USA: In the United States there are around 500,000 service dogs that assist people for various reasons, from vision impairments and seizures to diabetes and disabilities. People are dependent on their service dogs and their lives wouldn’t be the same without them, but for people who are about to get a service dog it can be difficult to know what to expect and what you need to do to get the best results.
The difference between service dogs and pet dogs
A service dog will offer you many things that having a pet dog would, such as companionship, but it’s important to distinguish the difference between the two. Service dogs can take up to two-and-a-half years to train, costing a huge amount of money. It may be tempting to want to spoil them as a thank you for how much they help you and enhance your life, but it’s vital to keep up their training so that they don’t forget the skills they have been taught as this is ultimately why they are in your life. Similarly to pet dogs, treats can be used as a reward for good behavior and your service dog will probably enjoy playing with toys when they’re ‘off-duty’, just like pet dogs would.
You may need to say no to professionals and loved ones
Getting a service dog in your life can be exciting for not only you, but your loved ones that will get to interact with them too. However, you must always remember that your dog should be focused on you at all times as this is what they have been trained to do. This means you may have to tell young family members that they can’t pet them or give them treats. You’ll probably have to explain to groomers that you can’t drop them off and come back later to collect them because you have to stay with them. Vets may want to restrain them to trim claws or check their health, but it’s important that you tell them not to as it’s essential that your dog is comfortable will full-body touching so that they are confident and you to get the most from them.
Your responsibility to your service dog
It’s good that you have certain expectations from your service dog, but they equally need things from you in return to maintain their level of skills and to be content and happy. This includes daily walks, nutritional needs, relief breaks and mental stimulation, which may all sound like basic tasks, but having a service dog usually means you have a physical or psychological illness or condition that can make these tasks difficult. Before getting a service dog you need to take into account what you need to sacrifice for your dog in order to benefit from them. Your dog will be with you all the time and they’ll require you to remember things they’ll need when you’re out, such as their service vest, training treats and ID badge.
Having a service dog will transform your life for the better, but you’ll need to compromise in some areas in order to get the most from them. Getting a service dog in itself can be a huge task, involving lots of meetings with professionals to assess your needs, being paired with a suitable dog and learning the commands they’ve been taught and how they can assist you.
Written by Jane Sandwood, a professional freelance writer and editor.
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