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Is a Service Dog right for me?

There are many misconceptions about service dogs, our goal is to educate. The following is a list of misconceptions or misunderstandings, followed by a little bit of clarification:

“My life will be so much easier when I have my service dog.”

Reality – Owning a service dog requires work!

Although service dogs provide immeasurable benefits, “less work” is not included on that list. Dogs are just like humans; they eat and drink, use the bathroom, require grooming and veterinary visits, not to mention attention, entertainment, socialization, continual education, exercise and love. A minimum of 30 minutes of training practice must be completed by the service dog handlers twice daily. Service dogs are the BEST so please remember that you will be 100% responsible for every aspect of that dog’s awesome life.

“The service dog will know what to do!”

Reality – Service dogs are super cool, but unfortunately (and against popular belief), they are NOT able to read human minds! Service Dogs are trained to respond to clear commands given by the supervising handler.

Clear communication is one of the most important aspects of the service dog team. We teach you how to appropriately communicate to the dog, along with how to “read” the dog by interpreting body language and behaviors. We essentially teach the dogs a little bit of English, specifically the English commands listed on the above customized training plan. These must be communicated clearly by the educated supervising handler. The dog is “paid” with positive reinforcement for completing the command appropriately, and corrected when the appropriate response is not displayed. Handler education regarding proper communication, corrections, enforcement, and reinforcement of the service dog will be provided to the handler(s) on the exit date. Paperwork will then be signed by the adult handler(s) confirming comprehension of proper service dog handling education.

“My service dog will be perfect at all times, just like a robot!”

Reality – Service dogs are still DOGS!

Service dogs have emotions and feelings, likes and dislikes; they are very similar to human children.  They will need sleep, food and water, love, a place to use the bathroom, attention, toys, fun, exercise, health checks, and a climate-controlled living environment. The bond between the recipient and service dog takes time to form. Through daily practice and communication, the dog learns the recipient’s unique routine and needs. 

Just like humans, dogs need time to adjust to their new home. Generally it takes 3 weeks, to 3 months for the dog to feel comfortable in their new environment. We recommend using a crate (the dog’s little apartment) for the initial 6 months after coming home, to help with this adjustment period. Eventually trust is earned, a bond is formed, routine is established, and the dog will be eager to sleep with in bed with their favorite person (if their person wants them to, but not a requirement)!   

       

A dog’s best trait is that they are always learning! This means they are continuously learning how to assist their recipient in the best way possible, and eventually responding to their needs automatically. This also means dogs can learn “bad” habits, behaviors, or fears. Properly communicating what behaviors are encouraged and discouraged is crucial to maintaining a happy, confident, loving, and eager to please Service Dog! We emphasize handler education for everyone that will be caring for, or interacting with the dog on a daily basis.  

“The service dog must be working at all times.”

Reality – The service dog is a tool to be used when the handler is in need of their service(s).

When the handler has released the dog with “free dog”, the dog is free from working until a following command is given. When released from working, they are able to “just be a dog”- similar to a pet. They can play, swim, run, sleep, eat & drink, roam the house, and interact with all members of the family (until a command is given).

“I will be an expert handler as soon as I get my trained dog!”

Reality – Handling an assistance dog is similar to driving a fancy car; it takes time and practice to become an expert driver!

Handling a Service Dog is a learned skill that takes time, practice, and patience to master. With any skill, there is a learning curve before you can anticipate proficiency. The SD Handler is always in control of the dog’s actions, so proper communication, enforcement, and reinforcement is crucial.  Handling is similar to learning how to drive a manual sports car. A new driver must learn how to operate the vehicle, change gears, and steer without running off the road; exactly like learning how to control an SD! An abundance of focus and attention is required initially, but eventually driving/handling becomes second nature. With daily practice, the Handler will go from “hands firmly gripped on the steering wheel”, to “changing the radio and eating a burrito!

We generally suggest six months of daily practice with your trained SD, before handling them in a high stimulus environment that requires a split of focus. This includes flying, amusement parks, work, and/or school. We recommend practice training trips to stores, without going shopping to learn how to multitask with the SD. ASA will teach handler(s) how to control (drive) the dog.  We not only encourage, but require multiple daily practice sessions. This is the best way to form a bond with your service dog, become an expert handler, and make it clear what your expectations and needs are. Since the dog is a living animal with emotions, they must also learn to trust and respect their new handler(s), which is accomplished by strengthening the bond through daily training. We recommend sending videos (if out of state) and/or attending the remedial training lessons within 2 weeks of receiving your service dog. We encourage you to contact us immediately with question or concerns; we are here to help make sure you have the best relationship possible with your SD!

Still unsure? Fill out a questionnaire for some personalized guidance from ASA!

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