This may seem like a really obvious question, but the truth is that it isn’t. Not even close. Service dogs can and do mitigate a wide variety of disabilities, but they’re not always the best solution for every person.
The first consideration in deciding to go down this path, is your health. Are you disabled? While this also seems like a pretty straightforward answer, you may be surprised. For some, life might be made miserable by a medical (mental, physical, or emotional) condition that another person wouldn’t even bring up to their doctor. Everyone has a different struggle and each person should seek medical care and assistance that is best suited to their needs. That said, the law is very clear: “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” (www.ada.gov) This means that a medical professional must consider your ailment a disability (a hindrance to reasonable, comfortable daily function). A dog is not eligible for training as a service dog if the owner or intended handler is not disabled.
There are very obvious disabilities that may have already been diagnosed, and if not well managed or controlled by lifestyle or medical intervention, the patient may experience an easier and safer life utilizing a service dog. This is often the case with Diabetes, Seizures, or various cardiac concerns. None of these ailments are immediately visible to a passing stranger, though they’re certainly debilitating. Other disabilities are more visible and these are just as likely to cause the patient an inordinate amount of distress in daily life. None of these diagnoses alone means that the patient NEEDS a service dog. If that person LIKES DOGS and feels like the behaviors that a dog could learn would significantly improve their quality of life, then a service dog will likely be a good idea.
Perhaps you’re significantly disabled, you love dogs, you know someone who has a like disability who uses a service dog, and you are considering getting one yourself? You’re still not sure that this is the best course for you. Consider the challenges of handling a service dog. For the purposes of this article, we’ll leave the obvious challenges of living with any dog unsaid.
- Service dogs in work are ALWAYS in training. Every interaction with a living animal is a learning opportunity. Even a well-trained, competent, enthusiastic service dog may develop undesirable behaviors if training is not maintained. A handler should be prepared to continue training their dog frequently. This requires some mental and physical energy from the human part of the service dog team.
- Service dogs need breaks. Like every creature, all work and no play makes dog a dull boy. It is impossible to work a dog every day of the year and expect the dog not to need a day of play and relaxation. A service dog a is medical AIDE, not a cure for the disability of his handler. Handlers must be able to function without their dogs.
- Service dogs require a significant financial investment. Even if the handler is knowledgeable and capable of training their own dog, basic medical care, feeding and equipment is not inexpensive. Yearly cost for dog ownership alone is not an insignificant financial obligation. If the handler is unable to train their own dog or needs assistance, cost of training may also be a factor.
- Social nonsense. While society has become much more accepting of service dogs in public, there is still a lot of push back in many areas. A handler may be unwilling or unable to defend themself or their dog and it is a sad fact that whether the threat be merely verbal abuse or a more significant worry about physical assault from an aggressive dog in public, handlers must consider that society is not always kind or safe.
- Mental/emotional strain. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back might be a service dog. If a patient loves dogs, can afford a service dog, medically would benefit from a service dog, has the time and space for a service dog, can otherwise accommodate a dog in their life, but just does not have the mental or emotional wherewithal to handle ONE MORE THING TO WORRY ABOUT, then a service dog is not a good choice (or not a good choice right now).
We’re always happy to help our fellow man. If you’ve read through these considerations and realized that your life would be improved with a little more help and you think a service dog is right for you, then we do too! And we’re here to help that dream become a reality. We recommend that you read our article on How to Get a Service Dog and What to Look For In a Service Dog. We also offer a variety of classes, lessons, and service dog training programs if you’re ready for the next steps. If you want to talk to a person, you can always contact us immediately and we’ll help you decide where to go next.