My golden retriever turns six in April. He is still extremely willing to go to work but a knee injury that he got when we lived in Colorado making it difficult for him to go up and down stairs at times. So we have decided that it is time to start training another dog so that he can retire in a few years.He is still going to go everywhere with me but so is the puppy one she is housebroken. Medical school has a saying “see one, do one, teach one,” and that’s the theory I’m using. She is not a golden retriever, I considered another one but I didn’t want to fall into the trap of expecting her to behave exactly like Gideon, that’s not fair to either of them. She will be my first Australian Shepherd. I know they are high-energy but I believe I’m up to the challenge. At this point, I would like to address something that frustrates me immensely. Service/assistance dogs are often separated into two categories owner trained and program trained. Gideon and Nekoda, (named for the main female character in Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Chronicles of Nick book series), fall into the owner trained category. Many owner trainers do so because waiting lists for program trained dogs can be several years long and many require that the service animal is the only dog in the house. Some people are willing to make that choice and rehome a pet dog to comply with the program stipulations, I am in no way trash talking the person who chooses to do so, or the program for having those rules. The fact is that most people do not expect the same level of behavior from their pet dogs as is required in a service animal.
Training my service animal has been my personal crucible.I’m not the same person I was five years ago. I am no one’s doormat or rug. Training my dogs has given more self-confidence than almost any other experience in my adult life. After the recent election, I need every bit of that confidence. In the face of a very real and very worrisome Trump presidency, we as service animal handlers need to shelve our bias and preconceived notions of each other. Someone once told me that our first and best advocates are always ourselves. We can’t be the advocates we will need to be for the next four years if we are fighting among ourselves.