What to Expect the First Year After Getting a Service Dog
Once your service dog comes into your care, it’s important to take everything slow to establish a strong bond. In the beginning, the dog does not know your body language, or even the sound of your voice. You may have never owned a dog, or never had one as an adult, and might feel unsure or nervous at times. That’s normal but it’s important to know that dogs pick up on those feelings. In the first few months it’s important to work on establishing a daily routine and spend time every day with the dog in it’s service pack and doing training in and around your house, very easy outings, daily free walks, and other forms of exercise. Your service dog needs to get used to your voice and what you expect of them. Now is a great time to pull out your application and review what you wrote as a daily routine. An example of a routine would be to let your dog out to go to the bathroom, feed them, and then tether them in an area where you would like to establish a go-to place for them to relax. That way the dog is out of the way during the busy morning time of getting ready for work and school. Next, once things are more settled, you can put your dog’s service pack on. This is a signal to your dog that they are working. Even on weekends, or days you are not going out, it’s important to keep a structure to your dog’s day. They are working dogs that not only want to work--they need to work to feel balanced. As you go about your day, give your dog some challenges. As you navigate challenges together, you create a strong bond. Taking five minutes to run through some of their commands such as “on”, “off”, “in”, “out” is a great way to do this. You will see your dog’s confidence grow and your relationship of respect and trust will be off to a great start. Keeping your service dog in a service pack for about 6 hours to simulate a school day adds a lot of structure. After you take your dog’s pack off you give him a bone to relax and release any excess energy they might have. After dinner you can give your dog a long walk. It is extremely important to exercise your dog. It is crucial to them in order to maintain a balanced state. Some people use a treadmill to accomplish this.
Now is an excellent time to go on small community outings. A short trip to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, a Starbucks run, or popping into the grocery store are all easy and low stress for your dog. Having success with these outings will build your confidence as a handler as well. Over the next few months your service dog will learn your voice better and also your expectations of him in a wide range of new environments. You will also have more confidence as a handler and a better understanding of your dog’s personality. This is the time to slowly increase to slightly more challenging outings like going to a park to play, PetSmart, or maybe a big Costco shopping trip, or a family fun center. Continue to maintain structure and a regular routine for your dog as much as possible
Every service dog team is different, but sometimes it takes nine months or more to fully bond. It sounds like a long time, but developing that trust and respect takes experiencing things together. As you take every step, and reach new milestones, you will forge a bond with your dog like no other.