Day 88 With Dora 


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.

Days 53 & 54 With Dora

The three of us went on a long walk yesterday, about an hour and a half long. There were a lot of dogs and strangers around, but she did pretty well overall. She even got to sniff another pit bull mix! 🐕

Things went pretty well, and we were all pretty tired when I started typing this last night, so I didn’t get very far.

Today, a friend and I went to a fast food place with outdoor seating, and Dora got her first practice at sitting and staying still in public while people ate. She got up about 5 times, but she sat again on command. Overall, it was pretty good.


It’s hard to imagine that this little girl will be allowed into restaurants with me later, that she will behave well enough to be trusted with that privilege. Still, Dora must be halfway there already. She did so well today, that I really think she can learn to do even better.

So, yeah… nothing major, just life together. Still waiting to see if my application gets approved. Fingers crossed.

Day 51 With Dora

I’m pretty tired. We walked around 5 miles today, split between 2 different walks. Why? 

  1. The temperature was 30 degrees higher today than yesterday.
  2. Generation 2 in Pokémon GO released last night.


I haven’t actually seen these before, since I stopped watching the show before they reached these guys, and I never owned a Gameboy.

Overall, I’ve caught 12 new ones so far today, which is decent progress.


As a side effect, Dora has gotten a really good amount of exercise, and she is napping very well now. She sniffed so many things, saw several people and their dogs, scared about 45 geese into a pond, and had a great time. In general, she is getting much better at walking on a leash, but I need to be better at consistency with correcting her pulling.

Some days, I have the energy and time to make her stop when she pulls and to stand there until she relaxes enough to be ready to keep walking. On other days, I just want to walk. Today… today was more of the latter. But consistency matters most in teaching Dora to walk nicely, so I should try to do better.

Otherwise, I logged into Duolingo for the first time in a while and discovered they have chat bots for French now! 


I enjoyed talking to them more than I probably should, but they just rolled with my typos and underwhelming fluency. (Though I still maintain that if someone asked me “Do you want a sandwich or a salad?” and I said “A sandwich, please,” they would understand me even though it was a grammatical fragment.) 😑 Oh well. 

It has been a pretty good day mentally and physically. 

The Awkward Reality of Training Dora

Disclaimer: We haven’t started Dora’s official service dog training yet. We are still in the application phase. However, after all of the research and preparation I’ve done so far, I feel like I understand a few of the basics. For example, your dog can only learn to respond to your emotional cues if you practice those behaviors, just like verbal commands, just like learning tricks, just like almost all training goals.

So we were just outside for the 5th potty trip of the day (Dora peed but still hadn’t pooped). We came back inside. Within 10 minutes, she’s crying and poking at the leash. Dora only pokes at the leash when she really needs to go out. Cold ears and all, I had to bundle back up and head out. We went to one of Dora’s preferred spots. She finally finished her business after 6 trips, and I dragged her back to our home.

Child coming home from school? No. Go inside. Trash in the road? No. We’re going inside. Weird smells? No. Go inside. Geese flying around? Don’t care. Inside. Neighbor’s dog outside? JUST GO INSIDE! Screams. Pulls hard on leash/harness. Both inside. Door shut and locked. And I stood there, pressed up against the door, just breathing.

A nose touches my gloved hand, and I remember: I need to be training her now. She can tell that I’m not doing well, and I need to be interacting with her so that she learns to keep doing this.

I sit down and start talking to Dora. I pet her and apologize for being rougher than I’d like. I take off our gear (gloves, boots, harness, leash, coat), and I just start crying. Dora licks my face and I manage to praise her and pet her for doing it. I sob, she licks me, and I ruffle her ears and tell her that she’s a good girl. We do it again. And again. Until I don’t have any sobs left inside. 

It is such and odd thing for me at this early stage: allowing myself to experience my feelings so they don’t end up trapped inside and remembering to interact with my dog, teaching her little by little that if she comes to me when I’m sad, I will pet her, and love on her, and say nice things to her. 

It’s weird, being the caretaker who teaches her dog and the cared for who benefits from her dog’s care. Both roles are true, and it makes this a delicate partnership, held in balance through our affection for one another, which we’ve built through tug of war, walks, all of our outings, and just living life together.

I can do this. I don’t need to be perfect. I don’t need to have exclusively good days. Bad days are useful too. It will be alright.

Day 49 With Dora

It’s so cold here. The wind is just awful. It seems like half of the day I’ve had numb and/or painful ears. I’m dancing around the edge of frostbite, at least I think so. Mom said your skin hurts, then goes numb, then hurts again? (Or was that the other way around? 🤔) I’m too cold; I don’t remember.

Dora is just sniffing around the house like she’s looking for a potty spot. Which is why we were just outside for 15-20 minutes. For the 4th time today.


I can’t take it. She’s whining again. 

I AM SO COLD. WHY WON’T SHE JUST GO WHEN WE’RE OUTSIDE?! 

The longer we are out, the angrier and more tired I get, then the more I pull at her leash and snap at her. I can’t keep doing this. 

It’s so cold. 

I want to be a responsible owner and a good caretaker but the wind just saps my strength and leaves me empty. On days like this one, we stay out until I can’t handle it anymore, and then I stagger back home without being able to maintain good leash control or pay attention to what she’s doing.

15 mph wind. It’s just brutal when it’s below freezing. On days like this, my emotional support dog just makes things worse, honestly. It’s more the weather’s fault than hers, but I still get stressed out either way.

Day 47 With Dora

I took her out for a walk to exercise and potty. It was fine, but I started thinking about my grandmother, whom I saw this weekend. I don’t like visiting her for a few reasons:

  1. She’s a hoarder, and she keeps buying me items that I often do not want and forcing me to take them. I have watched the living space in her house dwindle through my lifetime, and I really, really don’t want to live like that.
  2. Many of these items are 1950s housewife essentials, and I’m not a vintage fan nor a traditional gender roles supporter, so I don’t want them. (Last item is some weird oversized chalice type bowl for holding tiny fruits.)
  3. She keeps asking me questions like “Do I know my neighbors yet?” when most people around here are pretty private. There aren’t welcome wagons. We might wave (usually dog people who like Dora), but almost no one talks to each other. And I’m an introvert, so I prefer to have a few deep relationships instead of many shallow ones. And I have social anxiety flare ups. So no. Still not imposing on my neighbors.
  4. She showed up at my house uninvited in August to ‘see if she could find it,’ and then told me that ‘she would come back sometime and spend more time here.’ Meanwhile, I was frozen on my porch like a deer in the headlights, angry with myself for having chosen that specific moment to take the trash can to the curb.


On the walk, Dora found an abandoned Air Kong toy, which she rescued. We finished our business at hand, I slipped down a wet hill and fell (which ending up being funny, rather than stressful or painful), and we headed home. As we approached the driveway, I saw it: a car slowly turning around in the cul de sac and heading our way.

I panicked. Gave Dora the command to come inside. Climbed the porch stair. Fumbled with my key. *engine noises as it grows closer to my driveway*

If it’s her, I won’t be able to pretend that I’m not here. She will know that I’m inside and that I’m not answering the door. Or my phone. Come oncomeon…

Unlocked the door. Call Dora inside. She’s looking at the world or sniffing the air or talking to a unicorn for all I know. But she’s not listening. “Dora! Dora! Inside! Dora! Inside!”

I pull. She comes. Inside. Take keys. Shut door. Deadbolt. Breathe.

That car passed my house while I was outside fumbling around and trying to get Dora to come in. I knew it then, but it didn’t register.

Now I’m inside and the door is locked, and that’s not my grandmother, but I still want to close all the blinds and curtains again, like I did back in August. (Every day for at least a week. Maybe two. I just didn’t feel safe here.)

But we should eat soon, and I need to breathe. 
I don’t like panic attacks.

Day 44 With Dora

It’s still pretty early, but I’m doing alright. Dora is doing well too.


I recovered ok once my brother arrived, which was surprising. I usually have my depressed/anxious/meltdown episodes by myself. I mean, I spent the bulk of the day carrying around my giant stuffed frog, for crying out loud.


When I’m in a really bad state, it helps to have something to hold on to and to feel pressure against my torso. I usually hug pillows, because they’re more ubiquitous, but I was at home, so I had more options. I may have started this as a child, wanting to be held in my distress, but knowing that no one was going to hold me. Regardless, when something works and calms me out of a panic, I don’t care if it looks weird or childish. I need that chance to regain control, and I do what it takes to get it.

Man, I really am broken, aren’t I? One phone call did this to me. One phone call was enough to start a major panic.

But, to be fair, I’m not scared of the phone. Well, I am, but in this case, I’m scared of the door to having a service dog being slammed in my face. I’m scared that someone else will tell me that the way I feel is my fault and my responsibility, so I just need to choose to be normal.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

If it was that easy, don’t you think I would have done it?! Do you actually think I want to feel like this all the time?! What sort of sicko are you?

*sigh*

So I’m scared that the door will slam shut and all of my progress will be for nothing, since if Dora can’t be trained for public access, I’m just going to be even more homebound than I have been for the last year. You guys go have dinner; I’m going to stay with my dog.

I hope it works out. There’s nothing I can do either way, but I hope it works out.