My Dog & I: At Your Service

I am getting a lot of enquiries these days about whether or not I offer “service dog” training.

It seems that more and more folks are interested in having their dog play a more structured role in their lives and want to achieve some sort of “title” to define that role.

There are many reasons for seeking out this kind of official certification and I think the pursuit of such a goal is commendable…if you have a clear idea of what kind of career you have in mind and what is entailed…

Firstly, you must define what you would like your dog to do. Seeing-eye dog, early detection dog, physical support dog, emotional support dog, therapy dog…are just a few of the potential careers that a service dog may offer and they ALL need months and years of time and training before they are ready to step into their positions.

Rescuing a random puppy from a Shelter and doing a few basic puppy classes before sticking a vest on your youngster is simply not going to cut it…And anyone who takes shortcuts in order to present their dog as a “trained” service dog is not only cheating but ruining the playing field for those who genuinely wish for a working partnership with their dog.

The life of a service dog begins with some type of careful temperament testing to tell whether this puppy has the ability to fulfill the requests that will be made of him.

Many service dogs do not even begin their training until a year or more of age when it becomes easier to judge the character and ability of the dog. At this point and even once specialized training has begun, there is still a “fallout” rate of dogs that simply don’t come up to scratch.

Many of these dogs spend their first year being raised by families who will “foster” them until they are old enough to go to “school”.

Raising a dog from a puppy and then becoming the dog’s “trainer” is a tricky job, especially if you are an amateur and have an emotional interest in the dog’s future. It’s hard to be Mom and Teacher at the same time..(Nod to homeschoolers everywhere!) At some point, there must be a separation between nurturer and educator and this is not easy.

There seems to be a Catch Phrase job description that is being tossed around these days and that is an “Emotional Support” Dog.

I would venture to say that this job description is, at best, vague and that most of our dogs have the ability to make us feel better without much official training or any particular title. There are categories for Emotional Support Dogs that are, for example, recognized by the VA and other organizations and refer to a dogs ability to be a steadfast and reliable partner for a human in need of assistance but the standards for training such dogs are high and specific…so do not think for a moment that these dogs become trusted partners without a lot of work.

Similarly, dogs that fulfill some of the important, life-improving roles in our society must “go to school”, graduate from college” and get certified.

After all, you wouldn’t want to trust someone’s safety to an underqualified health professional, right?

So, before you call a random trainer and inquire about including a support dog in your life, be clear about what that support looks like, educate yourself about what organizations you will need to work with. Do NOT start with a puppy you have had no guidance acquiring and try to turn the puppy into a candidate for a skilled profession and really consider the amount of time, effort, and yes, the money you may have to invest in this dog’s future. There are support groups for people of all kinds who have a genuine need for the skills of a trained service dog. Start there and get good advice.

If you decide that you may not need to go through the years of specialized work you need, perhaps start with some good basic foundation work with your puppy and a decent first year of attentive guidance and possibly end up with a super nice companion who may not have a title or a jacket but is, nonetheless, the best pal you could ever have.

With love to all my “emotional support” dogs!!!

Janine Lazarus. Hashtag Lewisburg City Paper #130. April 2021. Follow Janine at Goodladd.net and on facebook @goodladddogtraining.

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