Having a service dog is a team effort. The dog is not to be looked upon as an instrument or a tool. He/she is an extension of yourself as a disabled individual. He opens the door – he is an extension of your legs. She retrieves the phone when it rings – she is an extension of your hands. He alerts to the smoke alarm – he is an extension of your ears. You are team. You and your dog will be together almost 24/7/365.
You (or someone in your family, or another partner) will need to reward (reinforce) the dog for his/her good behaviors and tasks performed. This is the dog’s paycheck. You wouldn’t work endlessly without pay – don’t expect it from your dog. The paycheck can be a simple “good girl,” a treat, or a scratch behind the ears, but the dog needs rewarded to consistently maintain his/her training and keep on enjoying it. While many pressures and other things may be upon your mind, remember –at least for now – to “live in the moment” with your dog. Then you can attend to other pressing matters.
You will need to maintain a team philosophy with your service dog training as well. If problems develop along the way, as they sometimes do, inform the rest of your team (in this case, the trainer) that a particular issue needs addressed. Do not wait until a full-blown problem is under way before making contact with the trainer. Most issues are rather simple to fix early on, but delayed action can cause deeper problems.
You will need to maintain a teamwork philosophy with other family members as well. They need to be aware of how your dog performs. They need to learn not to interfere with the dog’s task/s. Yes, they can aid you if needed, but be sure they understand the important of letting the dog do his work. If your dog goes to work or school with you, those closest to you in those settings will probably need to be a part of the team as well.
Service dog work is largely teamwork. It’s not all about the dog and not’s all about you. Your particular needs, experience with dogs, the tasks the dog has been trained to do, the extent of your disability – will all figure into the picture of how deep the teamwork must go. Many disabled individuals need assistance from others – not just the dog. Don’t hesitate to seek help when needed. Develop a solid team around you.
The dog will not only be your mascot but will probably also be your star player.