Hi. I am considering training my dog to be a service dog and would like some help in making my decision. First of all I just want to say I know that no one can make the decision for me, and that it is a serious matter to be considered heavily before making a decision. I just thought that it might be a good idea to post something explaining my situation so that I might receive some advice, or in case someone makes a point I hadn't thought of yet. This is a big decision and I want to know as much about it as possible so that I make a good choice. This is a decision I will also be discussing with me family and my psychologist. But I thought that speaking with others with autism might be beneficial (I am also using forums about service dogs). So getting to my situation. I am a young adult with autism and a generalized anxiety disorder. I am beginning to become more independent, I'm about to start college and I take myself to some of my doctors appointments. The problem is that my sensory issues combined with my anxiety prevent me from doing a lot of things I should/need to be able to do. I cannot go to the grocery store by myself as the bright lights, loud noises, and stressors of trying to stay in budget raise my stress so high I have to leave the store prematurely and usually have a meltdown in the car (in the parking lot) or the second I get home. I also cannot do things like go into a restaurant, even a fast food one, I am only just comfortable with using the drive through (and I am not comfortable eating as I drive). Since my appointments are in the afternoon and an hour away from home this often means skipping lunch entirely or eating hurriedly in the parking lot. There is only one store I always feel comfortable going into by myself (a craft store that is usually not crowded or loud), and on a really really good day I may be able to go to the library as well. When I have to drive myself to a doctors appointment by the time I have gotten back home I am too exhausted to do anything the rest of the day and sometimes can't do anything the next day. My dog will come over to me when I'm stressed and having a meltdown or on the edge of one and roll over so I rub her chest in a circular motion (an action that is extremely calming for me), or let me rub her soft furry ears (sensory heaven). She even sits in my lap or on my foot (if I'm standing), something she normally doesn't do or enjoy. If she cannot calm me down or I don't begin to pet her she will go get my mother so that my mom will calm me down. I think I could also train her to bark or paw at me until I stop doing self harming behaviors (hair pulling, hitting my head, biting my wrists, or scratching aggressively at my arms). This would be useful because when I am calm I know I shouldn't do these things. But when I'm stressed or having a meltdown I cannot go through the thought process of 'this is bad for me I need to stop'. I think she could also be trained to remind me to take my medication (I often forget) but that is not my main goal. I believe having her with me would keep my calm enough to allow me to do things like go grocery shopping, get food, and take myself to important appointments without leaving me ill. I obviously wouldn't take her with me unnecessarily. I wouldn't take her with me if my mother or another trusted human companion was going with me who could keep me calm. I wanted people's opinion on this because I really respect the laws and system that allow people to have dogs who help them function with them - and I don't want to be taking advantage of this system. Once again I know I am responsible for the final decision on this, but I wanted to gather as much relevant information on this as possible. If you have any questions that will allow you to answer better I will answer them as well as I can. Thank you for reading this (I know it was really long), and for your answers, I really appreciate your help.
I would contact one of the service dog charities and talk with them about the parameters they are expected to stick within in training service dogs.
Although there is passive soothing as you describe, ideally a dog is trained to react before you are in distress or danger. It sounds like she's got good instincts.
Last of all, how do you identify her as a service dog to others and give her time when she's "on task " and "being a dog"
I've spent a lot of time around working dogs because my sister farms and the most important thing to remember is her working life may only be 7-9 years depending on her breed because she will need to retire when she's starting together arthritis.
I don't want to sound really horrid but I am in the same situation as you and suffer from pretty much everything you listed. I looked into getting my dog trained and there literally isn't someone who trains them in England! If you find anyone please get in contact with me. Because I'm really struggling x sorry I know this isn't the point of your article and I hope you can find someone to help. I started by emailing the dog charities as I'm petrified of big dogs so wanted a small/medium dog to help me but they don't even consider you unless your under the age on 10.. It was just blow after blow and it really upset me. I'm sorry again this got sad very fast
If this is something that can be done - then by all means - go for it... The entire issue of 'service dogs' should not be such a 'pc' issue... If someone doesn't like a dog in the grocery store because 'it has germs' then I suggest there be an RN or CNA at the entrance to every such store to evaluate whether someone who wishes to come into the store is 'sick', or even potentially 'sick'... I'd happily see 10 service dogs wandering about the grocery store aisles with me, as a better deal - than the presence of one, single, coughing, hacking, sneezing person in the store with me and my family during the flu season... : )
I think the potential benefit to you far outweighs the 'negative-views' of others who really are not going to be truly affected by a well-behaved dog's presence... So don't worry about 'taking advantage of the system'... What's to 'take advantage of' anyway? If you can get the help training her and thereby qualify her for 'service duty'... then who's going to 'suffer loss' (ie 'be taken advantage of') if
1) the goals of such a program are accomplished and
2) you receive the help you need and desire...
I see no actual, questionable issues related to this idea...
If you can, go for it... : )
I don't think you have any reason to apologize... We all need to speak how we feel from time to time... especially when it is something painful... I think 'QuirkyFriend's comment above might have some potential starting points for you to maybe check out... we live in the age of 'instant messaging' and 'instructional videos' - so maybe there is a way to 'qualify a dog' via such avenues as 'online training'....
blessings to you, dear one... : )
Unfortunately I'm in NZ or I would help you out finding a way forward.
One of my sister's adult daughters is on the spectrum and is an amazing animal trainer. I might see if she'd be interested in learning about training service dogs