Service Dog Series - The early days with Hope
Getting Started with Hope
My first thought after I shut the front door when the Autism Service Dog Coordinator left was, "What do we do now?" Hope looked at us and didn't seem to be concerned at the moment. Thoughts of doubt like, "I hope we didn't make a mistake doing this." and "I don't have a clue right now." and "Are they sure we are capable of this?" raced through my mind.
Somehow we figured things out. They gave us a manual to read. We had a brief lesson before the Coordinator left. How hard could it be after all? Thus we began our adventure with Puppy Raising.
Developing a daily schedule
One of the first things we needed to establish was a daily schedule. When to feed her, when to take her potty and when to go for a walk. It didn't take long before we developed a schedule. Since then we've perfected our schedule learning from the past.
We also altered our schedule based on what these dogs will be doing in the future. A good example is tailoring their eating and potty walks before and after school times. This took time for us to learn about autism in general and how these pups work to assist their kids. One of the goals is for dogs not to need food or water or potty walks during the school hours to minimize any additional effort on the part of the school staff.
One of the greatest benefits for us has been the daily schedule. Our lives took on a nice balance as we sought to bring a daily order to their schedule. So the symbiotic balance worked for us personally as well. We noticed our stress levels were lower and we enjoyed the gentle rhythm of daily life taking care of these pups.
Learning to navigate in public
One big lesson was learning to how navigate all of this in public. It's more than just walking a dog down the street. We learned that we must always walk the dog on our left. The reasons will be covered in another article.
Walking in "pack" means the dog has their uniform on. Learning to walk in public and in "pack" is a huge coordinated effort when you first start. We are always mindful of being a good example while in "pack". The puppies are still somewhat young and not perfect yet.
In those early days, learning to walk with the dog on the my left, carrying a purse, going into a store, trying to open my purse to pay for a purchase while simultaneously keeping Hope in check and answering questions about Hope took all of my brain cells. I used to visualize all of it ahead of time because it didn't take much to get frazzled with the volume of things to do and remember. Now it is more second nature - so we've come a long ways.
Please don't pet the dog!
Walking in a public place with a service dog garners a lot of looks. I've had to get use to people looking at us. When we go to various stores or restaurants we've gotten use to people approaching us with questions.
One of the most common questions is "Can I pet your dog?". As much as we'd like to let people pet our dog - we have learned to say "No" most of the time. Why do we say no? It doesn't help with the training of the dog. In fact, in my opinion could make it harder because then the dog thinks they are center of the attention and should be pet by strangers all the time.
Eventually, these dogs must be somewhat invisible and assisting their child in these public places. It's just part of their training and what needs to happen. So if you see a service dog, especially one in training - please don't pet the dog!
That said, there are sometimes we will allow it but it needs to be spaced out time wise. We've got some special memories of the times we allowed the dogs to be pet that I hope to share down the road.
We can have fun too!
We got Hope in February 2011. By March of 2011 we decided we wanted to take Hope to the beach. It's only an hour from where we live so it would be a good day trip and give Hope a chance to burn off her puppy energy.
Taking her to the beach was a great idea. She ended up loving the beach so much. We feel privileged to have been the ones to introduce her to the beach. I have never seen a dog so enthusiastic about running on the beach. We have since taken all of our puppies to the beach as it is a great place to have fun and train them too.
Below will be some photos from that first beach trip and a video of it if I can get the links to work.