Have you been considering life with a service dog? There are things to consider when deciding if a service dog is right for you and your family. Adopting any dog is a big responsibility, but a service dog brings a whole new set of responsibilities that you need to be ready for.
Partnering with a service dog is a longtime, serious commitment. It can be expensive, time consuming and overall frustrating. If you aren’t prepared to accept the following facts, a service dog is probably not the best option for you.
If you're reading this article, you're probably new to the service dog world. Don't worry. I know it's overwhelming, but there are a lot of great resources available to help you in this new endeavor.
Assistance Dogs International and The United States Service Dog Registry are just two of the great organizations available for owners looking to adopt a service dog. You can do research at your local library or on the internet. Just be sure you're taking your advice from reputable sources.
5 Things to Know When Getting A Service Dog
If you are thinking about partnering up with a service dog, keep in mind they will likely cost you thousands of dollars. While there are a couple different ways to go about partnering up with a service dog, every route is expensive.
The first expense involves actually receiving the dog. This process alone costs a lot of time, and is monetarily expensive as well. The process of receiving a service dog involves forms being filled out, interviews being conducted, homes being inspected, doctor’s visits, and more.
You will have to share private information about your disability, and share your lifestyle choices with people to even be considered for a service dog. Even once you are approved for a service dog, it can be a long wait until you are actually partnered up with one.
There are two ways to get a service dog. You can go through a program specialized for partnering up service dogs with prospective owners. These dogs will already be trained, and you will typically have a support person to help you with continuing training, home care, and other things you need to learn when taking on a service dog.
There are occasionally grants and scholarships available for these kinds of service dogs, but when paying out of pocket, they can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.
This is just the upfront cost, and does not include any further expenses, such as training and veterinary care. You can also choose to owner-train a service dog. It can take a while to find the perfect dog for owner-training, as there are very specific requirements.
Many people who decide to owner-train their dog find a dog through a well-known breeder that specializes in breeding service dogs. This provides almost a 100 percent guarantee that the dog will be physically, mentally and genetically sound. You can see the dog’s parents, ensuring that their health, temperament, and socialization is up to par with service dog standards.
Depending on the breed, these dogs can cost anywhere from $800 to $3,000. This doesn’t include any of the training you will have to pay for. With service dogs, unless you have experience with training service dogs, it is crucial that you pay for an experienced trainer. This trainer knows exactly how to give a dog the skills they need to succeed.
There are plenty of other expenses associated with owning a service dog. Food, equipment, veterinarian costs, and training are just some of the expenses that come along with owning a service dog. It is crucial to be educated about this before deciding if a service dog is right for you. If you don’t have the resources to spend on a service dog, it is probably not the best option for you.
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2 There Is A Lot Of Time And Effort Required
Owning a service dog is a time-consuming commitment. You will own your service dog anywhere from 8-15 years, so be prepared to commit to this dog. When deciding if a service dog is right for you, keep in mind that owning a service dog is like having a toddler. They need to be with you at all times.
Expect your service dog to always be nearby. If you’re at home watching TV, your service dog is probably sleeping by your feet. If you’re out running some “quick” errands, your dog is right by your side. If you can’t handle the responsibility of having your dog near you at all times, a service dog probably won’t be right for you.
Just like real dogs, service dogs require a lot of care. It is your responsibility to keep your dog feed, entertained, and healthy. You are the one who takes your dog outside to the bathroom multiple times a day. This is an everyday requirement.
Regardless of the weather, how you’re feeling, and what is going on in your life, your dog will still need to be taken care of. You need to be able to handle all of your dog's needs, or have someone else in the home who can and is willing to, if you aren’t physically able to.
A service dog must be impeccably groomed at all times. Taking your dog outside will already attract lot’s of attention, and it will only attract more if your dog isn’t perfectly groomed. Many dogs have a natural instinct in them to get as dirty as possible whenever possible, so this can be a lot harder to keep up than it sounds. You must always keep your dog bathed, flea free and odor free at all times.
A service dog will not work it’s entire life if it goes through training as a puppy and receives no training afterwards. Service dogs require training throughout their entire working career. They need reinforcements daily. When you do not train your service dog every day, it will become bored. It will not be able to work as efficiently. Regular training establishes dominance with the dog, so the dog will always listen to you.
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3 Your Service Dog Will Attract Attention
Having a service dog will attract a lot of attention towards you and your dog. This is inevitable. Some of the attention will be well-intended, but disruptive towards your working animal. An example of this would be people petting your dog or making noises towards your dog.
People, including strangers, will often mean well by these actions, without realizing they are putting you in danger when they do this. When you have a service animal, you have to be comfortable telling people no.
It is okay to tell people not to pet or distract your dog, and you can even say that they are putting you in danger by doing so. Some people will take offense to this and may even become combative, but remember your health and safety is what is important at the end of the day.
Other times, the attention attracted to you because of your service dog might not be so well-intended. When people think of service dog owners, they envision people with blindness walking with a cane, people in a wheelchair, and so on. A lot of people don’t account for invisible disabilities, such as diabetes, that could require a service animal.
If you have an invisible disability, you can be guaranteed that strangers will have no problem questioning you about your health history. Once again, don’t be afraid to be assertive. You have the right to keep your health private. As for businesses, they can not legally ask about your health. If your dog is certified, he’s certified, and that’s that.
If you are considering partnering with a service dog but not prepared for the social problems that come along with it, you may want to reconsider getting a service dog. This is especially true for those with social anxiety, as going out is already stressful enough without strangering pestering you and your dog.
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4 A Service Dog’s Number One Job Is To Serve
Contrary to common belief, Service dogs are not just better trained regular dogs that can go to restaurants. Their job is to serve. This puts a lot of responsibility on owners, as it is up to them to keep their dog working.
When at home, service dog owners have to stay strict with their dog. The dog can’t just freely roam the house like a normal dog would, he must stay near his owner. The dog cannot beg for food off your plate. The dog can play, but it has to be structured play with you. These keep your dog’s training reinforced, and keeps the dog occupied.
Service dogs are prone to get bored when they aren’t being instructed by their owner. This can lead to behavioral problems, which is the last thing you want to happen when your dog is working.
The relationship between a regular dog owner and their dog and a service dog owner and their dog is significantly different. Service dog owners have to keep their disposition towards their dog at all times, even when the dog is not working. They have to follow rules they would follow while working at all times. This reinforces their training, and helps them be better at their job, serving you.
5 Patience Is Key With Service Dogs
Although well-trained, service dogs are not robots. No matter how much time you spend training them and working with them, they will have their off days. Your dog will experience days where it won’t listen as well, may not remember many commands, and more.
The dog may become irritated while out in public. It is important to stay patient with your service dog. Even on their off days, your service dog will not forget how to do his service. Should an emergency happen, your dog will still be there to help.
If you can stay patient with your dog and continue to work with them, even on the days that they are having slight behavioral issues, you can be sure your partnership with your dog will be successful. When behavioral issues are ongoing or worsening, you should seek out the help of a professional trainer.
Are you prepared for the physical, emotional, and financial care that a service dog requires? Are you ready to be bombarded with questions every time you go out in public with your service animal? Are you ready to spend years training your service animal?
If you don’t think you and your family can deal with the strains that come along with a service dog, it is not recommended you partner with a service dog. This is not a bad thing, many people aren’t able to make the commitment to a service animal. If yes, then you are ready for a service dog! Your next step would be to reach out to your local organizations to see about the application process.