By Adria Nassim
A couple of my favorite things about caring for service dogs are the bond created and helping them develop their confidence and improve their skills. I really love working with Thomas every day and consider him to be part of my family. I love spending time with him whether we are working, training, or just sitting at home.
(You can read Adria’s recounting of her first meeting with Thomas in her January 2022 blog Welcome, Thomas!)
I have seen so much growth in Thomas since he finished his formal training with Indiana Canine Assistance Network (ICAN) in September 2021. I feel so fortunate to be on this journey with him. He offers me an independence to live in my own apartment and to safely get around town to the places I need to go. We are partners and care for each other, so I have a responsibility to care for him, too. Just as he helps me to stay safe and reach my potential, I pledge to continue his training and provide for his needs to keep him healthy and fit.
Staying fit and looking good
People often see me out and about with Thomas and ask questions like how long it takes to train a service dog or whether Thomas is still in training. The typical training period for a service dog is approximately two to two 1/2 years beginning when the puppies are just a few weeks old. They are typically trained two or three times per day for approximately 10 minutes a session.
All that training is before the dog’s partner is ever selected. Once Thomas and I were matched, I had to undergo training with him before I could take him home.
Many people think that once a dog completes a three- to six-week obedience course, he is trained, and the work is done. Rather, the work is just beginning. We still work on various skills and behaviors every day to help him stay on top of his game and maintain interest. If skills and behaviors are not addressed consistently, the dog will eventually lose them. My training sessions with Thomas will never end while he continues to give me the help I need to live independently.
It’s important that service dogs or working dogs be kept lean and fit because the healthier and more physically fit a dog is, the longer they will be able to work and perform. Dogs who are heavier and overfed do not work as long, nor do they tend to live as long. Exercise is also very important and happens every day. To keep him healthy, I walk Thomas at least two or three times a day for about 20–30 minutes. He also really enjoys chasing empty plastic bottles across the wood floor in my apartment and running after his ball.
And then there’s the matter of hygiene. It may come as a surprise, but there’s a lot of work needed to help Mr. T maintain his handsome appearance. Every other month, I take him to the groomer for a bath and nail trim. To keep him looking sharp and maintain good hygiene between baths, a few times a week I brush out his coat and clean his teeth and ears. (It’s important to look spiffy and professional for work, you know.)
My dog and my independence
I have shared in previous blogs about how Lucy and Thomas have given me more independence by allowing me to venture out on my own because they offer the stability I need to safely walk and cross intersections because of my cerebral palsy. Thomas picks up things for me, and every day, he gets brings his leash for us to go out. Lucy and Thomas have allowed me to live alone without the support of my family. My day revolves around my keeping to a schedule of providing his training and his care. Maintaining his scheduled needs has improved my executive functioning, and through the interactions I have with people when we are out and about, he helps with my social skills.
A service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. The tasks that a service dog includes:
- assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks;
- alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds;
- providing non-violent protection or rescue work;
- pulling a wheelchair;
- assisting an individual during a seizure;
- alerting individuals to the presence of allergens;
- retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone;
- providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities; and
- helping individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.
My service dogs are part of my family
My first service dog Lucy was my partner for 11 years. Together, we took an Uber, went to the grocery and to doctor’s appointments, and I crossed the street by myself for the first time ever. Lucy changed my whole life. Thomas has been a wonderful addition to Team Adria, giving me that same independence I experienced with Lucy. He helps me to get to the classes I speak to around campus, as well as the other outings I go on.
Thomas is a wonderful pal to Lucy in her older years. Even though Lucy is now happily retired and living with my parents, she still comes to visit periodically, and because she is no longing working for me, she doesn’t necessarily have to abide by such strict training standards as before. Occasionally, I will let her visit a dog on a walk or sniff the ground much more than she did when she worked. She still very much enjoys going on walks and watching the birds on the deck. She will always be part of my family.
Just like with any family member, the journey you take with a dog is forever. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.