Here are a series of questions as a starting point to consider and discuss with clients to explore if owner training a service dog to the point of public access would be a suitable treatment for them. You must look our for the needs of both the client and the dog and potential implications if the training process fails to produce a service dog.
Check the links in the text for more detailed information on the point.
- Have other treatments to mitigate the diagnosed health issue been tried? If so, What? How well did they work? Technology is often cheaper in the long run as it is a one time cost, low maintenance etc. How well would a dog integrate with those treatments?
- Is your client’s medical condition stable? Do they understand their condition or disease and it’s limits?
- Does the client have multiple medical conditions that would put too many ongoing demands on the dog?
- Has your client lived with and been responsible for a dog before? (Such as feed, exercise, train, emotionally connect with etc. not just lived with a dog.)
- Would a dog be safe being cared for by your client? Is the client on medication that moderates their emotions? If the client stops taking medication would the dog be at risk?
- Would they be able to meet the dog’s mental, physical and emotional needs?
- Is the living environment safe and suitable for a dog? (physical and emotional -easy access to outdoors, fenced yard, enough space, family members in agreement how the dog will be treated and trained, there is no volatile tempers or abuse in the home etc)
- Does your client have the mental ability to train a dog? This involves learning how dogs learn, learning to communicate with their dog and respond appropriately etc.
- Does your client have the ability to manage his/her own frustration in an appropriate way at home and in public places?
- Does your client have the executive functioning skills to train a dog (memory, timing, record keeping, communication skills, ability to stick to a daily structure etc)?
- Can your client build a support team for the service dog training process 3 years plus? And lifelong support for the dog itself?
- Does the client have the ability to safely manage the dog in unpredictable public situations?
- Is the client able to functionally deal with strangers interacting and asking about the dog? Having a service dog public places attracts unwanted attention from the public. Public Access with the dog may be challenged by retailers, restaurants and accommodation providers. Can your client handle such confrontations without getting overly stressed and escalating into inappropriate behaviors?
- Does the client have a way to pay for the initial cost of the dog and training to public access?
- Does the client have a way to pay for ongoing costs like feeding, veterinary, biannual recertification and life training and behavior maintenance?
- Does the client have enough emotional energy to train a dog every day? How tolerant of training failures and frustrations are they?
- Does the client have enough physical energy to exercise and train a dog every day?
- Can the client emotionally handle a dog that fails as a service dog in public? What will happen to the dog if this occurs? Will the dog stay as a pet? Be re-homed with a family member or friend? The success rate for owner-trained dogs is very low and some people train several dogs before they find one that is successful and they have developed the skills to train that dog.
- Can your client either fundraise or have enough money to maintain and train a service dog?
- Is the dog they are considering suitable as a service dog: confident, resilient, calm, friendly to strangers etc? Not just any dog will do.
Note: If you write a prescription for a service dog, it is simply to state that your client has a disability and a service dog could help mitigate their disability (in the same way a wheelchair is a medical device). It is not for a specific dog nor does it say their dog is appropriate for the job nor does it state that the dog has been properly trained as a service dog.