What happens when your service dog doesn’t work out?

YOU’VE CHOSEN A DOG to train as your own or a loved one’s service dog. You researched. You decided on a breed (or mix) that seemed to be the right. And then … weeks, months or years into the process something goes sideways.

Let me tell you a story about two dogs: Angel and Elle.

Debbie, the mother of a very special young lady named Sara, contacted me in November 2014. She had chosen a breeder from whom she would get a doodle to be her 12-year-old daughter’s service dog. She had decided to get a puppy and owner-train. In January 2015 that journey began.

Angel

Angel did well as a puppy. He made it through adolescence and into his second year with few issues. But then … the first hint of trouble came in the form of gastrointestinal issues. Debbie took Angel to her vet with no resolution. In an effort to find a solution, Debbie took Angel to a holistic vet. A special diet and acupuncture helped. But then the big ugly anxiety hit. He was so stressed that taking him anywhere in public was out of the question. He was even showing signs of stress in his own home. The family badly wanted Angel to work out as Sara’s service dog. They did everything they could to help him but in the end it became clear his issues weren’t temporary. Or fixable.

What had been unthinkable became the issue of the day. Should Angel be re-homed? This is when Sara stepped up to the plate. She realized that the best thing for her dog was another home. She willingly said goodbye to Angel (just one of many amazing things Sara has done over the years), sending him off to a life that was right for him and making room in her heart for another dog.

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At this point, we reevaluated Sara’s SD needs and decided to go with a young adult dog instead of a puppy. We also decided on a smaller breed – a breed that would better fit the family’s lifestyle. We settled on a Frenchie. French bulldogs are a lot of dog packed into a small frame. They’re smart, adaptable and loyal, stubborn and a sometimes a little sassy. Pretty perfect for a teenaged girl.

Sara’s family found a breeder with an adult female who seemed to fit the bill for Sara’s next prospect. Her name was Elle. That was September 2017.

Elle has adapted well to her new life in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., bonding with Sara and taking to her obedience and public access training like a champ. It’s been a good year with much learning and lots of new adventures for this dog team. As a service dog in training, Elle will continue learning – preparing for her public access test and working on the task training that will lead to her becoming a full fledged service dog.


Whether it’s health or behavior issues or a combination of both, if you find yourself wondering if your SD prospect or SDiT is going to work out, find an experienced service dog trainer to evaluate your dog. She may recommend seeing a veterinary behaviorist or a holistic vet or working with a trainer who can address your dog’s specific challenges. Your dog’s issues may be fixable. Find the right professionals to help you make an informed decision – sooner rather than later.

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