If you have a disability and are considering a service dog to help you mitigate that disability, here are some things to consider: (whether you self-train or get a dog from a program)
Is a Service Dog the Best way to Mitigate your Disability?
Make a list of your impairments, the things you need help with. Are there other non-dog ways that can help you?
What are your biggest challenges?
There are more and more assistive technology created today that is effective, undetectable and more cost-effective than a living breathing being.
- More portable
- More reliable
- Less intrusive
A dog may not always be available to help you.
Is it cost-effective? One time costs rather than ongoing costs of a dog (feeding, vet, grooming, training, maintenance etc)
- Having a service dog with you in public is stressful
- draws unwanted attention
- accessibility challenges
- emotional toll of failure
While the presence of a dog can help you feel safer, they cannot be protected trained or pose any threat to a member of the public. When you need help, a first responder will need to approach and touch you. A dog needs to be very comfortable with that. Especially if you are unresponsive and cannot direct your dog.
Considering Others Needs
To be fair, having a dog in public with you does affect others. Just as they need to respect you and your needs, you need to respect their needs. Whether it's fear of dogs, allergies or the effect of a dog on the health of other animals, the handler needs to think about the team's presence and impact on other people and animals.
Ability to care for a dog on a daily basis-getting outdoors for 4 X or more a day to potty, one or two exercise walks or training outdoors
Ability to go out into public for acclimation, training and public access work?
Dogs make mistakes in public.
The hander needs to learn to speak dog.
Dogs communicate mostly with body language. To be a successful part of a team, you will learn your specific dog's dialect of dog. His needs will need to be met just as your are.
Being part of a team. Trust your dog that means giving up some control.
It also means giving up privacy. Your dog will spend the vast majority of his life within 6 feet of you. If you enjoy your space, this will feel invasive.
Carrying equipment around. When you travel, it's not just the dog that comes along, but also the equipment a dog needs to function. It's like travelling with a toddler. There is extra gear to bring with you.
With this, spontaneity disappears. Spontaneous people don't do well with service dogs. Unless they are organized. Organization skills and a spontaneous personality don't generally go together. LOL!
Slows you down. Because of the above. Because part of a 2 part team etc.
Must Pick up poop. Even blind SD handlers must pick up their dog's poop in public places.
Not easily accepted in work places or schools.
Access is limited only to places where the public can go. Under the ADA, work places, churches and private schools and universities may have their own rules and you need to get special permission to take them there. Some of these places will not want a dog there for many reasons. Other places like food preparation areas and operating theatres service dogs are not allowed as they are not open to the public. In some jurisdictions such as Ontario, Canada, dogs may be allowed in non-public places. Check your local laws as they apply.
You will have to learn a series of laws: federal, state or provincial and even city or municipal as they apply to service dogs.
Having a service dog adds to the familiar work load. While a service dog may solve one problem, the dog may pose others that the family doesn't want to deal with. If you have an already busy life, adding a service dog (either in training or a program-trained one can push you over the edge of what you can handle. I't more like adding a chid to your life than adopting a dog from a shelter. There is so much more involved in living with a service dog. Even more if you are training your own.
Do you have the space for a dog? Fenced yard or other safe space the dog can exercise off leash. Stairs or elevators to the outside can pose a problem, especially as a puppy or if your dog develops intestinal or badder issues.
Invisible disabilities and a service open up the questions of who you are training the dog for and the public can get personal very fast, watching to know the details of your condition. Do you have the ability or desire to politely rebuff or redirect them from personal discussion?
How is your life going to change in the next 5-8 years? Will a service dog still fit in it? Are you planning a move?
Can you set up your own support system? It takes a community to raise a service dog, from selecting to raising and training and maintaining the dog's every day needs and ongoing training for life. Emergencies arise for both you and the dog and he still needs to be cared for.
You may need to fundraise to help pay for the costs of training the dog. Most programs require that you put sweat equity into the dog and owner-trainers are responsible for all costs of the dog.
Assertive to have your needs met without impinging on the needs of others.
Tolerate being ignored- focus is on your dog and people ignore your communications even if you step between the and your dog to physically block them.
Do you have other dogs at home that are not dog-friendly? Your new dog may learn bad habits from that dog or even get hurt by your current dog. Because dogs are social learners, when they live in a dysfunctional social environment, they learn unwanted behaviours from each other. This is often despite much training. Social learning can be more powerful than other kinds of learning.