6 Questions to Ask Before Getting a Service Dog
1. Do I have the monetary means necessary to care for my service dog?
Service dogs are not only expensive when you are getting one, but also expensive to maintain. They can cost about $2,000 per year without any serious injuries or surgeries. Besides the standard costs of a dog, you will need to take your service dog to the vet on a regular basis to make sure that they are happy and healthy. Much like humans, service dogs should not be expected to work full time if they are physically unable to. As a handler, it is up to you to maintain your best bud’s health.
2. Am I prepared to continue my service dog’s training after they are fully trained?
If you and your service dog are not regularly doing or practicing certain behaviors, they will eventually forget some things. It would be silly to think that your service dog would remember every single behavior after months of not practicing. As a quick nerdy example: when I was in fifth grade I had to memorize the entire “give me liberty or give me death” speech. I ROCKED it! I was the best in the history of the school, according to my fifth grade teacher. It was so good that they recorded it to show it other classes and said that they would never assign that project again because no one could outdo me. Or at least that’s how my fifth grade mind remembered that moment. But if you think I knew that speech a year later, you would be very wrong. I never practiced it again. And I never will. In short, practice makes practically perfect, and perfect practice makes perfect.
3. Do I have a strong support network?
This might be the hardest question to answer. I think we would all love to have a group of family or friends to back us up no matter what, but the truth is, not all of us have that. The thing is, you still need support from somewhere, including health professionals. It’s important that you have other support, whether it’s family, friends, doctors, or someone else. We have been where you are and we have seen the negatives and positives, so feel free to contact us with any questions or even if you just need to hear some supportive words.
4. What are some everyday activities that I cannot complete on my own?
Maybe you have trouble bending down to pick up the pen you dropped or maybe you can’t go into a shopping center alone due to anxiety. A defining factor of what makes a service dog a service dog is that they assist you in your everyday life. In fact, the legal definition of a service dog requires the service dog to perform tasks that make your everyday life easier. If you cannot think of any specific helpful behaviors you need, then perhaps what you are looking for is an Emotional Support Animal. You want to make sure that a service dog is really what you want and part of that means that you should be doing your research on these terms and definitions. A service dog can add anxiety to your plate because of how fuzzy the laws around them are. Make sure you really need one before jumping in head first.
5. What else have I tried?
Another difficult question, I know, but important nonetheless. If what you need is a specific type of medication or maybe regular therapy sessions, then perhaps a service dog is not what you need. This is not to deter you from thinking about a service dog, it is only meant to make sure you have thought and tried multiple things to improve your life. A service dog is not a pet you can put up for adoption once caring for it becomes too difficult. Service dogs are living creatures that need food, water, affection, exercise, attention… I could go on and on. You have to make sure that you are being honest with yourself throughout this entire experience. Without honesty there will be no progress for you. We want to make sure that this is something you actually want to go through with because as I mentioned earlier, it is a huge responsibility and you could potentially make things worse for yourself.
6. Have you ever had a dog?
FINALLY, AN EASY QUESTION! You should have a pretty easy time answering yes or no to this question. If you haven’t had a dog before we can help you through all of steps it takes to get ready for one, but if you have had a dog before that does not mean you are in the clear. As a trainer who used to work for a big name pet store, one of the most frustrating things people would say to me is, “it’s ok, I’ve had a dog before, so I do it this way,” while I was watching them do something inherently wrong with their pet. Having had an animal before does not make you an expert. I have been paying taxes for YEARS but that doesn’t mean that I have even the slightest idea what the heck I am doing. It’s ok to be wrong as long as you are willing to learn the right way! So many people believe the first way that they learn how to do something is the correct way, mainly because they are too prideful to admit that they would have believed something that is incorrect. “It is easier to fool a man than it is to tell a man he has been fooled.” Good ole Mark Twain, hitting us with the good quotes. All I am saying is make sure that you have an open mind when you are asking an expert for advice. And as always, do some research.