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Many of SDTI students suffer from anxiety and this is why they have a service dog. They and/or their dogs may be sensitive to background noise or they live in an apartment with neighbors coming and going. A white noise machine is often suggested in such cases. I have a better suggestion! Consider keeping an aquarium (AKA fish tank)!

The sound of water flowing is a soothing sound for most people. Bubbling water is great to cover background sounds. The color green in plants is calming and reassuring. It relieves depression and nervousness. The sight of fish swimming smoothly is calming and relaxing. Taking care of live creatures can be anxiety-relieving as well. Keeping fish also helps fill a need for many people who don't have the opportunity to connect with nature. These all can help relieve anxiety. 

They are also health-promoting. Having moving water in your home increases the humidity in the air. Moderate levels of humidity (40-60%) improve your body's ability to protect itself from viruses.  The lining of your nasal passages when kept moist, is your first line of biological defence.  

If you are able to take care of another creature in addition to your service dog, you might want to consider the benefits of this idea. 

There are a number of ways to approach this idea. Let's start with the simplest and work to the most complex, just like we would when shaping a new behavior with a service dog. 

1. Listen to the sound of water to see if it is something that is soothing to you. Play the linked video in the background while you hang out in your house or room. Turn the volume to a level where it masks background noise without being annoying. 

Also spend some time watching the fish in the video below. Does this interest you at all? Does their smooth movements calm you? Do you enjoy the colors? Beware! This is the video that got me started again to set up aquariums after a few year's break.



2. If you think you might prefer real water and want to add humidity to your home, think about purchasing an indoor waterfall. There are many sizes from small table top ones (about 6 inches in size)  to large floor waterfalls (3 feet tall or larger). You can buy them new seasonally at most big box stores or second hand. Check Facebook Marketplace or other internet classified ads like kijiji.com, usedcity.com, craigslist.com, gumtree.com.au, etc. Here's a site that gives 10 examples to get an idea of what they can look like. (I am not affiliated with the link.)

3. Set up a small aquarium but keep only aquatic plants in it. You can use realistic plastic plants from the dollar store or real pond plants or purchase aquarium plants. 
These options need much less maintenance than a fish tank with live animals in it. You get the benefits of the sound and humidity as well as green plants. You will need some sort of water pump and having a good light or choose plants that have low light level needs is key. You could use a submersible water pump, air pump with tubing or hang on back filter to circulate the water.  Here's is a short video showing the top 5 easy aquarium plants. (not my video)

Here is my 20 gal planted tank. I integrated plastic plants (left and the one with pink in the middle) and live native plants. I love the shades of green!The frilly plant is a 'hornwort' and the dark-leafed palm-looking one I believe is white-stemmed pond weed. Both grow locally in lakes. The green mass on the lower right is Susswassertang (a freshwater fern) The plant on the front right is in a pot above the water (wandering gal). It has two sponge filters and a light. No heater. All of these plants do well with low light levels (just regular 60W compact flourescent bulbs) and were easily available to me that is why I chose them There is also duckweed on the water surface but it doesn't grow well as it needs full spectrum light. 



The variegated plant at the back right side of the tank is a Pothos or devil's ivy. The roots are growing in the water n the right side of the tank above.

4. If a 'plant only' tank isn't enough interest for you, or you want to graduate to some live critters, consider adding some aquatic invertebrates from a local pond or lake. Snails, caddisfly larvae who carry their house with them, and backswimmers are some easy additions. These can be fed sinking pellets. There are many aquatic larvae that will capture your interest as well. Make sure to find out what they eat and provide them with their natural foods to keep them healthy. You will also want to have a lid on your tank as many aquatic larvae transform into flying insects such as beetles. Be aware that most regions have laws protecting vertebrates such as minnows, tadpoles and salamander larvae so leave them where you find them.

5. Set up a 10 (20 inches x 12" x 10") to 20 gallon aquarium for a few fish. If you are adding fish, things get a little more complicated as you have to make sure their needs are met. This involves having a water filter, a heater (if they are warm-water fish), plants, doing regular water changes and feeding once or twice daily. I wouldn't buy a tank any smaller than this as fish need space to swim. Ten gallon tanks are the smallest I would go as they are big enough to maintain temperature and also the water will stay clean so you don't have to do as frequent changes. 10 gallons also give your critters some space so they aren't cramped. Going with a tank larger than 20 gal makes it hard for one person to move it from place to place and many rental contracts have a size limit on tank size as well.

Here's a simple 10 gallon guppy tank. The tank has a glass top to keep the fish from jumping out. There is a desk light and on the lower right is a green sponge filter that is powered with an air pump. There is no heater as the room temperate stay about 68F-72F most of the year. The floating plants are plastic and on the bottom right is live willow moss. My spider plants are rooting in the upper right. They will be potted up at a later date. A small piece of drift wood in on the lower left. I got the guppies off www.kijiji.com. I feed flake and sinking pellet food along with tiny white worms and mosquito larvae I collect from containers outside.


For best success, choose hardy types of fish that come from the same water conditions as you have locally. For example, on the west coast on North America (Oregon north to BC) we have soft acidic water so we keep a betta, Corydoras catfish and 3 kinds of tetras who thrive in similar water conditions where they are found naturally. If you have hard water with many minerals (have white scale on your tea kettle or toilet bowl), then choose smaller cichlid species that come from hard water rivers and lakes like livebearers and the ones suggested in this video. If you don't want the hassles of heating the water, then consider fish from these types of water that thrive at cooler temperatures. Avoid fish that get larger than about 3 inches long like goldfish, Oscars, many of the cichlids and plecostomus. You need to upgrade to really big aquariums or even outdoor ponds to keep them successfully. Also consider keeping large snails, crayfish, freshwater shrimp and even aquatic amphibians like dwarf aquatic frogs! These are all fun to watch! Avoid keeping too many in one tank though as some eat others!

If you are new to fish-keeping, you will want to pair up with a mentor as there is a learning curve. Check Facebook groups for a local hobby club. Partner up with someone who is willing to help walk you through tank set up and maintenance and answer your questions. I write a blog about small critters and crafts.

You can also book a web cam session with me, or if there is enough interest, I can do a webinar where you can ask questions live! Find out realistic costs, how much maintenance is needed to keep the tank healthy, help choosing what specific might work for you etc.  I have had tanks and kept and bred and raised a variety of fish most of my life and so has Bruce! This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you are interested in such a webinar! I can put you on a interested list.

Finding new ways to relieve your anxiety or cover background noise gives your service dog some down time to relax. He will thank you for it!

Published in Handler Life Lessons