Archive for June, 2018

Adjusting to life with a Service Dog

June 11th, 2018 by Carrie, the Just Mildly Medicated gal

DON’T CALL THIS A COMEBACK

<insert LL Cool J voice>

Okay, so it actually is a comeback. Those of you that follow me on other social media platforms, mostly Instagram, have an idea of how drastically my life has changed. It’s long overdue for me to share because a lot has happened, like adjusting to life with a service dog. So much time has passed, and I am going to try and update you slowly. The update I think most people want is about having a service dog to alert to Dysautonomia. It may not be what you expect though.

Adjusting to life with a Service Dog:

Let’s start with the ever adorable, super smart, strong willed, and hardworking service dog Winnie!

Winnie after receiving her Canine Good Citizen

I really thought when I left for what the service dog program I went through calls “Team Training” I would start blogging again to share my experience. The problem was I didn’t have much good to say about my experience. I was literally paralyzed by the idea of sharing what I was going through. It may seem like it but I don’t have strong feelings about the specific organization. There are no rainbows and recommendations, but there is also no slander campaign. I won’t be naming them; however, I also won’t remove previous mentions of them. I am personally disappointed in my experience and professionally neutral because my experience was mine and many others have very different feelings. They also seem to be going through some significant changes and I look forward to hearing how that impacts the program.

Let me tell you about madam Winnifred. This dog is so smart, her puppy raiser family showed her so much love and positive reinforcement that she has been able to work through a lot. However, there was a time, last September specifically, that I had actually prepared to be bringing her back early December.

We did not connect well during our Team Training, she is very strong willed, and she had decided while she would alert to BP and HR fluctuations, she would not soften her heart to me. She didn’t trust me and refused to relax into me. She was barely going through the motions and it was obvious… and heartbreaking. To make matters worse, she is a vocal dog, something I had not expected in a service dog. I’ve had vocal dogs before, but it was in excitement, Winnie was vocal in her general annoyance at the world. She grumbles, sighs, huffs, and the almost deal breaker, she growls.

Our early days of Alert & ignore

I had always understood all of her vocal sounds as negative, and honestly, I still do. With the guidance of an amazing trainer once we got home I started to understand those vocal sounds are her way of telling me how she feels about a situation. After learning more about her communication I better understand what she is telling me, thus changing the way I handle certain situations. Now she is far less vocal because she isn’t put in situations where she needs to tell me her grievances.

WAIT… YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO ALTER YOUR LIFE FOR A SERVICE DOG!!

Yeah, in part I still feel that way, however, she is a living being and if she has a strong opinion about her work life I am okay with, quite literally, hearing her out. The saving grace in our relationship has been that the more willing I am to hear her out the fewer opinions she feels she needs to share.

Winnie and I were so much more in synch by the time December came that I saw a future for us, a real working partnership. Having a service dog is a bit like an arranged marriage AND having a really smart 8-year-old with you at all times. It has taken some adjusting on my part that I hadn’t expected.

We had a rough start, but a year later, we are a strong team and she is not only incredible at her job but is very affectionate. I imagined us seeing each other for the first time and both falling instantly in love and her doing everything I asked of her right away. Real life was different than my expectation, as it usually is.

Real life with a service dog was very different than I expected. It was much harder in the beginning than I could have imagined, and more rewarding now. Stay tuned, I’ll be sharing some about our training soon.

Checking out some zebras