This is going to be short. I’m sorry. It just feels like an important moment to capture.
We’re taking Dora out today as a service dog for the first time. She’s still in training, but she got the go ahead from our service dog trainers to start broader socialization. (Broader than the dog-friendly circle she’s been in so far.) We’re going to a jazz concert at a small local venue and I am terrified.
What if someone gives me trouble about her? I’m already scared to try new things and go out without anyone asking me why I have a service dog or swearing at me. (Peers at the training meeting this week were sharing stories of people shouting at them and swearing at them, and I… I am not looking forward to it happening to me.)
I just want to be able to experience the world without panic attacks, lethargy, terror, and despair. That’s all. 😔
Wow! Training your own service dog is overwhelming! I thought it would be, but the scope of it is… it’s hard to put into words. Here’s a few of the pieces:
- Public access manners- If you’ve ever seen a service dog, you probably have some idea of how they behave. Quiet, controlled, polite, focused on their handler, etc. All of this is taught, unless one or two of those traits were in your dog’s personality.
- Canine Good Citizen manners- The American Kennel Club has two behavior standards your dog can test for and attain: STAR Puppy and Canine Good Citizen. There’s some overlap between the two sets, but also some real differences, because CGC dogs fill a wider array of roles. (Awesome pet, therapy dog, service dog, mascot, whatever.) It’s just a core behavior set that tests how your dog handles real world situations.
- Service dog tasks- Oy. I’m lucky that Dora is emotionally sensitive to begin with, or this would be difficult. We’re starting with defusing-type tasks; that is to say, Dora observes a symptom that precedes a panic attack or suicidal spell and interacts with me to decrease the intensity before I meltdown. I’m also trying to prep her for tasks needed during panic attacks, but one of them requires several parts (get command, go to place, retrieve item, bring item to me, release item). It will take a while.
- Socialization issues- Did you know Dora is scared of semi trucks? I didn’t until we had to walk past one this week. We were out for exercise and more experience with this stimuli set (strangers, cars, automatic doors, strange noises, whatever shows up), so we had to stop. And stand there. For five minutes while she hid behind me. Because I need my dog to know that it’s ok. Semis stay in the street. It’s ok.
- Interacting with strangers- Dora needs to sit before and during petting. I am bad (really bad) at asking strangers to stop approaching my dog and wait until she sits and stays sitting before they pet her. Or telling people who scare her that they scare her. Or telling people who try to interact with her while I’m in a training class that I’m in a training class right now go away please.
- Balancing two trainers (and two training methods)- Oh man. For someone with social anxiety, this is horrible. I don’t think I need to explain the issues here.
- Evaluating a training method that reminds me of abuse that I suffered- Basically, I have been crushed under someone’s will and broken until I was unable to act in a way that displeased them. I find it hard to make choices or take action, even as an adult, because I was broken as a child. Now, I’m supposed to do that to Dora. But I can’t. Because it’s abuse. *sigh* Trauma is wonderful, isn’t it?
- Making time for self care- 90% of my energy goes to Dora… and to my survival tasks. I have 10% left for leisure activities (during the day), relaxation (with the dog because I don’t get down time), thinking about life, interacting with people, exercising, and evaluating whether or not I can handle doing one more thing right now if I just buckle down and push a bit harder or if I need to just stop now because I’ve done enough and I can do that tomorrow.
- Every night, I dream of Dora- Usually, it’s some combination of an app or game I used yesterday… and dog training. One day, I played a lot of Fire Emblem Heroes and that night, Dora and like 5 other dogs were having some sort of turn-based meet and greet interaction. I had to choose her moves and monitor the other dogs’ behaviors. The worst part is that no matter how many times I wake up during the night, the dream will just carry on when I finally fall asleep again.
I know I’m forgetting something, but I’ve already used about all of the energy I can spare for this, so that’s all. I’ll try to write about meaningful updates when they happen. I do want to share this experience with anyone who might need to walk a similar path in the future.
A lot has happened, and as is typical of my silence, it has been difficult for me. So here’s an overview, more or less:
- Dora graduated from her first obedience class. The second class starts this week.
- The Flutenist, Dora, and I all went to our first service dog training session … and I’m scared of the main trainer.
- I had a panic attack towards the end of that session and was sobbing and kind of screeching in terror in front of everyone.
- It snowed after some warm weather, and I made a snowball for Dora to play with.
In general, it was mostly new things for me to come to terms with, but I’m always scared of new things. Life can always be worse. *sigh* We are making progress, but it’s hard. I’m doing the best I can.