Pre-workRead this page carefully, then decide whether a Service Dog is right for you
Is a Service Dog right for you?
Owning and working with a Service Dog could be one of the most satisfying and beneficial experiences of your life. However, it could also prove to be a frustrating and taxing endeavor. The difference between benefit and burden lies solely within you. Since you are visiting our website, you may have already dreamed of all of the benefits this magnificent animal might bring you. The purpose of this page is to guide you to the best possible decision for you.
Expectations of the Dog
Please take a moment to contemplate and to answer this question; 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 disorders or PTSD by helping the individual determine things that are not real (if a door bangs shut and your dog 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.Be aware that unless it has been specifically provided the opportunity to learn about specific dangers (such as a Seeing Eye Dog learns about traffic dangers), 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 stair pose a risk to someone who is having a seizure at the top of the stairs. A dog cannot envision that threat. 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 the dog that we appreciate his ability to detect the event and to communicate that by performing a behavior that we have previously taught him. 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 work. You should expect that you will need to continue to work with your dog on a daily basis for his entire career with you.
What is a trained dog?
It is critical that you understand that, to be exact, there is no such thing as a “trained dog”. There are dogs that hve been highly educated to perform certain skills and tasks.During your Handler Training or T.E.A.C.H. class you will learn how to train your dog using operant conditioning; which includes both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement & positive and negative punishment, too. Using this balanced approach to training allows us to show you how ot create desired behaviors and to reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors.As the owner of a Service Dog it will be your responsibility to follow through with the training that you learn in T.E.A.C.H. or at your Handlers Training class when you come to get your Custom Trained dog. So, you must ask yourself whether you are willing and able to rehearse skills and reinforce behaviors with your dog every day for the duratoin of is service to you (up to 10 years.)If that sounds overwhelming, then a Service Dog is probably not right for you. However, if you are up for the challenge, you may find it very rewarding to have such an incredible relationship with your dog.
Standing out in a crowd
A serious consideration for those living with “invisible disabilities” such as deafness, psychiatric disabilities or seizures/intermittent medical events is the potential loss of your anonymity. Without a Service dog you blend into society quite well. Once you have a Service dog with you that cloak is gone. The general public has been educated and they know that if you have a Service dog you must also have a disability. You will be stopped, questioned and watched. You may be treated as if you are blind, even if your dog's function is to serve as a Medical Alert animal. Although it may seem like an admirable function to "educate" people about the use of Service Dogs, there will be times when you have no interest in interacting with anyone for any reason, yet, you will still be stopped and addressed as to why you have that dog and why you need him. Many Americans love dogs and many have dogs of their own. Be forewarned your Service dog will draw the attention of every dog owner in the mall, on the street and in the workplace. They will stop to visit, to ask questions and to share stories about their dogs. If you are introverted or self conscious this may prove to be quite annoying and in some cases even stressful beyond belief. Think this through… your Service dog may accompany you everywhere you go for the next eight years or more. You will be required to instruct strangers that they may not pet your dog while it is working, even if he is wearing a cape that clearly states, "I'm Working Do Not Pet Me". It will also be your responsibility to reinforce with your dog that the visitors that approach you with the intent of interacting or petting your dog are off-limits and that your dog is to remain on task and not be distracted. This could mean that you need to correct your dog in front of others, people who may believe you are cruel to give feedback to your dog about his performance.
After taking the time to answer all of the questions that have been proposed here, it all boils down to answering this question, “do the projected
benefits of a Service dog outweigh the expected burdens?” If the answer is yes, then you may very well be an excellent candidate for a Service Dog.
However, if the answer is no, you should consider seeking alternative interventions for your disability. Consider making a chart with Burdens on
one side and Benefits on the other. List all the possible pros and cons and then take time to review the lists. If you are happy in your decision that
you can accept all of the burdens an Service dog may bring in order to reap the benefits, please review the pages for the T.E.A.C.H. program or a
Custom Trained SD. Then, if you are still happy with the decision to participate in the Committed Canine program, feel free to complete the
application, which will contain a question as to whether you have read and fully understand the information on this pre-work page.