As you probably know, for the last two and a half months I have been on a journey to train my dog Malibu as my service dog. Two weeks ago, she passed her public access test and she is now an official service dog!
Throughout our time together so far, I have encountered a LOT of questions and comments. I’ve decided to address this publicly, in hopes of providing some education and taming some curiosity! Over the next week or so, I will be answering questions regarding different service dog related topics- training, public interaction, etc. If you have a question that you want answered, click the Contact Me button or leave a comment down below!
Today, I’m answering the 5 most common questions that I am asked about my dog specifically! Here we go:
- Why isn’t your dog a lab or retriever? I understand where this question comes from. In media and movies, service dogs are almost always portrayed as golden retrievers or labs. This is likely because most fully-trained service dog agencies breed labs and retrievers specifically for their clients. Because I chose to train my own dog, I was able to adopt any dog I wanted to! I chose to rescue a dog from a shelter, because that’s what I believe is best. At the shelter, I tested the aptitude of a few dogs and decided that Malibu had the best behavior and personality for service dog training. Moral of the story: service dogs can be ANY breed!! That’s a right- even “bully” breed! (and before you have to ask, she is half St Bernard, half Great Pyrenees)
- Is she a service dog or emotional support animal? What is the difference? She is a Service Dog!! Many people ask me this question simply because they don’t know the difference between an SD and an ESA. A physician can prescribe an ESA. It can be any species or breed. ESA’s are typically used as “calming” companions for people who may have emotional or mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. An ESA does not have full public access rights protected by Federal Law. On the contrary, SD’s are allowed in ANY public place that the handler goes- including all forms of transportation and food establishments. Legally, a service dogs does not require a certification or registration, and a physician does not always prescribe them. A service dog must be trained to do specific tasks that help or benefit the handler. By law, Malibu is a service dog because she is trained to preform specific tasks that make my life a little easier.
- So you can take Malibu with you ANYWHERE? YES! I can and usually do bring Malibu with me everywhere. As I mentioned, no public establishment can deny my dog entry. The only reason that I may be asked to leave is if my dog is disruptive or a threat (of course, we have never encountered that problem!!). Now, just because I CAN bring Malibu doesn’t mean that I always DO. There are certain times that I leave Malibu at home, such as if I am going to be running errands for the majority of the day and know that I won’t have time to let her rest or take a break in between. I will also leave her home if I suspect that she’s not feeling well, or if we have already been gone for a long time that day and she deserves some alone time. 9 times out of 10, Malibu will be with me- but sometimes it’s just easier to leave her at home.
- What tasks does your dog do? Before I answer this question: friendly reminder that this is NOT a question you can legally ask a handler! But since I’m your friend, I’ll go ahead and answer! Malibu does a lot of things to help me! The most common command you will hear me give Malibu is “cover.” Malibu can do a front cover, and a back cover. Basically, this is where she puts her body in front of or behind me. This serves a multitude of purposes. Most commonly, I use it when standing at a counter such as a cash register or when ordering at a coffee bar. The cover keeps her out of the way and in control between the counter and me. She also covers me to put space between me and other people. This ensures that I have enough room to breathe, and that I don’t feel overcrowded. Malibu also has a command called “snuggle.” This command is specifically used in times of high stress/anxiety/panic or even high pain. To the passer-by, it looks like I’m just loving on my dog and scratching her ears and giving her kisses. In reality, she is grounding me and keeping me focused on her (and my breathing) and not whatever stressor is around me. One of my favorite tasks is called deep pressure therapy. This is when Malibu uses her weight to lay or lean on certain parts of my body, typically my legs. Not only does this have a calming effect, it also mitigates my nerve pain. Malibu also does a variety of mobility tasks, including “bracing” to help me stand/balance, and walking ahead or behind me going up or down stairs to give me support and balance. These are just a few of the great things Malibu can do for me! And of course, we are always working on new tasks to add to her list.
- Is Malibu ALWAYS on the job? Technically, the answer to this is absolutely not. When we are at home, Malibu is a pet just like any other pet dog! I take her vest off the second we get home, if not when she gets in the car. She loves to run around outside and take really long naps. She LOVES belly rubs, and likes to carry her kibble around the house and spit it out for me to find later. See? She’s a dog! Now, of course, taking off her vest does not mean forgetting her commands. She will (almost) always do what I tell her to, and she’s really good at responding to my needs 24/7. She comforts me always, and will help me any time of day or night. We also run through a series of basic commands each day to keep her training up and her mind sharp, but that is always balanced out with lots of treats and playtime outside!
If you have any other questions about my girl Malibu, let me know! Up next I’ll be answering your questions about how to interact (or NOT) interact with an SD in public…
With all the love,