Service Dogs: Better, Not Easier

Javan’s service dog in training, Rosco, is almost finished with his training and ready to become full-time working dog and family member. He has been visiting our home for a week now, and I’m reminiscing about our visit as we’re getting ready to bring him back to the trainer tomorrow. We’ll wait two more months while he completes his training, and then he’s home forever!

Lap

Practicing the “lap” command

Birthday hat

Happy Birthday, Rosco Boy!

I’m tearing up a bit as I write that because I will miss him so very much. But, I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: It’s easier when he’s not here. I know what you’re probably thinking. Why would I spend the money and go to the trouble of getting a service dog if it’s easier when he’s not here?!?! The answer is simple: It’s better when he is here.

It’s hard to have a new dog around. Especially one as young as Rosco, who just celebrated his first birthday a week ago. And especially when I have two other dogs at home who are very used to things being “their way.” There’s extra energy in the house that can be stressful.The dogs have to be separated at times to calm down.

It’s an extra mouth to feed. I have to remember to give him his medicine, make sure he goes potty, gets enough water, gets rewarded with treats for good behavior, doesn’t eat shoes or stuffed animals, gets his training in every day, bonds well with Javan…the list goes on and on. I have to hold a leash everywhere I go…even when I could really use both hands free to carry groceries or hold open a door while I’m carrying a drink (or two). I have to remember to focus on him during meals out and make sure he stays down and behaves around other people and their food. The main idea: It’s a lot of work. It can be frustrating. Exhausting. Embarrassing.

But all of those things pale when I remember that I didn’t get him to make my life easier. I didn’t even get him to make Javan’s life easier. Javan’s life is hard. It will always be hard. Rosco can’t change that anymore than I can. I got Rosco to make Javan’s life better. And I can already see the fruits of that decision. Even this early in their relationship, before we’ve even found a “normal” of what it looks like for Rosco to be one of us, when Javan is with Rosco, he:

  • Communicates better. He relates better to those around him. He has something to talk about with people: Rosco. He’s less hesitant to talk to people he doesn’t know well.
  • Is more aware of his surroundings. He is mentally where he is physically. He is more grounded to reality. He’s much less likely to be off in his own world, and much more likely to be where we are. Part of this is because he has to pay attention to what Rosco is doing. Part of it is that the physical connection to Rosco  keeps him in reality.
  • Is more independent. I have Rosco on a leash. Javan is also attached to Rosco with his harness. This allows me some modicum of control over Javan’s physical movements without me holding on to him. He can walk in the store without having to hold Mom’s hand and without me having to deal with him constantly running over to whatever catches his eye.
  • Is more confident. He feels like he has control over Rosco with his commands. His words are powerful because Rosco obeys them. Rosco, this huge strong beast of a dog, obeys him.
  • Is more selfless. Javan can understand when Rosco’s needs surpass his own. That’s an important life skill that can be very difficult for those with autism: putting others first. Rosco’s basic physical needs like eating and pottying will sometimes have to take precedence over Javan’s wants.
Javan and Rosco attached with harness

Javan and Rosco attached with harness at a restaurant

I’m sure there are even more benefits than that. I’m sure those benefits will only grow as Javan’s relationship with Rosco grows. One day, I won’t need to hold the leash. One day I will pass the leash to Javan. One day things will be easier. Until then, they will be better.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer H.
    Mar 18, 2015 @ 01:50:39

    That is beautiful. I am considering getting a service dog for my child with William’s Syndrome. I hesitate because of the added work load it will cause me, but your right it’s not about us.Thank you for that, and your honesty.

    Reply

    • bipolaraspiemom
      Mar 21, 2015 @ 14:45:57

      It is perfectly okay to weigh the work load it will cause you against the benefits your child will reap. I pray for wisdom in your situation and you are welcome to respond here with any questions you have along the way.

      Reply

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