Being a Service Dog Handler is a big commitment and will make a lot of big changes to your life. You must be willing to dedicate a lot of time to care, training, and having a dog with you at all times. A Service Dog is a working dog trained specifically to help its handler with a disability or specific needs. They have a big impact on your everyday life and can drastically increase the quality of life with your disability.
Here are some things you need to know before becoming a Service Dog Handler.
1. A Service Dog will be with you at all times.
Having a Service Dog means you will never be alone. They will be with you at all times, depending on your disability, in order to perform their tasks. They will always be in the same room as you, they will go with you to any stores to run errands, and they will go with you to go visit family and friends. You must ask yourself if you are prepared for this. Your Service Dog is going to be with you at all times. If you are the type of person that likes to have space or alone time without anyone around you, a Service Dog may not be for you.
2. Service Dogs require a lot of training.
You must always make sure you are upholding your dog's skills and training. This isn’t like having a normal pet. Your Service Dog must meet the standards of training and behavior at all times, as they will be going everywhere with you. Even when your dog is ‘off duty’ you must make sure they still act like a Service Dog. Every day you must reinforce their training and remember that this is a professional relationship, not for companionship. If you are not willing to constantly keep on top of your dogs skills and training, a Service Dog may not be for you.
3. Service Dogs require daily care, just like any other pet.
Your Service Dog is a living creature, just like any other dog. There will be no days off from giving your service dog the correct care it needs, such as going outside and going for walks, nutrition, etc. They will also need to be groomed regularly, depending on the breed. You may get someone who will be able to do this for you as it may not be possible with the handler's disability, but if not, this is your responsibility.
You must be able to keep on top of this and ensure your Service Dog is getting the correct attention it needs. Their job is looking after you, so you must do the same in return!
4. You are going to be asked lots of questions.
Often when a person sees a Service Dog, they are intrigued and they will want to know more about them and what their job is, and possibly more. There will also be people questioning you when you are out in the shops running errands or out in a public area, asking “should you have a dog in here?” and annoying questions as such. It is going to be very difficult to go places and you want to just go out and get back as quickly as possible, so you should be prepared for this. A Service Dog is not something a lot of people see every day. You also should be prepared to answer people with lots of questions stating you have things to and don't have the time to answer them all. You must always have respect and be nice, as these people don’t mean any harm.
You should also be prepared for the managers to try to deny access to places that you are permitted to take your Service Dog. there will be uneducated people so you must be able to answer them explaining that you cannot be denied access nor can they ask for any proof of your illness or what your dog does for you. To be safest, always research the rules for Service Dogs in your area to ensure you are correct about everything!
5. You must have respect.
Respect is very important as a Service Dog handler. You must have respect for your service dog itself. Educate yourself on knowing when your dog is stressed or in pain and needs a break. If your service dog is sick, in pain, stressed, or overly tired, it is unfair for the dog to be working at that time. One of your top priorities is ensuring your dog is healthy and happy while assisting you.
You must also have respect for yourself and others. Respecting yourself, for example, could include knowing that you do not have to answer every question people ask you about your service dog. When having respect for others, you must be aware of the people around you that are okay with being around a dog, as some people could be afraid or have allergies. Be sure that everyone around is comfortable, don't let your dog approach people without their permission. If your dog misbehaves in public, you must apologize and be a good representative of the service dog community.
6. Service Dogs can be quite expensive.
Service dogs can cost a lot of money to get in the first place, with an average price of around $15,000 to $30,000 for trained service dogs, and some can even cost as much as $50,000 depending on the breed. If you are looking to train your Service Dog yourself, it will cost less, but more time must be put into the training. This is a big commitment. Here at Service Dog Training School, you can follow our courses on training your own service dog here.
However, the costs for your Service Dog don't stop there. You still need to pay for food, professional grooming, veterinary bills, and more. Keep this in mind before becoming a Service Dog handler.
7. You must be able to say no.
Being a service dog handler requires assertiveness. You must be able to say no to people when they ask to pet your service dog, when someone asks about your disability or when someone is asking you questions that you are not comfortable with. This can be difficult for some people but it must be done as it is best for you and your service dog. Your service dog must know it has a professional position and it cannot be misled by others not knowing the rules regarding training, for example, being fed food from someone's plate.
If you are unable to be assertive when necessary, you must learn how to be otherwise things will be much harder for you as a service dog handler!
Above are a few things we think are necessary for you to know when becoming a service dog handler. This is a life-changing role so you must know what is right and wrong. Good luck!