Consider carefully why you are looking for a dog. Do you really need a highly-skilled Service Dog, or might a sweet rescued canine be just as ideal?
Any dog can provide companionship and lowered stress levels, by simply being a loving presence to talk to and pet. They need attention and exercise, but can be content with a game of fetch in the yard and a stroll around the block (with a neighbor, if needed). They love to learn new things but will be satisfied to just hang-out with you.
A Service Dog will be all of the above, yet much more demanding.
A Service Dog is a constant presence, always at your side and keeping their eye on you… they don’t just come with you on outings — they follow you from room to room; bedroom, office, bathroom.
A Service Dog has learned a multitude of tasks to help in a wide range of circumstances — those that aren’t used may have been lost when the time comes that they are needed. You will have to practice tasks that may be required in times of trouble to be sure your dog retains the knowledge even under stress.
There are dangers lurking around every corner when you bring your Service Dog out in public. You must exercise constant vigilance and anticipate everything! Tempting ‘food’ on the ground may be poisonous, other people may not notice your dog and step (or trip!) on them or a door could close on their tail. There are also events you may not be able to control — stray dogs, people who are terrified of dogs, and others who may have ill intent.
While every dog should be kept in good condition, it is essential for the Service Dog. They must be clean and not heavily shedding or matted, no matter what weather or personal circumstances come your way. Free of internal and external parasites, weight and muscle tone kept in an appropriate range.
In return, a Service Dog will perform tasks that are difficult or impossible for you to do alone. Thus they will increase your independence and allow you to live your life with less reliance on a human assistant. However, getting a Service Dog will not make you more active or bring you a broader social life. These are things that you need to initiate yourself — a Service Dog will just help you accomplish what you have already decided to do.
Even if you would benefit from tasks that a trained dog can perform (such as balance on stairs, retrieving items, and providing deep pressure therapy), you may just need a “home help-mate”; a dog that is trained to perform the tasks you would benefit from in your home, but has not been trained extensively for public access. Again, a shelter dog and guidance from a private trainer could be the right match.
If you are sure that what you are looking for is a highly-trained, full-time working partner who will accompany you everywhere … you are ready for the large commitment of time spent maintaining their mind and body … you readily accept the huge responsibility that will become one of the most important things in your life … then a Service Dog may be just what you are looking for!