Nearly five years ago I found her. Long shapely legs, big chest and small waist. She sat in my lap looking at me with her huge brown eyes and I was sunk I had to take her home with me. Okay so she was sixteen week old Boxer puppy. I had been searching for some time to find the right puppy for me. At first when we came to the conclusion that a mobility dog was right for me I looked into the different agencies. To buy one outright fully trained would cost more than the down payment on my house. To get a grant which I was really hoping for is nearly impossible.
Don’t misunderstand. It isn’t nearly impossible to get a grant for a service dog. It was nearly impossible for middle aged woman with Fibromyalgia to get a grant for a service dog. There are many grants out there. There are grants for children, I praise that. If a disabled child can start young with a service dog they will do so much better in so many ways. There are of course grants for seeing eye dogs. Aside from that there are a few others , however most are connected with Veteran’s Associations. So if you aren’t a child, blind or a Vet you are more than likely on your own. Although recently Autism speaks is working grants as well.
Being that I don’t fit those classifications I moved on. There is the train them yourself route which is the route I embarked on. Not so much a route as a crazy journey full of fun , frustration, joy , fear, love , and tears. That’s just the first day. First you have to choose a breed. I did a lot of research. There were many factors that weighed in on the breed I would chose. You should consider them as well.
- Your needs.
a. Is this dog for balance, mobility , emotional support etc…
a. This goes along with needs , size vs task
4. Breed’s Strengths
a. That’s not just physical, but personality too. Patience , quiet , calm.
There are more but we can get a feel for it here. My needs with Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue came in the form of lending me strength. Also helping me transfer, balance ,and stand. She preforms more complex tasks we will discuss at another time. This is where we started her training however. For these tasks we needed a dog with a strong body. I am not a large person though so I didn’t need a overly large dog. Keep in mind that a healthy dog is muscular. As far as temperament goes I live with a family member that is fearful of large dogs. In particular German Shepards are frightening to them. That meant I needed to find a breed other than a Shepard. Labradors are often used as service dogs ,but they are given to hip and knee issues. Neither is conducive to pulling a chair. The final choice once all this was considered honestly came down to liking the Boxer breed. Boxers are wonderful loving fun dogs. High spirited , loyal , and , smart.
Having said that they take far more patience and work than a lab or a Shepard to train . This is not because they aren’t intelligent, it’s quite the opposite. They are highly intelligent , stubborn dogs. Once trained you will find their stubbornness can work in your favor. You have to get them trained first though. Before even getting your puppy decide how and where you are going to do that.
We went through Petsmart for Dancer’s training. I know there are people all over that will argue that doesn’t work. In many ways they are right. They are also wrong. What? Let me explain. Dancer was my first service dog. I will have a much easier time working it out the next time. My hope is to use my knowledge to help others to do the same. Going through Petsmart of Petco for your initial training is fine. It’s one choice that can work really well. You can work through their levels taking what they call the ” Good Citizenship Test” at the finish. That will go a long way toward the dog’s training. It isn’t however required to get your dog certified as a service dog. Some of their employees have been known to tell costumers that it is. Once they are through that point you will need to hire a private trainer to teach you and your dog the finer points. Depending on your dog this can either be a quick process or a long one. Either way you will want to have refresher courses throughout their life to keep them active and happy. The other training choice is to hire a private trainer from the start. The advantage to that is they will come to you, you can often train more in depth and more quickly. They can also work on your dogs individual needs. The disadvantage is cost. When looking for a private trainer take your time research them carefully. The first thing you want to know is that they are honest. The second is they use cruelty free methods , lastly that they are good trainers.
Yes, so before we go any further let’s talk cost. While self training is infinitely less expensive than a fully trained dog it’s still not cheap. The courses alone will run you a few thousand dollars. Then you need to consider gear, extra vet care, time and transport. The fuel it will take to get to classes weekly if not more often. I say extra vet care because they will need to have bordello vaccine to go to training classes. They will also get sick at least once. It’s almost a law. Count on having them confound you with some mystery illness that terrifies you. Don’t worry they’ll be better a day or two later having lightened your wallet.
Gear isn’t as simple as a little nylon vest. First they have this silly habit of outgrowing things rapidly. The vest that fit them at six months won’t at nine , the one at nine moths won’t at a year. Then there’s the various leashes, clips, bags, bridges and etc. The first set of gear you try isn’t going to fit you and the dog to perfection. Life doesn’t work that way. Chances are parts of the first , second and fourth will work nicely together . However only if you can fine the right clip. I know I make it sound frustrating , but it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s more like trying to find your style. All in if you decide it’s what you need you’ll make it work. If I can help you let me know. There’s more to come. Next time we’ll talk about various forms of gear.