Updated: Nov 8
The waiting is the most difficult part of the process. My family received our service dog, Trace after waiting three years. The wait felt excruciating at times, as my son Seth struggled to go to school, had melt downs at the dentist office, and was eloping and doing self-injurious behaviors. WHY was it taking so long!? I felt desperate and an autism service dog was my last hope.
I learned later that Seth’s dog Trace needed extra time to become the dependable service dog he is. Every dog is a little different and he had come into the program a little later than other dogs. The final stage of training meant he went to live with the Director of Training and Placement—an intensive time where his skills and tasks were highly tuned. The results? An AMAZING service dog! I can’t express how much Trace has helped Seth. In fact, he has helped our whole family. Right now, he is laying at my feet and looking at me from time to time to see if I need anything.
The wait is a great time to prepare for your dog. I talked with Kati Wolfe, The Director of Training and Placement at ASDA about some of the things that are important to consider while you prepare to welcome your dog to its forever family.
Remember the application when you filled out a schedule which included a typical day for the dog? Now is a great time to pull that out and fill it out again. Depending on where you live in the country, your child might be doing online school, or just partial in-person school. How will that impact the schedule? A service dog needs consistency, much like your child. It’s a great time to review how to achieve this during the pandemic. Our son is doing online school only. That has changed our day tremendously. Everyday we get up, let Trace go potty, feed him, and then have him lay on his bed as the family gets up and running. My son does not have classes until the afternoon, so Trace is put in his pack (green working vest) and then accompanies my husband to work, which is in our tiny house on our property. Trace is brought back in at lunch and then goes to "school" with Seth until around 4:00 when he gets a bone and "free time". He is usually silly and rolls around on the carpet for a while and gets some love, then goes and takes a nap in his crate. Later, he eats dinner and then gets a walk. At the end of the day we all relax and watch TV together before going to bed. It's important to remember these dogs LOVE to work. Letting them sit around all day and not having a set schedule can make them restless and feel at loose ends. When the pandemic first hit and we were in lock down, Trace was pacing the house, whining, and standing and staring at us. We learned quickly that he needed to feel balanced through a predictable schedule.
Make repairs to your fence to be sure it’s dog proof. Pick up a tie out for your service dog. It’s nice to have one long enough that you don’t have step out the back door very far to clip it to your dog’s collar. It can be used so that your dog can be outside with you while you rake leaves or do an activity where the gate might open and close a lot. We use it all the time for Trace when we put him out to go potty. This helps him to focus on the task instead of wandering around the yard willy-nilly. Your dog is still a dog and not a robot, and it can be easy for them to get lost in all the sights, sounds, and smells and lose focus. It can also create a sense of normalcy and safety for your dog. While in training, tie outs are frequently used when giving the dogs a potty break, and it's very familiar to them.
Now is a great time to find a veterinarian if you don’t have one. Ask if they give a service dog discount. If holistic care is important to you, there are veterinarians that provide services such as acupuncture, nutrition, and herbs. Some people have found health insurance to be important in case of accident or injury. Things are changing and there are companies that offer insurance that includes preventative and routine care (more like human health insurance). Your dog is considered a medical device and therefore some handler/owners have gotten life insurance in the case of accidental death or theft. It’s a great time to research these things.
My son Seth is very low functioning in some areas and very high functioning in others. He does not do well with transitions or anything new. He needs a lot of time to get used to things. He had never been around a dog before we started the process for a service dog. We signed up for Rover.com to walk and board dogs. I started out doing the walking and Seth would go with me. Eventually with my help he learned to walk the dogs and play with them. This gave my son exposure to dogs in small doses and built his confidence. Some kids might need to be introduced to dogs in a different way. Going to a park and looking at dogs, asking a neighbor to introduce their furry family member, creating a social story, and watching videos of dogs are all great ideas.
The topics I discussed above are just several of many things you may want to research before your service dog joins your home. I know that the wait is hard, but for us the stress of the wait vanished the minute we met Trace. He is perfect for our family and the wait was completely worth it.