Service dogs are an excellent resource for people that struggle with many different things, but there are a few questions that one should ask themselves before investing their time and resources into getting a service dog.
1.) Am I willing to be stared at in public?
For the most part people will look at you because they love dogs and think that service dogs are amazing. Maybe they’re fighting the urge to come ask you if they can pet your dog, or maybe they are admiring your dog and his/her skill. People stare for many reason, and sometimes it can be uncomfortable. Though your dog will bring you lots of comfort in other ways, being in the spot light is certainly something you will have to put up with.
2.) Am I ready to have strangers start conversations with me often?
It’s extremely common for people to come up to you while you’re out with your service dog to strike up a conversation with you. People tend to be fascinated by service dogs, and they often unknowingly ask invasive questions that may make you uncomfortable. You are certainly under no obligation to answer inappropriate questions, but it is often helpful to educate those people who haven’t thought about the fact that those questions may be rude. Questions like “what disability do you have” and “why do you need a service dog” are generally fueled by legitimate curiosity, though they are intrusive. Many people will also try to talk to you about their own dog, or want to show you pictures. It can be frustrating if you’re trying to have some time to yourself, though most of these people are light hearted and genuinely curious.
3.) Am I expecting a dog to do something for me that he/she cannot do?
As useful and amazing as service dogs can be, they cannot fix many of our problems. At the end of the day a service dog is still just a dog, and cannot carry the weight of all of our emotional needs. A well trained service dog can do his/her job excellently, but will never be able to carry an emotional weight that is too heavy. Before getting a service dog, ask yourself if you are hoping that your dog will fix some unresolved emotional business. Though a service dog can be there for you while you strive to conquer your own demons, they can’t do it for you.
4.) Am I able to put my dog’s needs before my own?
Brutal honesty with ourselves is necessary when answering this question for ourselves. It is ok if the answer is no, it just means that we are not ready yet. It is a mighty responsibility to lead a dog throughout a world that they cannot understand. Our guidance is crucial to a service dog, especially when we are asking them to enter into situations with us that they are unsure about. Often a relationship with a service dog is a give and take. The two of you need to check up on each other and watch out for the other. Though a service dog may be trained well, they will still need reassurance at times. One cannot expect to be the only recipient of support in a service dog team.
5.) Am I capable of controlling my anger if necessary?
Learning to control one’s anger is a process, and if one is at the beginning of the process it doesn’t exclude them from being able to benefit from a service dog at all. However, sometimes a service dog team will run into someone who is ignorant, and they might misunderstand or belittle you because you own a service dog. These people need to be educated, and it does no good for you, your dog, the next service dog team to come into contact with that person, or the person themselves if you lose your top. Being able to navigate these situations gracefully is a skill that is learned, but one may want to work on their anger before owning a service dog as to not exacerbate such situations.