It’s been two months since we met our service dog, Sammy.
It’s been two months since we went through all the training and transition.
Two months since we brought him home.
Two months since my son fell in love with this wonderful creature.
Since sharing our decision to get a psychiatric service dog for my son, I have received a ton of questions – about the process itself and about how it has been working for us so far.
I am so happy to report that it is going very well.
The truth is, getting a service dog has been one of the best decisions we’ve made in my youngest son’s care.
My Son Has A Service Dog – Here’s How It Works
Let me start by sharing our experience in actually training for, and transitioning Sammy, into our home.
Getting A Service Dog
Selecting A Dog
We used Doggie Does Good, an organization in Central California, to select and train Sammy for us. At first, I was a little overwhelmed with how much information they required upfront. The questionnaire was extensive, and they even requested a video of some of my son’s most challenging behaviors. It was so much more important than I realized.
Doggie Does Good matched our son with the perfect dog for his needs and temperament. After seeing the other families in our training, it was clear that all of the dogs were carefully selected based on the information provided in advance.
Training and Transition
My son and I attended a six-day training in order to learn how to handle Sammy and transition him home. I was a little terrified going into it – my son is not used to six-hour days, six days in a row and I was mostly worried about him melting down. I needn’t have worried. Not only was my son super excited to be there and meet Sammy, but the staff at Doggie Does Good was phenomenal. They were flexible, kind, caring and supportive throughout the training. It was clear they love dogs, but was what was also clear is how much value they find in helping others. (Seriously, I could go on and on about how impressed I was with the entire organization.)
The training itself was intense and focused. We learned basic commands and behaviors first. Then, after practicing a bit, we went out into the real world with the help of the trainers. A trip to the mall, movie theater, restaurant and the beach helped us feel more than equipped to go it alone at the end of the training.
Life With A Service Dog
Once we got home and had an initial adjustment, there are a few things that became clear about living our lives with a service dog.
Service Dogs Get A Lot Of Attention
This has probably been the most difficult part of adjusting to life with Sammy. When we are in public, Sammy gets a ton of attention. He’s adorable. I get it. Plus service dogs are interesting. I also get it. But for an anxious child who struggles with social interaction, being peppered with questions and comments every single time he goes out can be difficult. I run interference most of the time, but it is a reality that we have had to grow accustomed to over time.
Time and Effort
Sammy is a dog first. He likes to chew on things and run around the backyard. He needs food, water, and potty breaks just like any other pet. In addition to that, we practice his trained behaviors every day, even when not needed, in order to make sure he doesn’t forget his role as a helper first, and family pet second. He does require increased attention and care, in order to make sure he is fully able to help my son as needed.
When we first got home, it felt like we added a very sweet and capable toddler to the family. Getting in and out of the car, the feeding routine, remembering potty breaks, helping my son remember his role as Sammy’s handler and not just his playmate – all of this added to my workload, initially. The first few weeks back home felt stressful, to be sure. But as the months have passed, we have settled into our new routine well.
I have shared with you the toughest parts about bringing Sammy into our family, but none of them compare to all of the benefits we have received as a result of him being here. My son is calmer in general because of Sammy’s constant attention and presence. His separation anxiety has decreased significantly (he went into a public bathroom on his own for the first time in years last month, with Sammy by his side) and he feels more capable knowing Sammy is there to help.
We have seen the greatest difference in car rides and doctor visits – two situations that were causing constant meltdowns and often, panic attacks, on a daily basis. Although my son still feels some anxiety around both, he has not lost control once in either scenario since we brought Sammy home. Not one time. It’s been amazing to witness and wonderful to see my son able to more freely enjoy life.
Sammy is truly a blessing to our family and most importantly, my son.
Now that he is here, I cannot imagine life without him.