Four months ago today, I brought Hanalei, my golden retriever, into my life. From the very beginning, I looked forward to training her to become an active service dog for me! It was exciting, getting to work with a dog of my own from their puppyhood to shape them into a companion that could be there for me when I had no one else to help. It’s been four months into Hanalei’s training, and she’s doing amazing. I get questions every day about her being a service dog, so I figured now that she has completed basic training and is working towards completing public access training, it would be the perfect time to do a Q and A for anyone wondering about getting a service dog for themselves, or just wondering about Hanalei and I! Please enjoy this fun and verrrry educational Q and A on the most common questions I get asked about Hanalei!
Q: Why do you need a service dog?
A: Personally for me, I’ve been dealing with anxiety, panic attacks and acute claustrophobia since as long as I can remember. Bad anxiety leads to panic attacks, lots of which have been so extreme that they’ve led me to blacking out in public spaces. Having anxiety and claustrophobia makes it extremely difficult to do basic and essential activities, like for example; shopping for groceries, grabbing the mail and even the most simple tasks, like answering the front door or even showering. It can feel like sometimes you have to push yourself to do the most simplest of things. Because of the struggle to basic things, lots of people with anxiety and public phobias fall easily susceptible to depression. It’s easy to become depressed when you are alone, with no one to help you keep on top of things that your disability hinders! That was me last year.
Lucky for me, I’ve been blessed with Adam, who honestly saved my life by getting me on top of things again. We live together, which inspires me to wake up earlier and get my errands done since he’s always by my side. It’s hard to explain, but without him around, Its like I instantly revert back to not being able to function. It’s not that he’s my boyfriend and I depend on his company, it’s that I depend on company in general to keep my head in the right state of mind. Slipping into my own thoughts brings me anxiety almost immediately, and having someone else around, even my mom, helps me get stuff done I just can’t do when Im alone. Keeping my mind off anxiety helps me live most of my life in a tolerable state of peace.
But I don’t always have someone with me. Driving in the car alone, running simple errands, taking business trips to different states alone, my family and Adam being out of town and more are things I have to inevitably endure. So when I don’t have the luxury of dragging Adam around with me all the time, I will eventually take Hanalei. She is working every day to be trained to not just be my dog, but my best friend and my service companion. Not only will she be with me as emotional support when I need something to keep my mind focused on, but she will be trained to help me in the midst of an attack when Adam or my family aren’t around.
Anxiety is hard to understand, and that is why anxiety awareness is something very important to me. Having anxiety and dealing with an anxiety disorder/depression has to do with an involuntary chemical imbalance, and it is not the same thing as “getting anxious”. It is not something that can simply be fixed with “being happier” (whatever that means), and “learning to control your brain”. It requires regular therapy and medication. It is something that I’ve dealt with since I was 6 years old, and I wouldn’t wish for anyone to feel the challenges I go through every day without people even knowing. Hanalei understands me unconditionally, and she is trained to immediately respond to do just what I need, which a lot of humans can’t do as fast for me, even if we both understand English! Dogs really are remarkable.
Q: So, you can get a service dog for more things than blindness?
A: Yes! Service dogs can help assist people in so so so many different ways. It’s a total misconception that service dogs are only limited to seeing eye dogs! Whenever I go out in public with Hanalei, while she is training or working, I get asked the common question “so, is she going to help a blind person?”. Service dogs are able to help with any disability, depending on what they are trained to do. It all comes down to training. Some service dogs become seeing eye dogs, some become diabetic medial alert, some become anxiety alert and more, amongst literally hundreds more of ways a dog can be trained!
Q: How do I know If I need a service dog, versus an emotional support dog (ESA) or therapy dog?
A: Research! Research and speaking to your doctor is key when it comes to deciding if a furry companion can help you live life easier. Sometimes a dog can make your life worse! I know right? How could a furry friend make life worse? Puppies are a lot of hard work, and having a service dog can be stressful, explaining your rights constantly to unaware store owners. Be prepared to do lots and lots of explaining. The way I really determined if a service dog could actually benefit me was to look up specifically what service dogs have been trained to do for people dealing with mental disability. I went down an extensive list and wrote down everything I’d want my dog to help me accomplish. The list I used was super helpful, and you can find it here.
If you know a solid list of 5 or more tasks that you need assistance with, and are ready to be extremely dedicated to taking training seriously to get your dog to where they need to be to properly assist, a service dog may be for you! If you don’t really need assistance with anything other than emotional assistance, having an ESA is the better option, especially for things like plane flight anxiety. You need a doctors note to sign off on your ESA, and it is important to bring this to the airport with you when flying with your ESA.
Q: Where do I get a service dog and how do I train to have a dog become one?
A: Both answers depend on the level of training your dog will need to assist a disability. Each task requires a long period of time to completely nail down, until you can fully depend on the dog. This is crucial, especially if your service dog will be a seeing eye dog, physical disability dog. Based off my research going into getting a service dog, I’m going to say you can get a service dog many ways, but the most common are 1.; starting from puppyhood and working with a trainer to develop your tasks personally, and 2.; getting a service dog from a training center specifically for adopting pre-trained service dogs. I did the first option. Of course, you can always train your current dog to become a service dog at any point in their life, but It is much easier to make sure your dog is cut out for the necessary level of discipline if they are already performing tasks since birth. Also, there are certain breeds that are easier to train to complete service dog tasks, like labs and goldens. You can find a list of the most common service dog breeds with a quick google search.
Q: How long does it take to train a service dog?
A: I read that it takes an average of 11 months to fully train a service dog. I have no idea If this is fact, but it does make sense to me. I’ve been training Hanalei since she was 2 months old. She’s now 6 months and behaves beautifully, and even knows some of her service dog tasks. However she still has a lot of growing to do, not only as a service dog, but a puppy! She’s still just a baby getting to know the world, and even though she is a trained service dog, we still have a lot to work on, like perfecting her tasks in public! I anticipate she will be fully trained on her current tasks in six more months, and of course, new tasks will take longer. While Hanalei is still perfecting her tasks, I generally only take her to pet friendly restaurants and environments to practice in public until she earns her right into service dog only environments.
Q: Does Hanalei still get to play and be a normal dog?!
A: Of course! Hanalei is still a dog, even if she helps me with tasks like a human would. She swims in the pool, gathers the biggest sticks she can find, gets way too excited when she touches a sandy beach and occasionally eats my cat’s poops and throws it up minutes after. The biggest thing to remember is that while Hanalei is still a dog and still gets to play, Adam and I hold her at most times to the discipline of a service dog. That means even when she acts like a “normal” puppy, she is still expected to obey commands strongly and quickly, walk with me the way she walks when she is working, and I still train her every day, twice a day, to work on her alert commands even if she isn’t using them daily. It’s all to keep her the best service dog she can be! Even if she’s not working every day. Hanalei is still just our furry little girl!
I hope I was able to answer a lot of the basic questions I get in regards to Hanalei. These are all questions that helped me learn tremendously when I was searching for answers on how to properly go about getting a service dog in the most respectful way possible. From day one, I’ve been committed to taking Hanalei’s training seriously, so she can earn the title of being an active service dog for the rest of her life! Training is never completed, and it’s fun for both of us getting to work every day on perfecting our bond. It really is a rewarding thing for both of us. Please leave me comments below if you have any more questions! Do you have a service dog? Comment below what your service dog helps you with!
You can follow Hanalei’s journey on Instagram at @HeyHanalei here!
Until next time, xoxo,