Service Dog
Service dog

Using a Cardigan Welsh Corgi as a Service Dog

First of all, before we even start considering Cardigan Welsh Corgis as service dogs, let’s agree on terms: Service dogs are defined in their relationship to a single person with a disability.
Service dogs do…
work (which we generally think of as independent actions or learned responses that don’t necessarily need the handler to give them a command)
and/or tasks (which we conceptualize as trained responses to commands) that benefit a person with a disability.
The work and/or tasks the dog does must be directly related to the person’s disability.

We will not place a dog as a service dog or an emotional support dog (which similarly helps someone who is disabled, but does not have specialized training or tasking) with someone who is not legally disabled.

The reason it’s important to define exactly what we’re talking about is that by far the most common reason service dog prospect placements fail is that somebody – either the breeder or the owner or the trainer – lost focus on what the dog is and what the dog should do.
Many disabled people contemplating a service dog for the first time have a big-picture view of their disability and of the dog’s job – “I am anxious/depressed/in pain/hurting in some way” and “A service dog will fix it.” When you think about your disability and having a service dog in those terms, the logical next step is “So I should go get a dog now.”
Unfortunately, that leads to failure and the washing out of the dog the vast majority of the time. It’s sort of like saying “I need to get to work” and “Things with wheels go toward work” leading to “I should buy the first vehicle I see.” You’re going to end up on a lawn mower trying to commute to Boston.
Before you even consider a service dog, you need to understand your needs and precisely how a service dog will meet those needs, and it’s not always a simple process.
We strongly suggest that before you visit a shelter, contact a breeder, or even decide for sure that a service dog is an appropriate method of addressing your disability, you follow these steps:

Make a list of extremely specific and defined symptoms, situations, and needs that your disability creates.

For example, “I forget to take my medication on time,” or “I trip over curbs and stairs,” or “My anxiety prevents me from getting adequate help from my professors,” or “I don’t get up in the morning when I wake up,” or “I have had multiple allergic reactions to food items that were supposedly hypoallergenic,” or any other of a thousand things. Your list may be very long or very short.

 

Make another list, this time of very detailed single tasks or work that a service dog could do that would benefit those extremely specific situations or symptoms.

And when we say be detailed, we mean *exactly* how you could imagine the dog behaving. Don’t just write “The dog could wake me in the morning.” Write “The dog could be trained to push an alarm button” or “The dog could pull the shades open and bring light into the room” or “The dog could lick my hands to wake me up.”

Now ask: What breed or type of dog, and possessing what temperament and sets of inborn talents, is best suited to do exactly the tasks or work that I laid out in question two?

If you did the first two things correctly, you should be hitting number three hours or days after number two. If you really feel like you have a handle on how a service dog could specifically address your disability, it’s time to consider breeds and personalities. If you anticipate your disability changing or evolving over the next eight to ten years, also consider what you will need as you add tasks or work as your disability changes.

Now comes the toughest question: Do you have the resources, money, time, energy, money, transportation, cooperation from friends and family, and did we mention money to adequately train and maintain a service dog?

This should not be an easy question to answer. Service dogs are very expensive, even if you receive one from a program that places dogs for free. The continued training, the socialization, the upkeep, the vet bills, and so on are a constant drain on your finances. We’ve seen dozens of service dog handlers posting endless GoFundMe pages and desperately looking for handouts when their dog is ill or hurt. We’ve seen even more looking for training advice because a difficult issue has come up and they do not have the money or the transportation to get to a trainer or to get out and work the dog properly. If you do not have a financial cushion and a support system, a service dog is not the right choice for you at this time. And, as hard as it is to say this, we won’t help you obtain one under those conditions.

If, after you are done with the tough questions and soul-searching, you feel like a Cardigan may be the right choice for you, we’d love to talk. Read through the questions below and then download an application and information packet, and get in touch.

Should I owner-train my service dog?

The answer to this, from our point of view, is always yes.

Being paired with a service dog is not a one-time event. It’s a process that continues for all the years with the dog. Whether you start off with a program-trained dog, a green puppy, a career-change dog with prior experience, or a rescue, you must commit to a lifetime of training your service dog, and that also means you will need to commit to a lifetime of being mentored by a qualified trainer.

 

The question of whether you should start off with a program-trained dog or whether you should start off with owner-training is best answered by which one meets your needs and your disability. If you are brand-new to the idea of a service dog and if your disability can be benefited by a a program-trained dog, it will save you a huge amount of time, money, and effort to start with a program dog. If you are an experienced handler or if your disability-related needs cannot be met by a program-trained dog, then owner-training from the very beginning can be a real option. However, owner training is a long and challenging road. We would never want to gloss over that fact; it wouldn’t be fair to you or to your service dog prospect.

I want to owner-train from the beginning. Where do I get a prospect puppy?

We would strongly discourage you from rescuing a puppy or dog. That is not because we don’t have a heart for rescue. It’s because the truth is that most service dog prospects wash out, and the most common reason they wash out is that they are not predictable in behavior and consistent in their working ability. Even the most successful programs will not have 100% success; we consider 50% of prospects becoming full-time service dogs to be an extremely high rate. When you rescue a dog who was not carefully bred, not screened at seven or eight weeks, not socialized, not trained, the wash-out rate skyrockets. Perhaps one in ten go on to successfully work full-time in demanding public work.

 

Choose your breed very carefully. The one you like the looks of, or the one that is the easiest to find near you, is often not the right one. Question breeders carefully about the typical issues the breed has. Short life, joint problems, allergies, a tendency to not get along with other dogs, or wariness around humans will all quickly disqualify even the most promising puppy. You need a breed that is willing to please, bonds with humans, is social and easy to train, and has a long working life.

 

Once you have decided on a breed, the best place to get a true working prospect puppy is from a breeding program that focuses on temperament and predictability, trainability, and appropriate drive. That program should screen its puppies thoroughly. Promising that there will be a puppy for you in a specific litter, or will definitely be a puppy for you soon, is a red flag.

 

Ask any prospective breeder, especially if they seem confident that they can find you a suitable puppy, if they have experience training and using service dogs. There’s nothing wrong with buying a puppy from a good program that is not necessarily experienced in service dog training, but in that case you’ll want to bring along your own service dog trainer to confirm the potential of the litter and puppy.

Will you donate/give me a prospect puppy?

The short answer is – we have all the sympathy in the world (and we really do) for
hard financial situations, but no.

 

In our experience, many people look for owner-trained dogs because they feel like they can’t afford professional training or a program dog. The amount to buy or be matched with a trained dog feels impossible, and the amount to use the services of a professional trainer only slightly less so. They decide to do it on their own, figuring that there must be enough information out there for a determined (and often desperate) handler to create a working service dog on their own. After all, there are dozens of Facebook groups and message boards and forums on service dogs, right?

 

All too often, therefore, the arc of owner training is sad and very predictable – and this is going to be hard to hear, but it’s the truth.

 

A prospect handler realizes that a service dog would be extremely helpful with a disability

He or she gets whatever dog seems nice and, most important, is available and cheap/free

They attempt to owner-train, using advice from Facebook groups and websites

They run into a pretty major training problem – most often fear or reactivity or dog aggression, but it can also be anxiety or inconsistency in work ethic

They realize that they don’t have the tools to solve the problem, post on the Facebook group, get told that they should wash the dog

They decide to keep the dog as an “at home service dog” or “emotional support animal”

They go back to the shelter or find another puppy that is cheap or free

Repeat.

By the time owner-trainers come to a reputable breeder, they often have two or three failed service dogs still in their home, usually after months or years of trying to rehome them.  Coming to a breeder who is more likely to produce a well-socialized puppy that is a genuine working prospect is a huge step in the right direction, but there is still a real danger that the rest of the story will be a repeat.

 

Here is the cold hard truth: You cannot owner train to save money. Programs aren’t charging more than they actually put into the dog. So if you are going to be your own program, you need to plan on spending that amount before you have a reliable and proofed service dog who is making a real difference in your life.

Then how do I get a service prospect puppy from you?

Before we place a service dog prospect with you, we will want to speak with your trainer and understand your plan for training. We will then begin the process of looking for a prospect puppy for you.

 

We want to see that you are committed to succeeding with this dog. That means we will not consider you as a service dog candidate if you cannot commit to a minimum of one year of full-time training with a professional, starting with puppy K and moving to manners, tasking, public access work, and private lessons. You should be in a class or lesson a minimum of once a week, and training on your own every day.

 

The way we match puppies with prospective handlers is to begin when the puppies are just a few weeks old. All of our puppies are raised from birth to set them up for success, but we typically see only one or two top prospects per litter. We look for a puppy who is confident, self-assured, interested in people, and who wants to fix what is going wrong. We “borrow” friends with disabilities to expose puppies to blood sugars, mood changes, mobility difficulties, and as many more as we can. Successful prospects as young as six weeks will show us that they can perceive physical changes.

 

Sometimes the wait for a prospect puppy is quite lengthy, because there aren’t prospects in every litter. We don’t say “OK, we have three people on the list and four puppies in this litter, so everybody gets a service dog!” We designate as prospects only those puppies who we feel have the right temperament and potential. Sometimes several litters will go by before the right puppy is there.

 

Our price for service prospect puppies varies according to the amount of training we commit to providing before the puppy is placed with you. “Green” prospects (eight to ten weeks old) are placed at our normal pet puppy price. Older puppies with extensive socialization and the beginnings of task training will be priced individually.

Ummm, wow. That was really discouraging.

Yes, we know. And if you made it this far, let us end with a lot of hope. We feel like we have to be very hard on people who start off thinking that using a service dog is going to be easy, or isn’t going to require a huge amount of commitment. We’ve seen way too many dogs end up in really bad situations because people weren’t ready, didn’t get help, or didn’t have a support system. So we always start off with a bit of “Scared Straight.”

But – if you’re committed, if you’re determined, and if you get a good dog – there is no greater blessing than a service dog. Both of us owe the quality of our lives, and the security of our well-being, to our service dogs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost every aspect of everything we do is made possible by our dogs, which are nothing short of miraculous. They are worth every single ounce of effort and every penny and every bit of elbow grease. It’s not just having a warm body around who can open the refrigerator and get you a drink or your meds if you need it – it’s a deep bond and a mutual understanding that will absolutely change your life.

Service dogs don’t just benefit your symptoms – they give you power over what has been a very powerless situation. When you have a dog telling you ten minutes in advance that you’re going to have a panic attack, you don’t live in fear that something terrible is going to happen in public. When you have a way to know that your blood sugar is not normal many minutes before your symptoms would start, you are able to drive again. When you have a dog who can tell you gently that someone is behind you so you won’t ever be startled, you can find a path to work full-time again.

We are passionate about service dogs and about their benefit to disabled people. And if you’re ready to put in the time and effort, we promise that we will be with you every step of the way. And we also promise that they really are exactly as amazing, exactly as life-changing, as people say.

Every single dog or puppy pictured on this page went on to be a successful full-time public-trained service dog or emotional support dog, invaluable to their families and beloved by their handlers. It is possible, and incredibly rewarding. If you think you’re ready, let’s talk.

IANTO

Ch/UGrCh Wolfwood Eye Candy RE (Ianto), full-time service dog,
on the purple carpet at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

 

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