Do I need to register or certify my PTSD Dog?
According to the ADA certifications of any type are not needed. However, many programs provide them to their service dog teams. If you are questioned by a business owner regarding the legitimacy of your service dog, the certification shows you and the dog were professionally trained by that specific program.
Beware of online companies that try to sell you a service dog certification without ever evaluating your dog in person. Since certification isn’t mandatory, these companies are just out to make a buck.
Am I sure I need a service dog?
There has been a great deal of media, word of mouth, and other news about how much service dogs can help PTSD. Because of that, many service members and veterans are making spontaneous decisions to get one. But, it may be too soon in your recovery process to bring another life that you’re responsible for into the mix. You might want to give some of your other treatment modalities a chance to work before making a commitment to get a dog.
How can a service dog make a difference in my life?
Really put some thought into this. Be realistic. Make sure your expectations are reasonable. Ask yourself if you could get the same results from a family member or other treatment modality. Just because you’ve seen other veterans with a service dog doesn’t mean you will get the same results. All teams are different. All dogs are different. All individuals are different. Write out a list of what you’re hoping the dog can do for you, and share it with the programs you apply to. They need to know your expectations, and you need to know if they can be fulfilled by one of their dogs.
Is it too early in my recovery process to get a service dog?
Ask yourself if you can handle the stress of applying for a service dog at this juncture. There is a lot of paperwork involved. There are personal questions asked on applications. Do you have the energy and wherewithal to commit to the training and upkeep of a dog right now? Some programs require that a veteran wait at least one year post injury/event before applying for a service dog so you can devote your time and energy to healing. Dogs are a lot of work. They require a lot of time. If you’re still in treatment which demands most of your time and energy, or if your work or home situation is in flux, this may not be the best time to get a dog. You want to make sure a dog won’t add to your stress and anxiety.
Am I ready for potential awkward encounters in public with my service dog?
There are things that can happen when taking a service dog in public places that may make you uncomfortable. Sometimes business owners aren’t educated about public access laws and may try to keep you from entering. Kids may run up and want to pet your dog. People may ask you inappropriate questions. A dog makes you more noticeable, so ask yourself if you’re ready for the attention a dog can bring to you.
Can I train a service dog myself?
From a legal stand point, you can. But it can be a risky proposition because you’ll be putting thousands of hours of training into it, and the dog may still not be appropriate. You also have to ask yourself if you have the skills to train a service dog correctly. Or what will you do if your dog ends up with a medical problem. It’s hard to be objective about your own dog, so you may miss signs the dog gives you which clearly indicate he doesn’t want to be a service dog. Many dogs prefer to just stay home, rather than handle the stress of working out in public all the time.
Be honest with yourself, and be fair to your dog. If your dog reacts to other dogs, has triggers, or other behavior challenges, it’s best to let him be a pet dog rather than continuously try and make him into something he doesn’t want to be. It’s your responsibility to keep yourself, your dog, and the general public safe, so try not to make excuses for why your dog growls at other dogs that get too close to him. Just admit that your dog prefers to be alone with you indoors, or in an enclosed yard or play area. Many of these type pet dogs make excellent emotional support dogs.
If you still decide to train your own dog for service dog work, don’t do it alone. Seek out the help of an experienced, credentialed service dog trainer. They should have a background in training dogs for psychiatric-specific tasks, and be well versed in public access testing.
Can any dog become a service dog?
No, not all dogs can be service dogs. It takes a certain temperament and disposition for a dog to become a service dog. In addition, they go through highly specialized training and socialization. They also need to be structurally sound, healthy and free of allergies. At no time should a service dog be reactive to other dogs, chase animals, show signs of fear, solicit attention from others, scrounge for food, or a myriad of other undesirable behaviors. A service dog must ignore the day-to-day distractions that are part of their partner’s life.
The dog should also be confident and intuitive. If a dog is sensitive, he/she could become anxious when working with a handler that is highly stressed.
What tasks can a service dog do?
Service dogs are taught many different tasks depending on the disability. Most programs will ascertain what tasks you need the dog to perform based on your application. They should be able to train specific tasks based on your individual needs.
Some tasks dogs are trained to perform for PTSD include, waking you up from nightmares, alert to oncoming anxiety attacks, retrieve medications, interrupt panic attacks.
Some programs train tasks like “watch my back”, or go into a dark room to ensure it’s safe, or keep people at a distance. Other programs believe these tasks don’t really aid in the veteran’s recovery, and only act as a crutch. They prefer that the veteran teach the dog that the world is safe, not vice versa.
To continue reading the FAQ's, go to "So you want a PTSD service dog: important factors to consider before getting one".