler when she feels ovewhelmed. Be aware that unless it has been intentionally trained about specific threats (i.e. a Seeing Eye Dog learns about the perils around traffic), most dogs cannot detect many life-threatening situations. For example, we have been asked to teach a dog to “protect” a person who has seizures from falling down a flight of stairs. If the stairs are ones that the dog safely negotiates every day without issue, he is not likely to rationalize that the stairs pose a risk to someone who is having a seizure near the top landing. A dog cannot make that leap of rational thought. A dog that detect a person’s shift from normal (such as a seizure or other “episode”) doesn’t know that it is a “bad” thing, only that he can detect it. If we want the dog to alert us that he is sensing the event, we need to train him that we appreciate his ability to recognize the situation and to communicate his detection by performing a behavior that we have previously taught him. In essence, he must be taught that your negative condition is something that is worhty of his attention because he’ll get something he covets when it occurs to you. A dog cannot be selectively trained to wake you from a bad dream because we human trainers cannot differentiate whether you are having a good dream or a bad one, so we don’t have any cue to give the dog. A dog cannot distinguish that a razor blade can be used in a positive way to shave your legs versus cut yourself during a psychiatric medical event. However, dogs do have an innate capacity to assess us and interact with us differently depending upon our immediate disposition. We can harness this capacity by establishing the proper relationship with the dog where he perceives us as a valued member of his pack - an individual worthy of his attention and assistance. Then, if we select a breed of dog that has been selectively bred to work directly for people, an incredible relationship can be forged and grown to the point that we could begin to believe that the dog is psychic and can perform miracles. But, that takes time and effort. You should expect that you will need to continue to work with your dog on a daily basis for his entire career with you.