Before you get a service dog

gander You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

(This article was written back in April. I revised it so it could be used as part of a teaching manual for Freedom Service Dogs. 

Much more attention needs to be paid to the mindset, environment and special emotional and psychological needs of anyone getting a service dog. we are, after all, in the process of healing. A dog is not a cure-all and cannot replace psychotherapy. It is a valuable adjunct and counselors, social workers and psychologists,especially those working with PTSD and trauma clients, need to be briefed on how best to anticipate issues and to enable solutions to make for the best possible outcomes for both client and service dog.)

So, you think you want a service dog? Think again….

I was reading a story on Facebook about a woman with Lupus. She illustrated for friends how hard life can be when you have to accommodate a debilitating, unseen illness. Her examples especially hit home as I remembered a dear friend from high school who took his own life rather than endure the primitive treatment available at that time. He could not handle a lifetime of shielding himself from the sun and the outdoors he loved so much.  And he did not want to face the judgement of those who couldn’t understand his suffering, much of which was invisible, even to his friends.

The author of the post used dinner spoons as a metaphor. She gave the same number of spoons to each member of a group of friends. They were amused at first when she verbally walked them through a day and took away a spoon to represent the terrible toll taken by every simple task they normally took for granted. She let them make decisions in her stead and then assessed the difficulty of each decision from her own experience until they were all soon out of utensils and forced to decide whether or not to borrow from the next day’s rations.

The analogy, as simple as it was, rang true for me. I have often likened my day to the nearly worthless battery on my iPhone: I have to ration my energy over a variety of tasks:  a movie requires me to choose a time and place with few people, easy entry and exit and now, a place for Gander, my service dog, to rest comfortably where people won’t stumble over him. A restaurant has to have a booth, an understanding proprietor, and be open at at non-peak hours so I don’t encounter too many people who might not like the idea of a dog in their eatery. I do not invite conflict and don’t feel I have anything to prove or teach when all I really want is a meal.

And there are many new and old preparations in advance: emergency medications ( I used to carry pills in every pocket and keep them in every drawer to avoid the possibility of a panic attack), a water bowl for Gander, snacks, service vest, bathroom breaks and so on. A day in public has been and still is exhausting for me. The first few weeks with Gander were infinitely worse: The added stress took a savage toll on my body and my serenity. And all of this while people assume I am training my service dog because I don’t appear to need one. As silly as it might sound: Having a service dog is like being pregnant. For women it is the first time you publicly show people you engage in sex. For me, it is an admission that something in my life is under repair.

Yesterday, I stopped to eat at a restaurant not far from the hotel where I stay. I sat outside in the car for a few moments and brought the anxiety of venturing into a new place down from a boil to a simmer. I have my usual haunts and stick to them. That night I wanted a change of pace. But Gander is a handsome and lovable mutt who draws attention, and it may come as a shock to some that attention is something I have loathed for years. And he sparks conversations about feelings and elicits memories that are not often shared with strangers in public venues. I brace for the usual questions: “What breed is he? How old is he? How long have you had him? Why do you need him? What does he do? Can I pet him?…” And then I wait, The conversation will end, become deeply personal or we will be rejected and asked to leave because Gander is one of only two service dogs I know of in Lake County, so few people have an understanding of service dogs and certainly not his role in my life–especially since I “look normal”.

The manager, an attractive lady, appeared quickly and immediately wanted to know if Gander was a “blind dog.” I resisted the urge to tell her that while he might have some hearing issues I thought his sight was fine. Then she wanted to see his service dog certification. Keeping with the battery analogy: My system was now flooded with current. I was working hard to keep from marching, like an overwound Christmas toy, into an emotional or wall or to angrily let her know that asking such questions is illegal in Illinois. Gander sensed that all was not well and leaned against me. He provided a way for me to ground and discharge excess energy. I calmly explained state rules about assistance animals and went about my dining business. During that particular meal I was asked several questions by people at distant tables and a young Indian boy racing by shrieked after realizing he’d seen an animal under the table. It was not a relaxing meal.

After dinner, the manager stopped me to invite me the two of us back sometime. And then she owned up to her discomfort: she disclosed severe physical, familial and care related difficulties she was facing in her own life. She has a lot on her plate: late stage cancer, a blind grandmother, a recent divorce and more. She expressed a longing for a pet to be there for her in what must she described as very difficult evenings alone. I give her a couple of suggestions and a card and told her to call me with any questions. I hope she does.

At our frequent visits to the area VA hospital, Gander brings literally dozens of smiles to the faces of people in the halls, and waiting rooms and especially those lost in thought and preoccupied with health concerns. Several vets have asked me how to get a dog because they are alone, lonely or just in need of something to do with the excess of time illness demands for recovery. Others have balance issues, relentless anxiety or problems picking things up…

When veterans say they want a dog, I generally ask them to ask themselves if it is a service dog, a canine buddy, a good friend or a girl/boyfriend that is really needed.

I explain that a dog becomes an extension of self and will immediately be one more thing to take care of to in the course of a difficult day. And I ask them to remember that not everyone in their lives, kind and generous friends they might be, are going to feel the same way about their dog. Other people have trauma associated with their past that has nothing to do and everything to do with you if you bring a symbol of their trauma into their life. And other cultures are not as devoted to their canine companions as we are. Some religions restrict contact with dogs and you are likely to get a less than warm welcome from a Muslim cabbie, the law not withstanding, because adhere to teachings you find superstitious or disrespectful.

Not only will you need to prepare better for your day and yield to new limitations, but now you will have a sentient being that requires you to attend to a multitude of needs: It is a lot like having an infant with you. You are now responsible for a life other than your own. It can help heal or help hinder you depending on your needs and your ability to accommodate these changes. a lot of owners blame the difficulties on bad training, or a poorly performing dog. It is neither. You need to discover when, where and how this new piece of living equipment can best assist you as you honor his or her limitations and respect his or her need for love and care.

Scientists have known for years, what the VA pretends it has never heard about: that the body’s chemistry is dramatically and positively changed by just by stroking the fur of a animal. It effects the release of important hormones like serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin and the results are lower blood pressure, decreased levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol which is the adrenal chemical responsible for regulating appetite and cravings for carbohydrates. And if you are spiritually inclined you might believe that the compassion and unconditional love of a pet is a direct link to the divine.

I think that Gander and I were fated to meet. I think he was a Tibetan Lama in a past life who decided to hang around this world wagging, kissing and loving me into a better understanding of compassion and unconditional love. A dog in your life is a blessing you can cherish forever if you have reasonable expectations and a commitment to loving and caring for a new member of your family.

One of the tasks Gander was taught to perform was to flank me on the side open to height to give me some distance and comfort. What happened was he became so tuned to my emotional state that he began to avoid heights himself. My wife says I have given my dog PTSD. I did make him more cautious of open spaces. Is he failing me? Should I be angry or disappointed? No. I now walk down the center of bridges so we both feel more comfortable. I don’t take elevators with glass floors. The scope of his aid to me goes far beyond  these simple things. we will work on them together as a team. My guess? As I heal and become less anxious, so will he. He will be a living barometer of my progress. We have important things to do. And I am not about to stress my best friend needlessly as we romp though these rough trails together.

Spend some time visiting with others that have dogs. Volunteer at an organization like Freedom Service Dogs, read as much as you can, speak to the proprietors at places you frequent, talk to your treatment team, review your finances–this will be expensive especially if there are medical needs later! Treat this like you might an adoption of a child from a foreign country. It is an enormous undertaking that is done thoughtfully and honestly will teach you more about yourself, your disability than you can possibly imagine. It will positively inform your future relationships and make you a better friend, a better employee and a better person.



  1. says

    I didn’t know that the public attention bothered you at times as well–you seem much more patient than I am. Like you, I try to plan to go places when they’re not as crowded or as busy–Sundays rather than Saturdays for most family outings, for example. I feel bad that I often don’t have the spoons to speak much at all because being out heightens my pain (and my son’s). Many people really like dogs, especially such smart and compassionate ones.

    You probably get a lot more questions that intrude upon your medical privacy since your disabilities are invisible.

    Movie theaters can be a problem–chocolate labradoodles blend in with the floor!

    You’re right that honoring their limitations is so important. They want to please us.

    • admin says

      Public discomfort is part and explosive parcel of PTSD.
      Gander makes it better.
      The beauty of him involved is how, after the routine questions, he cuts through the normal chit chat and folks get right to the core of things.

      It’s hard.
      It’s getting better.

  2. says

    The best damn line anyone has written and I have had the joy to read in perhaps ever….. “I think he was a Tibetan Lama in a past life who decided to hang around this world wag, kiss and love me into a better understanding of compassion and unconditional love.”

    For me, Cookie and Boomer are my “Ghost Guards” keeping the demons from invading the dark crevices of my mind and my soul. Many blessings upon our ancestors and the ancestors of wolves who formed a magical bond. But a bond with duties and responsibilities. – Jim

  3. Mike Hennigan says

    Thank you for such an intimate view of you and your life.We all are blessed by our canine companions. – Mike

  4. says

    Deeply affecting post. I’ve had ten wonderful canine companions in my life. Now live in an apartment where I can no longer have one. I cannot describe how much I miss having a dog. But I am also aware that for 30 years I chose to be bound hand and foot to the significant needs and costs (hip replacements etc.) of those treasured friends. All in addition to many other responsibilities and financial commitments. There’s no halfway station. And yes, it always requires significant forward planning and self-sacrifice. Was it worth it? Heck, yes. Every single moment. Such memories.

    • admin says

      I guess my greatest fear is losing Gander or Xiaoli.
      Cannot bear the thought.

      Thanks Clive.

      Love is a decision.

    • says

      Clive, what State do you live in? I’m not aware of any Federal or State Law that prohibits the legal requirement to allow a Service Dog or ESA (Emotional Support Animal) in public housing. That’s discrimination, and VERY MUCH against the law. Please visit the Animal Legal and Historical Center, maintained by Michigan State U College of Law. The main link is . On the left choose “Assistance Animals/Disability” under the “Topical Explanations”, then choose either “Assistance Animals/Service Dogs” or “Emotional Assistance Animals and Housing Laws” from the window that pops up – whichever best suits your situation. Each choice gives an overview of each topic. Read all of those topics. Then go back to the left and choose your State from the drop-down menu “Primary Legal Materials”. You will be presented with every single Federal, State, Penal, Health & Safety, Food & Agricultural, Fish & Game, Civil, Family, Vehicle Code, Civil, Government, and State Props for your State. (Michigan U is very good at keeping this database up-to-date. I’m from Calif & this is the main link I use for my State: .) Again, on the left side choose “Select By Subject”/then from the “Laws” drop down menu, there are several entries you might like to explore: Disability & Pets, ESA, Landlord & Tenant and Municipal. (Obviously you can research State & Fed laws, Case Law, and a slew of other related resources.) Again, as I said earlier, it is Federal Law that trumps State or City laws to allow Service (Assistance) Dogs and ESA/Emotional Support Animals to live ANYWHERE THE OWNER CHOOSES – and you CANNOT be charged any extra pet fees.

      Clive, it breaks my heart that you sound like a Service Dog is what you need, but are under the misinformation that housing/landlords, can deny you the right to have one: in fact, you can have a Service Dog (perhaps in training) AND an ESA at the same time at the same place. I’m working my mo-jo to help you get another dog into your life…
      Best wishes, Deb & Dakota

  5. says

    Thank you thank you thank you for saying what I wish I could say when I get those relentless questions and am already barely holding on. I will post a link to this on facebook and have bookmarked it to send people who contact me through my dog’s website. I don’t know if I can put a link in this comment. The website is respect the vest . com all run together, all lower case. That’s my best defense. I had a business card to people. The commitment is immense. Some days, I choose not to go out because it’s too much. It’s better to be able to make the choice, though. I didn’t used to have it.

    BTW, you alluded to it, but the other drawback is loss of family members and friends who have difficulty, for whatever reason, with a person’s need for a service dog.

  6. Deb and Dakota says

    The Spirits blessed me with a 3 year old wild child long coat German Shepherd who tried to eat me the first time we met. She had already been sold to 2 homes by her co-breeder who had to take her back. Dakota had had no training of any kind whatsoever. On the long drive home she laid on the back seat and let out the longest, loudest sigh I had ever heard from a dog. Somehow she knew she had found her forever home.
    Leaving home at 12, and as a Vietnam-era Vet, followed by 28 1/2 years in Law Enforcement and keeping all emotions totally bottled up, I finally broke. Years of therapy & uncountable bottles of strong meds at high doses didn’t keep me from trying to leave this world, including the metal meal.
    Within a year of getting and selt-training Kota to be my Psychiatric Service Dog, I am down to 3 meds, no longer even think of suicide, depression almost completely gone, all nightmares & night terrors removed, warned of panic attacks ahead of time – and having Kota mitigate them so that they don’t even occur, agoraphobia mitigated with her at my side. My beloved Dakota has helped with ALL of my PTSD, MST, and all my other psych issues. She has been a miracle worker!
    But going out in public with this absolutely gorgeous huge extremely furry GSD can be a nightmare in itself – little kids run up and hug her, people can’t resist the drive-by petting. People stop us wherever we go and ask a kabillion intrusive, if well-meaning, questions. I get tired of being mobbed by the public and having our picture taken wherever we go without our permission. I have to hand out brochures and educate, educate, educate about Service Dogs in general and Psychiatric Service Dogs in particular – hell, all I want is to get a gallon of milk & a loaf of bread! A 10 minute errand becomes a one hour trip – and that doesn’t count the prep time before leaving the house: clean dog & gear, emergency meds, clean-up supplies, and dog groomed to perfection.
    People just cannot conceive that Kota is MY PSD, not being trained for a needy male Vet. They just can’t wrap their mind around the fact that I am severely disabled & need her, even though I look “NORMAL” to them & they think she is my pet being snuck into stores.
    I owe Kota my life physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychically. I can NEVER pay her back. She does her PSD duties with happiness and joy – it is her job – it is her game – and she excels at it. You may see me walking tall and proud down the street, but it’s only because my partner makes me feel that way.
    Yes, it is an incredible job to care for your heart-dog – on all levels. But like Kota’s “job”, it is a joy to me too. I look normal, because Kota is extraordinary. I love my magnificent Partner with all my heart and soul & would give my life for hers – as she would for me. A Service Dog can make an extraordinary difference in your life, regardless of your disability – seen or unseen. But it is a commitment you are responsible for – for the entire life of your Partner. They give you the service of their lives and ask nothing in return except your love…
    Deb & Kota
    (Mr Admin – this is incredibly long – I’ll understand if you don’t post it, no personal offense taken)

    • says

      I can’t even begin to imagine all the problems that accompany having a beautiful service dog beside you. Kind of like a ‘huge blessing’ and a small curse..altho curse isn’t the right word for such a special animal. I’d love to see a picture of Kota. I also wonder how you trained her not to ‘eat’ people (especially children) who come up to her. God Bless you on your healing journey, and bless your ‘healer’.

      • says

        Mary Lou, I cannot figure out how to attach a pic of Dakota on this site. So I’m using the “website” field below to send you to Google+ pics & vids of Kota. The best one is probably posted on 07/20/13 with no title. Has 21 pics & are the shots that were submitted & that the Judges picked one to be the February “pin-up girls” for the GSD Rescue calendar. I hope the link works…

  7. Tim Taylor says

    As a Vietnam Veteran with a service dog, I understand all of what you are writing. about. Having a service dog is one of the hardest things I have ever done. When people walk up to me and ask what my disability is,I feel as though someone has punched me in the stomach. I don’t ask personal questions to people I don’t know. “Is he a blind dog?” is a question I always leave alone even though I’m laughing inside.

    What I hate is people who walk up to me and ask where they can buy a jacket like mine so their dog can come in to the restaurant. I ask them if they put on a white coat if they could preform a surgical procedure. Thew write me off as sarcastic.

    Anyway thanks for your article and thanks for coming home

    Tim and Pax

    • admin says

      Thank you brother.

      People really ask you where to scam a jacket?!!

      I know several guys scamming at the VA but I let it go. If they
      strongly enough about their dog to lie I guess they
      need it.

      If the dog isn’t a problem I turn a blind eye.

      Would love to see pics of your pooch.

  8. Nancy Eldridge Stokes says

    So beautifully said.
    I am a professional canine trainer in central Louisiana.
    I have been training dogs for over 40 years and love my profession.
    I am currently training dogs in several different specialties, TD, SD, PTSD dog, ES dog, basic and advanced Obedience. CGC trainer/evaluater.
    My goal in life is to help those in need of a canine companion, have their needs met.
    It is truly the most rewarding work I have ever done.
    My thoughts and prayers go to you and Gander. Great job and keep fighting to move forward together in this not so understanding world we live in today.
    I currently work with our American heroes, our veterans and make numerous visits to the Nursing Homes. I have some amazing stories that will always touch my soul.
    Best wishes to you and Gander.
    Nancy in Louidiana

  9. Nicki Cyrak says

    Having met both you and Gander, I appreciate both of you and the bond you have even more. From meeting you, I would never guess you have issue with large groups of people, but I know that these things are often sight unseen (i have an “invisible disease” a few actually, so i can understand). In today’s world, it is truly surprising to me that people are not aware of all the things our wonderful furry friends are capable of and that saddens me. I also think what you say (to some extent) has to do with people thinking about getting a pet in general as well. Animals love us unconditionally. We must remember why they are there for us and that, they too, need our unconditional love. They are much like a baby/child/teenager, but, we wouldn’t drop a baby at a pound at the first sign of trouble so why do it to your dog?

    Those that scam for vests are troubled souls and need help. The best we can do is continue to educate, educate, educate.

    The best of luck to you and Gander. I am anxious to talk with the two of you in person again some day soon. :). Take care!

  10. says

    This is a wonderful article! Honest and even-handed and beautifully communicated. I work with veterans with PTSD in the Fayettevelle, Arkansas area. Would you mind if I printed this up and included it in the packet for those thinking of getting a service dog?
    My husband had two service dogs for years (yes, two. Long story) and the dogs changed his life. May well have saved his life.
    I also have a humorous book published by Pen-L Publishing about a move out of the country with two giant service dogs and I’d love to give you a copy if it’s something you’d like to read. No strings, just as a small thank you for all you do to educate with this blog and with your Facebook posts.

  11. KC and Bobi McGee says

    When I was forced to move 4 states away to gain medical care for my autoimmune diseases, my sister wanted me to bring one of our 5 dogs with me to train for service here. Sadly, I was just not strong enough to take on the challenge. She found me a cat. I now have a “service kitty” in the form of a long haired Manx. She doesn’t go to the store or on the city bus with me, but she does go out with me through our apartment complex, most of my neighbors know her well, and welcome her to visit. She certainly understands when I come in exhausted, in pain, or just plain stressed.
    She is by definition unconventional. Her job is to get me out of bed in the morning, help around the kitchen (she waits for the occasional dropped goodie), she cuddles when I’m depressed, plays when I’m happy. She counts on me. At bedtime she’ll purr softly to ease the rapid-fire thoughts that otherwise would keep me awake all night.
    I really respect you, and folks like you, who have found new freedom in life by taking on yet another responsibly. I see Gander and long for my dogs, they were my compaions for so many years. I’ve been blessed with Bobi McGee, she doesn’t play poker well (that’s where she lost her tail), but she fills a void and serves my need.
    GOD bless you and Gander, and all of the folks who are so strong, to do as you have, and fight for your freedom. So many of you fought for all of us. You deserve to have yours at what ever cost your willing to invest. I pray some day people will be more tolerant and mannered to not to ask personal questions. After all, they certainly wouldn’t go to a pregnant lady and ask how she got that way!
    Thank you, for letting me share my unconventional situation. Finding you and Gander gave, and continue to give hope, when there is a time where no-one seems to understand the unseen.
    Welcome home, Brother. Thank You for your jobs well done. ♡

  12. April L. Boersma says

    I love animals more than most people, so for me it’s a natural thing to want to love on your dog (or anyone else’s I see) but I try to hold myself back because I know that the dog is working. I do always ask first to pet the dog (not the owner! that’s creepy!) and I used to carry treats with me. I didn’t realize that just asking to pet the dog would cause stress on their buddy and I do apologize for that. I always felt being nice to both human and 4 legged was ok.

    And for the record, it’s not just people with any type of disability a dog soothes–when my husband has a crappy day at work, he gives me a kiss and a hug and then goes right for his dog!

  13. says

    Erin and I have been together since May 2013. She has made my life so much better. I too wait for less people to be out . some days I will not leave the apartment that holds more terror than happy but Erin will not allow me to wallow in that place. We work hard and play hard I have balance issues and mobility troubles but the hardest is the PTSD. Erin will move me out of the way of things that I am not aware of, and Yes I do answer questions when I can. If I am not in a good place to do so I will tell the people please give me a little time and space , then I will talk with them. Erin has pushed me out of the way of things that she feels would injure me then help me back on my feet, she helps me out of chairs and gets me out of places that , are too crowded or noisey, She knows when to increase the distance between me and others without them noticing. She is Awesome. We have a great trainer and I can call anytime with any question.

  14. Jan James says

    Would it be possible for you to post this important and great article to Pinterest? I would like to share it with others who are not on Facebook and with others.
    Thank you, Jan

  15. June Whalen-Gonzalez says

    I trained a service dog for a young lady with PTSD following several severe auto accidents – and upon taking the dog into a local Wal-mart, was TOLD we had to leave (dispite the training vest) Upon meeting with the store manager and providing the needed sensitivity/education, we were alowed to proceed —- the most difficult part of the task was really the public, several who stopped to tell me that Huskeys were never service animals (really? they served mankind for many centuries as sled dogs and guards …. before accepting this job change) and had one mother who never paid attention to her child (she was one aisle over) who attempted to correct me for correcting her child when he grabbed the dogs tail from behind and really pulled hard ! Am proud that on this 1st public foray that the dog just gave me this look that said – “You have got to be kidding?” This dog has served her young human well, and has provided the serenity to again be in motor vehicles and attend the world ……….

  16. Ruthie LaVaque says

    Thank you for sharing what life is like for you. Reading this, I was just flattened. I am so glad that Gander is there to help you through the day. Looking at his eyes, I just know that his wisdom guides him to help you and I’m so glad for that.

    Ruthie and Bella the Rat Terrier princess

  17. Beth Hicks says

    Thank you for sharing so much. Bones and i follow Gander and with reading this article its not only something i think anyone wanting a Service Dog should read but also you have made some very good points. Bones is a rescue, when i rescued him i never dreamed of ever needing a service dog, but since that time my PTSD has taken over and when he started telling me i was having an attack before it happened and i told my doctor whats when we decided to start the training. At this point his training has gone really well and we have few issues with having public access but its taken hours and hours of hard work with him. However during all of that time we have only grown closer and he is able to serve me even better. It has been a learning experience for both of us. Also you point out the issues with having a service dog such as having to plan your day better, be prepared for different obstacles and such. This is soo true. Having a SD can be hard work. I know that if i plan on going anywhere i usually try and plan a day ahead, and on the day of i have to make sure Bones is walked, has done his business and has played any excess energy out as even on his best days if i dont give him a chance to walk out a little energy before going somewhere he tends to pay attention less, much like a kid that needs recess at school before they can concentrate on their work in the classroom.
    It may be extra work to become a good team and make is successful but it is soo worth every minute of it for the benefits that both SD and handler(or guardian) get out of it.

  18. beakerless says

    My VA therapist just suggested a service dog today. I don’t make any decision without a lot of information and careful consideration. Thank you for a well balanced post. This is not something I’m going to be able to decide any time soon.

  19. Dee says

    My story is a bit different, almost the reverse with PTSD. I have it, but have learned skilled tools to manage it, even to working on a workshop to present to others. That’s another story. Baron came to me because I was looking for a dog to train as a service dog. I knew I could train one due my personal history with having had dogs most of my life; even though I am not certified and didn’t know about training for service tasks.

    Anyway, this dog, who would become Baron, came to me from a lady who rescues large animals. He’d appeared at her door when she called her own dogs in for a shearing and dip. After checking with the county animal control about him. She had let me know about him. He was about the size I was looking for, a medium sized dog. I wasn’t looking for a large dog because I use a wheelchair for mobility most times and didn’t want to use him for balance nor pulling.

    Since he was a mutt, it was difficult to know what he was capable of; I tethered him to me night and day for several days to let him know he was home and wanted but also to observe him. I soon recognized his PTSD along with a little ADD. So when we saw the vet, I said he was an alphabet dog with PTSD and ADD.

    Baron was about 9-12 months when he came to me. As we got to know each other, we played games which led into tasks which he still wags his tail at because he’s still playing when he does them. I discovered he was very quick and intelligent as he learned. That was 7 years ago. As we have worked together, he’s mellowed. HE was the one who stressed when I would fall, this also worked for me. Through reaching out to help him calm down, this calmed me down and allowed me to displace the pain which came from the falling. Even though his hyperalertness might bother others, we worked together so it is much less and he’s even learned to ‘whisper’ when stressed and now even allows things to happen without getting stressed out.. This also has helped me since it allows me to work with my own knowledge and skills

    Due to the PTSD we both have, it helps me to watch for when he’s stressed and he does the same to me. He also helps with medical alerting too. The big challenge now, which I’m beginning to think might be a question to ask others who appear to have service dogs is, “When do you anticipate retiring your dog?” You see, Baron is getting to that age where I must think of this. It’s not easy to think about, most certainly anyone who is passing a pet for an SD doesn’t know or think about. We are partners through this life and yet at some point, our partner is entitled to live the life of a dog with the life (s)he has left. My challenge now is doubly difficult since I owner-trained him, I have to find a new home for him and find another dog to trained. This won’t be easy for him because, like me, we have come to rely on each other. Yet, as a parent, I must allow my children to fly the nest, so too, I must release my partner Baron to allow him to live as a dog. My concern is finding a home where they will understand and manage with HIS PTSD along with him accepting yet another owner/family as he has with me.
    BTW: He was distant for awhile, then came one day at the dog park, he was moving around at a distance from me. A full adult St. Bernard came up to me. Now, given that I was in a wheelchair, she was almost eye to eye height with me. Her owner came up and we started talking. Whenever I moved, the dog would bark and get agitated. The owner didn’t seem to notice or if she did, she might not have known what to do. After several minutes of this, I ask if she would take the dog out of the enclosure since I couldn’t move w/o the dog getting agitated. As the dog moved away, Baron came up to me. He wouldn’t challenge but from that day forward, When we go to the dog park, he wanders and does his freedom thing, BUT I don’t have to call him, he regularly does a ‘check in’ then goes back into ‘free’ mode. These are the behaviors which most who don’t own a service dog or trained medical dog, don’t know about and which I have come to enjoy ‘teaching’ so people can understand how these dogs are different. AND why they need to ask before petting or talking to the dog.

    Sorry for length, admin. I’m keeping your story so I can help in my training for people with PTSD. Do I have your permission?

    • says

      Dee, this is a great story and interesting. Since I know many people who use their dogs to deal with their own anxiety, I believe that’s not good for the dog, but in your case it sounds like exactly what your dog needs.

      I’m currently training my successor dog. She’s coming up to five months old. I would not even consider giving up my current dog Rethy (pronounced Reethy). She is my heart and my partner for life. Incorporating my collie pup into our routine and having the pup learn from Rethy is a great gift.

      It’s a process, easier than I thought it would be. I do Dog of the Day (or hour, depending) and they each have separate time with me. They are besties and play together. Hattie, the collie, is now bigger than Rethy and doesn’t always respect her boundaries. Rethy has a compressed disc which is why I’m retiring her early. Still, the two will overlap. Once Hattie is fully trained, I will swap them out depending on the place I’m going and my needs.

      Hattie will be trained to take me to the door or a chair. She will guide me through a crowd. Rethy does well when I have to sit somewhere and may become triggered and dissociate. She has a natural alerting ability and senses my mental state. She is also trained for deep pressure therapy to slow my heart and uses her face against mine to bring me back from the ether.

      It is good to have a retirement plan. You don’t have to give Baron up. He can mentor. Your new dog may do other things and they might not include helping you manage your anxiety as much as responding to cues by trained behavior. I would enjoy interacting with you about this. If you want, you may contact me through Rethy’s website,

  20. Jewlz says

    Having PTSD Lupus Asthma And rumitoid Arthiris At 22. The Things People ask, The things they say and the look they give Just terrible . I look Normal No im not the trainer. Thanks lovely article I can relate to

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