"Properly trained, man can be a dog's best friend" ~ Corey Ford
Lately I have seen an increase in the amount of call I get from people, who want to train their own service dogs. The majority of these calls are from people suffering from anxiety and depression who have heard or have been recommend to get a dog to take with them out in the public to help them overcome whatever internal obstacles , they may encounter.
First of all , let me say, I am all for having a dog as a companion and many studies have shown the powerful effect dogs can have on our internal state and well being. They calm us, give us confidence and aid when needed. This is one of the many reasons to why we have service dogs (for people with epilepsy, Aspergers, Autism, Diabetes to just mention a few) and Comfort dogs (formerly know as Therapy dogs). Because we as humans responds to dogs in a very positive way, both mentally, as well as physically and the connection humans and dogs can have (two very different species ) is awesome and beautiful!
Knowing this, people might choose to adopt a dog hoping and expecting it to become their own personal service dog. But this is where my concern comes in and why this topic needs to be addressed.
Without getting into too many details about the difference, a service dog is a dog that has been specially chosen due to its temperament and will go to a certified school for a minimum of 2 years , where he still might be rejected for not living up to the standards. There is a lot of time, money, training and commitment put into these dogs, so someday they can go to a home and make a difference for someone who needs them.
That is a service dog - and that is the service dog wearing the service dog vest and therefore allowed into every store!
A Comfort dog (Therapy dog) is a privately owned dog who has taken the tests necessary to become a registered Comfort Dog. These are the dogs you see in school, nursing homes, hospitals and so on.
The dog you have chosen to help you overcome your anxiety and depression is neither one of the two mentioned above. People tend to call them service dogs, which they are not. But truly it seems to be a bit of a gray area, so for now I will just call it a Personal Aid (PA) dog.
When I get the call about the PA dog, I see failure from the get go. The people calling have often not done their research about temperament and about the commitment and training needed, but instead just adopted, rescued or bought a dog that looked cute or simply because a friend had one. In their mind is going to be dog for themselves or a family member, that can help detect a panic or anxiety attack and it needs to go with them everywhere. So when I get called out to a five or eight months old dog, that has no skills, never been socialized, live outside in a kennel because "he is too strong and too much to handle" , and I listen to the expectations the family has for this dog, it is really hard for me to not get mad and frustrated. You are setting yourself and the dog up to failure! Having a dog means being a responsible dog owner, who is committed and ready to put in the hours needed to properly train and socialize the dog in order to give the dog the best skills and foundation needed in order to live in our world with the minimum amount of stress. That foundation in itself is hard work BUT if then you also want the dog to be able to handle stressful environments, such as grocery stores, farmers market, post office and more, you have to understand , that with these additional requirements, you need to put in the extra work. And still nothing is guaranteed. Your dog might have a temperament which will never allow it to go with you in public.
Please know that this post comes from a place, where I just want to see dogs be successful. It is not lashing out but more a plea for you to understand, that you cannot put all these expectations on your dog if you are not willing to put in the work yourself.
If you are willing to put in the work, I will be more than happy to help you put a training plan together. As I said, dogs are amazing and the bond they allow us to have with them is beautiful and honest. But be fair and choose a dog based on realistic expectations in regards to your level of commitment. And if you don't have the time, don't get the dog.
As a dog trainer and animal lover, my wish is to help educate the owners, so they can have a harmonious relationship with the animal(s) in their lives. A relationship based on knowledge, trust and respect.