Ember, fondly known as Dogmeat ( and a variety of other nicknames ), is my CGC certified mobility assist service dog, who is now retired. She is an Australian Shepherd / Golden Retriever mix. Before she became my assistance dog, she was my pet dog and a valued member of our family. I adopted her as a rescue when she was 1yr old, when her previous owners could not keep her.
She is a highly intelligent and focused dog, who works very hard to please. All of these things made her a very quick learner when we were training for obedience and general interactive behaviors. She was always top of her class. Her eagerness and willingness to work and learn was extremely beneficial when we began training for service work. I trained her myself, and sought the assistance of local training professionals for help along the way.
We diligently trained for service work and public access for about a year and a half, while also undergoing an extensive application process to join an owner-trained program with Can Do Canines, a local assistance dog organization. Our hard work and patience finally paid off and we were accepted into their program, where they helped us polish off service oriented skills. We were tested for skills work and public access, and are now a fully certified owner-trained mobility assist team.
Ember had to retire sooner than we originally expected, due to arthritis from a foot injury effecting her ability to work. She gets to be a normal pet dog again, though she is still inclined to help however she can.
"Why do you have an assistance dog?"
I get that question a lot, because physically on the outside I look normal. I have some health issues that have made things difficult for me. I have Dysautonomia, my own resulting in neurally mediated hypotension and related problems that often cause balance issues. When I have symptoms, trying to constantly compensate and correct my posture to keep from stumbling or falling can be very physically draining on top of the constant widespread pain and fatigue I experience due to Fibromyalgia.
I was once nervous to go anywhere without my significant other or a friend in case I had an episode that led to full syncope ( passing out ) and falling.
Amazingly, before she was trained for any of this, Ember actually alerted me to oncoming episodes and helped prevent me from falling on several occasions. This was one of the many things that prompted us to look in to information about service dog training in the first place, thus learning about owner-trained service dog teams. We were fortunate enough that Can Do Canines was local, and offered an owner-trained program.
Since Ember was already obedience trained and bonded with me, we just needed to take her training to the next level. Thus working to become an owner-trained team was perfect for our situation. We had to meet the same requirements of any program dog, including passing behavior evaluations and medical evaluations including hip and shoulder x-rays. All expenses to get this far have been out of my own pocket. I have been fortunate that when finances were tight, people were kind enough to donate to help cover the differences.
Ember has allowed me to be more independent again. With her help, I don't expend as much energy keeping balance. I can do more and stay out longer than I used to before I had her help.
Ember has also been trained to retrieve items on command, to pick up items I drop, operate light switches, use push panels for access doors, and to get an emergency phone or go get help from someone if I need it.
Training is not over simply because we got our certifications. Training and learning keeps going, long beyond that. There is always room for improvement, and always room to learn new and exciting things!
It takes a metric ton of patience, dedication, and repetition to just get to the beginning foundation of what is really required to train your own assistance dog. If you have come across this writing by searching for information on owner-training, it is not an easy process and not one to be taken lightly. I have spent countless hours reading, watching videos, and having hands on experience to prepare for all this, and we have hardly scratched the surface. That being said, don't let it discourage you if you are really serious about it and can truly benefit from such an amazing partnership.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I'm happy to help if I can.
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