What exactly do you need a service dog for?
I am diagnosed with major depression (in 1994), anxiety (2001), and Asperger’s Syndrome (2004). Wings was- and future service dogs will be task trained- they are NOT emotional support animals who benefit me solely by being comforting. Here is a partial task list (always under construction)
- Wake up handler up for alarms and smoke detectors since medication makes me sleep very heavily and I won’t wake up for them. (I also become extremely anxious that I will sleep through an important alarm or call and will stay up for extended periods of time in order to prevent this from happening.)
- Remind to take medications at correct times- this has always been a battle for me, and I tend to tune out alarm clocks (see above. :P)
- Respond to panic attacks by guiding handler out of stressful situation.
- Respond to handler becoming visually fixated/zoned/tranced and unable to look away by bumping handler’s hand or arm; escalating to paws-up on handler if that doesn’t work.
- Assist handler to find lost/dropped/forgotten items (keys, purse).
- Remind handler of routine items which she forgets by alerting to notes.
Additionally, Wings was able to predict migraines- she could tell which headaches were regular headaches and which were migraines before they got to the point that I had any aura and acted differently towards me prior to the ones that developed into full blown migraines. (I frequently get tension headaches and sometimes can’t tell which one a minor ache is going to turn into.) I don’t expect a future dog to be able to do this, but it would be REALLY useful.
While most program-trained service dogs are subsidized by donations from individuals and corporations and grant money (although many programs expect their recipents to fundraise by writing to corporations and foundations for donations in their name), owner-trained dogs are funded exclusively by their owners. It’s estimated that it costs $3000-5000 to owner-train a service dog- per dog. If one dog does not work out, you will start over- with a new set of expenses. For more about the costs involved in training a service dog, click here. I have raised all of the costs for my previous service dogs myself, primarily through the sales of my art and jewelry, which can be seen at Shiny Stuff
Why not get a dog from a shelter?
In general, it’s estimated by service dog trainers that about 10% of dogs in shelters have the potential to become working dogs of some sort (this figure includes assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs, police/narcotics dogs, etc). However, 75% of those dogs wash out for health reasons and another 10% washes out due to temperament issues that did not show up in the initial evaluation (usually related to socialization). I prefer to purchase an health-tested dog from a breeder with a known socialization history and no major vices to overcome.
Update, 2013 –
After Kaylee passed away, I chose a rescue for my next candidate, who washed out of training due to lack of desire to work. Great dog (and I’ve kept him as a pet)- but he has no desire to work. That’s okay. His adventures are over on Dogstaracademy.com. His successor is another breeder-donated dog, a GSD.