The Real Skinny on a Service Dog

Okay, mamas!  As promised, here is a post about the good, the challenging and the surprising about our experience with a service dog.  I apologize that it has taken me this long to do it but my oldest son has had a hard transition back to school and it has literally taken all of my everything to try to build us a new routine and get our lives back together.  I promise to try to answer all of the questions that I’ve gotten along the way but, if you have more, please let me know and I’ll do my best to answer those as well.

  1. What Does She DO?
Me, the minions, and Fantasy Rose!!!

Me, the minions, and Fantasy Rose!!!

  • She smells seizures before they happen to let us know to be on the look out.  Additionally, she is learning to bark when she sees seizures.  She already barks for big grand mal type actions (my son really likes to fake these to make her bark because she almost never barks because a good service dog should only do this as part of work.) However, Mylie’s seizures are only staring or some tremoring so we are trying to make our motions smaller so she will alert us during tremor seizures so that she can practice.
  • She keeps our group together.  She can do this several ways.  First, any of my three kids with special needs can wear a belt with a tether strap connecting them to the dog.  I walk with the dog in heel, they walk with us, no one can run off.  This is particularly great for Isaac, who has become quite the little escape artist, but for whom holding hands impairs his gait.  He’ll hang back on the tether enjoying the deep pressure he gets from the tug on his waist and walk with us like a pro.  Oh, and occasionally, he’ll plop on the floor and go for a ride which looks like torture but he thinks is hysterical.  Fantasy has already learned that he does this and stops when he does it on a rough surface but tugs him along while he laughs his butt off on slick ones.  Don’t ask me how she figures this stuff out, she’s magical.  We also have two short leashes the kids can just hold while I hold the big one.  I can tether two kids and have one hold the leash or any combination there of.
  • She can find my kids anywhere.  Fantasy is trained to track my children scent specifically.  In other words, in a park filled with kids, if one of mine goes missing, she will go and find him/her because she knows the scent of my kids better than anyone else’s smell in the world.  She can do this in a mall, the store, my house, etc.
  • She can give deep pressure.  When one of my kids needs a good squeeze (two of mine crave this input very frequently) she will plop some or all of her big beautiful blond body right on top of theirs.  If it were up to Mylie, she would do this all day every day.
  • She gives moral support.  Fantasy will go to my kids when they are crying (or even just anxious and concerned) and just be with them.  She frequently senses this without any direction.  She just loves her kids.  I cannot tell you how much calmer Mylie is at doctor appointments just because she knows her girl is there to take care of her.  Mylie also does more at parks now because she says Fantasy will help her up if she falls.  Fantasy is confidence with a tail for my little princess.  I wish I could tell you how it works but it just does.
  • Speaking of falling, if Isaac falls or if Mylie is off balance because of seizure activity, Fantasy will stand still while they use her to climb up from the ground.  Additionally, they can just hold onto her for some extra stability while walking.
  • She interrupts inappropriate behaviors.  When Conner picks his skin, she’ll come up and nudge him and try to get him to play instead.  She is learning to do the same with some of Isaac’s stimming behaviors.
  • She brings other kids to mine.  Most kids like dogs and when you’re the only kid at the park or the mall or wherever with one, lots of kids come to you.  My kids show them her tricks (she has some fun ones) and they let them play with her and then, the minions play with the kids too.  It’s beautiful!
  • She picks up things we dropped.  Now, we asked them to train her for this because Isaac has a hard time bending and picking things up that he’s dropped sometimes and also because when I’m holding a kid or dealing with a meltdown, sometimes I could use the extra hand.  The bonus for this is that Fantasy frequently helps me pick up things that I drop while doing laundry which is officially the best incidental benefit of having her I could ever dream up.

2.  What’s Challenging?

  • There are a billion benefits to living with a genius dog; there is one down side.  If Fantasy was not so bright, she could never do all that she does for our kids.  However, a bright dog finds ways to use her mind when it’s not occupied with work. That means charming activities like learning to unzip my jacket pockets to take out tennis balls and thump them around the house at all hours.  Hiding her toys and finding ingenious ways to get them out of the hiding places.  Hiding her brushes and the kids’ toys.  All of these can be fun.
  • She’s still a puppy.  Fantasy just turned a year old in March.  4 Paws places well trained young dogs with families because young dogs don’t balk too much at the weird noises and behaviors their kids might have.  They just think, “Hey, that weird bald puppy is really exciting.  Let’s play, bald puppy!!!” Also, the younger the dog, the more years they can work before hopping in and out of vans and hospital beds, etc. becomes too hard.  The flip side is, well, puppiness.  Puppies are loads of fun and super sweet and REALLY energetic and they like to chew.  Fantasy has never lived with kids so she is still trying to figure out the difference between kid toys and dog toys (and computer cords-ugh!)  She is learning this but it’s a process.  Also, she HAS to have exercise and lots of it.  Rain or shine, mud or no mud, my girl’s gotta run or she is unbearable. You know, kinda like any other kid.
  • Transfer of training.  Here’s the deal, Fantasy is a brilliant dog but she’s still a dog.  She was trained to perfection by her trainers and she did a perfect job for me and the kids in Ohio once she learned to understand our accents and the way we gave commands.  In Kentucky, she’s having to learn that all the old rules still apply in all of these new places.  This means, any new place that I take her, I have to be on guard until I feel her slide into her full work mode where she wouldn’t dare check to see if that kid’s ice cream cone is still off limits at the zoo or if heel still means heel at Trader Joe’s just like at Wal-mart.  At work, we have very few snags.  That harness has an invisible halo attached and she rarely requires a correction with it on.  At home, well, my kids have snuck her some food here and there and, occasionally, she has taken that to mean that, at home, food is fair game if Mom’s not in the room.  Sometimes, she just feels the need to test the waters and see what happens if she doesn’t follow a command the first time.  This is all normal but it means that we have to have A LOT of training sessions.  In fact, we need to do this more so that she doesn’t develop any bad habits or lose any good ones; and did I mention that one of my sons is going just a little bit crazy right now and that mom’s really tired on constant dog/kid watch and we are catching up from 3 weeks away and we have to have all new routines and GASP!!! Yeah, this is not the easiest.
  • Finding a groove–There are some things I’m not so smooth at yet.  Even though she’s a tremendous help, she’s still different.  I have to have extra stuff in the bags.  I have to pay attention to her and attention to the kids and not get hit by cars, etc.  I have to hold more stuff some times.  Sometimes, I have to get an awful lot of bodies into one public bathroom stall.  We don’t always look the smoothest but every trip gets a little bit better.
  • Service dogs will not bark at or snap at kids.  She won’t; she’s an angel and my kids are pretty dog savvy anyway.  However, not all kids are and she won’t necessarily protect herself.  There are service dogs who’ve been taken out of duty because children have injured them.  I really have to watch for this and just that she doesn’t get afraid and start avoiding new kids because I so want her to draw other children to mine.  Likewise, while I occasionally have to hand her leash to another grown up, other adults don’t know how to catch her impulses before they happen (I’m getting there but not perfect myself.) They don’t know the commands or she may not recognize them from a different voice (adult or child.)  Sometimes, that’s hard to explain–I know exactly how far past my knee in a heel I let her go before I correct her, I can’t tell someone else that–know what I mean?
  • Everywhere we go-o, people wanna’ know-o, all about her…  I’ve not yet gone anywhere where anyone seemed resistant to having a service dog there.  An employee or two have politely asked if she was a service dog and I politely replied that she was and that’s it.  However, it’s hard to go anywhere without 10 people striking up conversations about where we got her, what she does, etc.  Normally, I am more than happy to let people love on her and answer their questions.  However, sometimes, you just really need to pee.  Sometimes, SHE just really needs to pee.  Sometimes, you’ve promised a princess some cheese sticks if she’ll just hold it together for 5 minutes while we pick up diapers and milk and you really don’t have 10 minutes to chat about the dog before mini-chernobyl.  I’m learning to avoid eye contact and walk like my butt is on fire in these moments but I’m a Southern girl and it’s not always easy.
  • For those who know me, my dogs (and my kids) all have both middle names and nicknames.  Our first dog, Ralphie Louise, is nicknamed the Wonderlump because he is so frequently just a lump under a blanket somewhere.  Fantasy is now Fantasy Rose (just because we like the way it sounds.)  Her nickname is Fantasquatch (like a beautiful and girly Sasquatch.)  She earned this name the day that I realized that I had run errands in two different cities all day long with a giant muddy paw print right on my rather large and dark jean clad rear end.  Remember that need to run that I mentioned?  Remember how I mentioned that she has to go out rain or shine?  Well, giant muddy footprints are a constant issue in my life right now.  This will get better in the summer but, for now, it’s a multiple time-a-day issue of paw wiping and mopping of the kitchen floor.

All in all, are the challenges worth it?  ABSOLUTELY.  Would I recommend a service dog to others?  Yes, but only if you have both eyes open and realize that it’s going to be work.  If you are not prepared for the work part; which our agency was great about prepping us for, you will be frustrated.  Without the effort for practice and excellent training, a service dog will be a giant, expensive annoyance at best.  Do I think all of the challenges will get better with time?  Yes.  Do I love our girl and all she does for our family? More than there are words in this post or stars in the sky (it’s possible that these numbers are close.)  Here it is, honest as I can be.  If you have questions, comment below or message me and I’ll do my best to answer!!!

 

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