Top 3 things to know before getting a service dog

Service dogs come in many different shapes, sizes, and abilities. Choose a service dog whose skillsets meet your needs.

Living with a disability, psychiatric condition, or neurodivergent traits can be a challenging experience. After all, you will likely face many long-term and day-to-day hurdles. One of the resources you may find that can help you navigate these difficulties is a service dog.

That said, getting a service dog is not something you should enter into lightly. Various practical, financial, and lifestyle components require careful consideration.

Before committing to this course of action, take a moment to dive into the top three things you need to know.

There are different types of service dog

Before getting a service dog, one of the first things to understand is that not all assistive animals are alike. Choosing a dog whose skills don’t meet your needs can harm everyone involved.

The wrong service abilities won’t help you navigate daily life, and retraining or rehoming will be disruptive for them. Therefore, getting to know the types of dogs available is important.

The most well-known types of service dogs are geared toward physical conditions. Some dogs specialize in assisting people with vision impairments to navigate their surroundings. Hearing assistive dogs are also trained to alert owners to sounds and alarms. Some dogs detect the presence of allergens or the early signs of diabetic attack symptoms.

In addition, there are a variety of psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) that can have a positive impact on those living with mental health challenges.

Some are trained to be vigilant for the physical symptoms of health or emotional difficulties, alerting their owner when these arise. Others help people with dissociative disorders or who experience panic attacks to ground and reorient themselves.

Dogs specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are particularly effective at providing sensitive companionship that soothes symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. 

Service dogs need significant training

Few dogs are naturally imbued with the skills required to be service dogs. Some may have attentive predispositions or caring personalities, but they need significant training to function effectively as an assistive animal. This is one of the reasons that service animals tend to be quite expensive.

As a result, some people consider adopting a dog to train it as a service animal. This is an option, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t require a dog to be officially certified to qualify as a service animal.

Nevertheless, it’s important to know that teaching your dog how to be an assistive animal requires dedication, knowledge, and consistent effort.

The dog will also need to possess certain qualities. For instance, they should be in good health, spayed or neutered, and have a calm but responsive temperament. These elements can both ensure they’re responsive to training and make them good service animals.  

You can train your dog personally. However, this requires a lot of patience on your part. Alongside the foundational skills of socialization and potty training, you’ll need to progress to more complex aspects.

This includes recognizing relevant signs you need assistance, helping you meet your needs, and responding appropriately to emergencies. Some people find it useful to collaborate with experienced professionals on these elements. 

Your home needs to be suitable

Another important consideration before getting a service dog is whether your home is a suitable environment for them. While you have a right to gain the resources to help you meet your needs, this doesn’t override the service animal’s needs. You must provide them with a home that makes them comfortable, safe, and happy.

Firstly, ensure your home is a consistently healthy space for a service animal. Make certain that sharp objects, machinery, and heavy furniture don’t present hazards to them. Any potential falling hazards should be anchored to walls.

You must also take steps to address pests that could harm pets. This may include hiring pest control experts to handle ants or wasps that could bite or sting your animal. It’s also important to set mechanical traps for rats and mice rather than use poisons.

In addition, you should educate yourself on steps to take should your pet become injured by pests, such as treating minor bites with aloe or alerting a vet for more serious mammal or snake bites. 

Alongside these elements, you must proactively make your home suitable for a service animal’s enrichment. They need time to relax, have fun, and develop, too.

If you have a secure yard, consider installing a pet door so they can freely get exercise and fresh air when needed. Investing in a range of stimulating toys can also provide cognitive and emotional enrichment outside their assistive duties and refresher service training.

Final thoughts on getting a service dog

A service dog can be an invaluable resource but also a significant responsibility. Before getting one, you must fully research the types of dogs available that align with your needs.

It’s essential to understand that service dogs must be well-trained, which requires commitment if you plan to take this on personally. In addition, you must be able to maintain a safe, clean, and enriching home environment.

There are various other responsibilities and considerations to consider alongside the explored elements. Understanding these can ensure you’re effectively prepared to bring a service dog into your home. It also provides a mutually positive experience for you and the animal.


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