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How to acquire an appropriate dog as your future Service Dog or Emotional Support Dog

Choosing the right breed of dog as your working partner is the most elementary step for success.  Equate it to finding the right spouse or the right employee for a sophisticated job.  Every person has good qualities, but not every person will mesh well with your personality or your needs. 

First, consider reading my article on choosing the right breed as a companion.  Then, remember that your Service Dog must be more than just a companion.  It must have the right traits to form a tight bond with you, understand your needs and willingly oblige you, even when you are not feeling well.  This must not be a haphazard journey.  Just because someone is willing to give you a “papered” dog or you can afford a dog at the Shelter doesn’t mean it’s the right one for the job.   Just because you have always loved the look of a specific breed, or your neighbor had one that you just adored, doesn’t mean you should seek one for your partner.  Before considering the breed, contemplate what you need a dog to do for you.

Except for the few individual dogs that have already demonstrated a unique ability like detecting their owner’s seizures, some breeds are  not good candidates for Service Dog work.  These would be breeds that were designed to perform jobs which require a very low level of interaction with humans to accomplish the job for which they were originally designed.  So, for example, a hound that was created to follow the trail of a rabbit can feel fulfilled doing his job without human partnership, so it will typically have a fairly low desire to perform complicated tasks with great precision and desire to please.  On the contrary, a retriever or some herding breeds cannot perform their job without a human partner, and are often better suited as a Service Dog because they are hardwired to work with and for humans in a more intimate manner.

 

 
 

1.     Consider your general personality

a.     Are you a strong leader that can handle a breed that may challenge your authority, on occasion, but that will power through physical and mental challenges to mitigate your disability?

b.    Are you likely to lose focus when experiencing an emotional or psychiatric episode and need a dog that will not take advantage of your perceived weakness in leadership at those times?

c.     Are you dedicated to maintaining a dog’s discipline in training or do you need a dog that will not take advantage of you, even if you are somewhat of a marshmallow regarding upholding high standards?

2.     Consider your disability or your needs. 

a.     Does the dog need to be a certain size to help steady you when you are walking, or to get under your desk at work, or to pull open a heavy door?

b.    Does the dog need to be a good retriever?

c.     Does she need to have a very calm and stable temperament to mitigate your anxiety or panic disorder?

d.    Does he need to be highly alert in order to inform you that the phone is ringing or there is someone at the door?

3.     Consider your ability to care for the dog.

a.     Do you have the resources to pay for professional grooming on a breed with a high maintenance coat (like a poodle, labradoodle, cocker spaniel)?  While the no-shedding quality of some breeds seems enticing, they are also very expensive to maintain.

b.    Will coat type and length have an impact on your ability to care for the dog?  Some breeds have low-maintenance coats that only require bathing, and minor brushing.  Other breeds have thick coats that can matt and require frequent grooming.

c.     Choosing a breed that has fewer general health issues means lower veterinary costs as well as increased longevity in service to you. 

4.     Once your specific needs are defined for the dog’s behavior and temperament as well as some basic physical attributes that you may require for your SD, it is time to consult with a professional about selecting the right breed or breeds.  A professional can help define a subset of breeds that meet your specific needs.

5.     Finally, it is time to decide the source for your SD

a.     Remember that the upfront cost of a dog or puppy is usually a small fraction of the long-term financial investment required

b.    High quality breeders are the best place to secure a SD because

                                          i.    They routinely screen their breeding stock for heritable conditions

                                         ii.    They typically socialize their puppies properly

                                        iii.    They provide excellent routine care, including high quality vaccines and worming at appropriate intervals

                                        iv.    They may offer young adults for sale that have been properly raised

c.     Rescues & Shelters may have an acceptable dog

                                          i.    Do not expect to know the background of the dog’s health or environment

                                         ii.    Many dogs in rescue have some behavioral issues that must be addressed prior to beginning formal SD training

                                        iii.    Typically, this is a very high risk investment

d.    Low quality breeders / “backyard” breeders are an option

                                          i.    They often do not screen their dogs for heritable defects

                                         ii.    They may not properly socialize the puppies, but sometimes they do a good job at this

                                        iii.    They may purchase inferior quality vaccines and wormers

                                        iv.    This is a medium risk investment

 

 
 

 

 
     
     
 

 
 

 

 
 
 
 

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