A Day In The Life Of A Service Dog Handler
Image Credits: Instagram / serviceprincessdelilah, ADA.gov
November of 2016, I welcomed a new treatment plan into my life. She was a 9 week old Golden Retriever, so interested in this new world around her. It is important that society realizes that service dogs are not pets. They are life saving medical devices and deserve respect. I do not have Delilah for fun. Although I love Delilah and I am so thankful for the medical alerts and responses she gives me, I would rather be a healthy and normal 21 year old. With that being said, I will explain Delilah’s training and task work.
Delilah is a medical alert/response and psychiatric service dog in training. She can alert to low blood sugar, breathing changes, scratching, and shaking. She is in training for seizure response, so she will be able to bring me out of a seizure quicker than my body would typically allow it. She is also in training for cortisol alert, so she will be able to alert to when my levels drop and tell me that I need to sit down before I fall. Delilah is in training for crowd control where she automatically blocks strangers from me, so she will stand in between us to create space. Her task-work is incredibly important because my safety is in her paws.
Some things to remember when you see a service dog in public…
Respect the vest
Ignore and do not distract
Do not pet (especially without asking)
Talk to the handler, not the dog
If a service dog is distracted, he or she may miss an alert, causing the handler’s life to be in danger. It is important to remember to not touch the dog, talk to the dog, wave to the dog, make long eye contact with the dog, bark at the dog, or purposely attempt to scare the dog. If you wouldn’t do it to someone’s wheelchair, don’t do it to the service dog.
There are many myths about service dogs. They have big jobs to do, so isn’t there a certification or test they have to pass? There is no test, ID, certification, registration, or paperwork for service dogs. That is how a lot of people fake service dogs – by throwing an ID or paperwork into a business’ face.
You will know a legitimate service dog when you see one. They should never pull on the leash, sniff around, bark or make noise (unless alerting), be reactive towards dogs or humans, show any type of aggression, not be housebroken (although accidents happen and upset tummies happen!), or eat off the floor. Service dogs can be owner trained or program trained- Delilah is both. I owner train with the assistance of a dog trainer who trains service dogs for veterans with PTSD and disabilities. Both owner training and program training are expensive. In fact, service dogs can end up costing on average between $20,000-$40,000. The average first year cost is about $6,000. The difference is that with most program dogs, you pay all upfront. Many people fundraise the money. With owner training, you pay over time. Although these are estimates, it puts people in perspective of what all goes into making that cute little puppy a lifesaving medical device.
Remember service dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Their jobs vary just as much. Some examples are seizure alert dogs, guide dogs, diabetic alert dogs, psychiatric service dogs, mobility dogs, hearing dogs, and other medical alerts/responses.
Holly is a Special Education & Elementary Education double major. She spends the majority of her time being a dog mom and trainer to her service dog Delilah. She prides herself on watching The Office a total of 21 times so far.
Read more articles