I think the prospect of training your own service dog is very scary. And it should be! It is an enormous amount of work and requires ironclad commitment, not only from you but from everyone in your household. When you are dealing with a disability, this may seem like a daunting task. But it IS possible!
I knew when I started this journey that I couldn’t walk it alone. My friends and family have all been very supportive. However, the bulk of the training still falls on me. Peabody is my dog. We needed to bond, and she needed to understand that she works for me, not anyone else.
I might have been able to do it completely alone. But it’s really unlikely. Owner training is a long and complicated road. These are the ways I found the support I need:
- I asked for it – When I’m too tired to even take my dog outside, I need someone I can count on. Luckily, I have a wonderful husband who will pick up the slack when it’s needed. There are a lot of avenues to explore here, but make sure you have people you can ask for help! It may be a dog walking service, or an in-home puppy sitter. It may be your best friend, or a spouse, or a relative. It can be anyone, as long as they can be counted on to help if you ask.
- I hired an amazing trainer – I know it sounds counterintuitive to owner-training, but I couldn’t do this without Dee. The bulk of the work is still done by you. But having a trainer, whether you meet once a week or once a month, is such an important part of your support system. When my pup, Peabody, was (and still is) going through her doggie teenage cycle, it’s Dee I call and message for help. She is much more educated than me on training techniques, and she has seen it all. Dee offers me possibilities that I never considered. And she notices things that I wouldn’t be able to see for myself.
- I found the right veterinarian – I can’t explain the peace of mind that comes from having the support of your vet. I let them know up front that I was training a service dog, and what type of tasks she would eventually perform. They keep that in mind as they offer advice on food, supplements, and care. My vet has allowed me to train in their office. They call and check on my pup all the time. They know that I prefer appointments in the afternoon since mornings are hard for me. And they squeeze me in anytime my pup is sick.
- I look for people who are also training a service dog – there are lots of online groups you can join that are just for people training service dogs. I take what they say with a grain of salt most of the time, but it can be helpful. I personally like to see all the gear that people use for their pups; it gives me ideas. But you can also ask questions, or follow along on other people’s journeys. You can follow blogs like this one too! Or search out real, live people who are also going through similar situations. I have met several people through Dee. They aren’t training their pups for exactly what I am, but we all understand each other.
- I make connections locally – When I’m out and about training Peabody, I talk to lots of people. This might not work for you, especially if you are training for anxiety issues. But it really helps me! When I start at a new store, I look for a friendly employee first. I talk to them about what I’m doing, and I ask them what their peak rush/slow times are at the store. If I’m training something particularly weird, I let them know up front. For example, one day I was working with Peabody on her reaction if I fall or pass out (video below). This meant a lot of pretending that I fell to the floor. Since I don’t want employees running over every time I “fall”, I talked to them about it first. I have never encountered an employee that gave me a hard time for talking to them. Most of the time they are super interested! And I enlist their help when I can. I was training at a gas station/convenience store one day, and I used the employees as distractions for Peabody. They had a great time trying to talk to her, or stepping over her, or making noises for me. I find that people are generally friendly, and they are genuinely interested in what I am doing. And they remember us! So the next time I am there, they know who we are. And they love our visits
Training your own service dog is definitely a lot of work. But it’s also beyond rewarding! The right support systems is very important to your success, so be on the lookout for those friendly faces and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I think you’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to support you on your journey.