In March 2016, Rowenna’s service dog came to live with us. In August 2016, we passed our final evaluation and Honey is ours to keep. Here are the frequently asked questions we get about her.
What kind of dog is Honey?
Honey is a golden doodle. Mom is a white standard poodle and dad is an English Cream retriever. Combined, they give Honey her lovely cream colored coat. She is between 50 and 55 pounds, full grown. She was born May 15, 2015 (in case you’re wondering how old she is as you read this).
What does Honey do for Rowenna?
-tethers to Rowenna to keep her from darting off while in public (Rowenna wears a belt and a short leash connects her belt to Honey’s service vest)
-provides emotional support in high-anxiety environments (for example, a doctor visit)
-helps us keep Rowenna moving and on task/reduction in “flop-and-drop” behavior
-provides comfort during and after melt downs
-helps Rowenna break the ice with other people (cute dog = people approaching to say hello and interact)
-helps instill a sense of pride and good stewardship (Rowenna performs most of Honey’s care activities)
Does Honey work all the time?
No. Honey is only “on vest” when we leave the house with both Rowenna and Honey. (Honey accompanies us about 99% of the time.) She naturally performs service tasks when off vest, though. For instance, if Rowenna is upset at home, Honey will attend to Rowenna even if she is not on vest.
What is Honey’s behavior like while she is working?
Honey should be calm and obedient. She should follow commands instantly with either a verbal prompt or a signal with her leash. She should not lick, scratch, or shake. She should not eat off the ground, drink, or relieve herself while on vest. (We provide breaks so she can do these things.) She should not solicit attention from anyone around her or become distracted by people, other animals, or objects in the environment.
She is trained to and has passed the Canine Good Citizenship test and the Public Access test.
What’s Honey like when she is not working?
Honey is basically a well-trained dog when off vest. She plays, naps, snuggles, wants pats on the head. She can misbehave from time to time, just like most dogs.
Does she only pay attention to Rowenna? Does Afton feel jealous?
This, by far, has been the most interesting part of having Honey with us. Rowenna has always approached Honey as a full-time companion. She actively seeks her out and actively participates in Honey’s care activities. When Ro wants to go on an outing or take a walk, she will get all of Honey’s gear and start to suit up. The two are almost always together.
Afton, on the other hand, has always approached Honey as a pet. She gives Honey hugs and pats (which Honey lovingly and willingly accepts), but her interest stops there. She does not seem to be jealous or concerned and seems happy to have Honey around as just a pet. Even when we are out, Afton seems to understand that Honey is working.
Does Honey go to school with Rowenna?
Not at this time. School has been a very successful and low anxiety environment for Rowenna. We decided not to introduce Honey to school at this time. Should Ro need extra support in the future, Honey can legally attend school with Rowenna.
Where did you get Honey?
I happened to come across our trainer while on my way to work one day.
I spoke with her extensively and met many of her “finished” dogs. I also spoke with several families who have finished dogs from this trainer, and observed a training session. At that point, we felt confident in her training abilities and applied for one of her dogs.
I attended training sessions over a 9 month period, working many of the puppies coming up through her program at the time. We officially learned that Honey was “assigned” to Rowenna about 8 months into that process. A month later, Honey came home for a trial period to ensure she and Ro would be a great fit. At that point, Honey lived with us full time and we completed her training at home.
Our trainer required us to be under contract in order to receive one of her dogs. It includes assuring Honey’s well being, maintaining her high level of training through frequent practice, and being prepared for future evaluations. This is a contract unique to our trainer and may not be a part of your service dog experience.
Where do I get a service dog?
The answer is: it depends. As of September 2016, there are no regulations on service dog training. Because of that, there are several ways to obtain a service dog. There are pros and cons to each method.
1. Apply to a program. Do a Google search for service dogs and you will find many non-profits that train dogs. Pros include a “known” product (if the program is well established and has a good reputation) and being assured a dog in the end. Cons include a high price tag (frequently more than 10k), a long wait time, and likely travel to the training site and/or a long stay at the training site. These types of programs are often well suited for highly specialized training like seizure or diabetes dogs.
2. Find a trainer you trust and either have them train the dog or work with you to train the dog. Pros include lower cost, choosing your own puppy, and the opportunity to work with your dog from the start. Cons include no guarantee that the puppy you choose will ultimately be suited for service work, becoming attached to a dog that may not end up as a service dog, and the possibility of poor quality training (depending on how well you know the trainer, trainer’s history and ability, etc)
3. Train your dog on your own. Pros include no cost outside the cost of the dog and its care, chance to raise up the puppy, opportunity to work with the dog from the beginning. Cons include lack of training experience may hinder final outcome, huge time commitment. A service dog truly needs to be worked each and every day with many opportunities to practice across multiple environments.
Where do I start?
I recommend thinking about how you would like the dog to help. There is a limit to what service dogs can reasonably do – be wary of any trainer or program that promises you the world. Determine if you need a fully trained service dog, or if a well trained family pet might be sufficient. (Remember, a loving and well trained pet can provide a great deal of emotional support inside the home. If you don’t see a need for the dog to be in public whenever your child is in public, a well trained pet might just do the trick!)
Research your options. Are there any established, well respected trainers in your area? Are there any service dog programs that catch your eye? Would you like to train your own dog?
Ask other families what their experiences have been like with their service dogs. Meet other service dogs and observe working teams.
Familiarize yourself with the laws governing service animals – both state and federal. While there are no regulations on the actual training, there are rules about where the animals can be, how they must behave, and who can ask you what questions about the animal.
Go with your gut. This dog will be part of your family and your every day life. Go with a trainer or program that produces the kind of service animal that best suits your child.
All that being said, Honey is the best thing we have done for Rowenna. They are an incredible team! We wish you the best of luck on your own service dog journey.