Dear Service Dog Diary,
The frustrations are real. No one said owner-training our service dog was going to be easy. Patience, patience, patience. That is something that I have had to remind myself over and over and over again. It’s not a virtue that I was gifted with. However, it is an incredibly important trait to have when service training. Why? So that you aren’t constantly stressed and overwhelmed the whole time. Luckily, I have the support (which is why I am not doing this alone) to encourage me and keep me on the right track.
I have felt that Finn’s “focus” is not as solid as it used to be. He will pay attention to Andy or other dogs more than me sometimes. He is getting sassy with his gentle leader. It’s a tool that has helped and progressed us immensely, and I don’t want it to turn into a negative tool for him. His attitude has just generally been discouraging.
I will admit, I did slow down on training due to frustration. It’s hard to stay positive when you are constantly worrying that you are doing the wrong thing. I may have everyone cheering me on, but facing hard challenges is hard! Imagine that! I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I do not think that I am doing the wrong thing. I still stand by our decision to start owner-training Finn. I just wanted to share how frustrating and discouraging it can be at time. A lot of times, actually. That’s why we have tools and support systems.
I started out the day being incredibly frustrated and discouraged. The worry started bubbling up. I knew that it was time to call our service trainer. I told her about his focus issues and his growing distaste of the gentle leader. We already knew he wasn’t a fan of the gentle leader. I am glad that we added it to our tool bag because it has been SO incredibly useful. She said he is just trying to test us because we aren’t letting him get his way. Challenge accepted, Finn! Talking through some of our experiences that were catching up with me helped me realize that we are progressing as a team.
He is reacting to strangers substantially less. Although he is still reacting to dogs, he is quicker to come back into focusing. He also did a successful “brace” for a few minutes of a 20 minute cough attack (I chose to sit for the rest of the attack). We just need to get back to the basics. These past few days have been an excellent reminder that slow and steady wins the race. To have a service dog with solid skills, they need to learn those skills through and through.
Talking all this through with my service trainer was just what I needed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or support during challenging times. This post would have ended on a very negative note if I had not called my service trainer. I do not have prior experience with service dog training, so it makes sense that this is even harder. I wouldn’t be surprised if the high probability of owner-trained service dogs washing out during training is more due to the handlers washing out.
Note to self: You are doing awesome. Finn is doing great. You may have been training minor service skills and obedience for a while now, but you only just started working with a service trainer a few months ago. This is why service training takes so long. Don’t set your expectations too high. Success will come in time. You have already made many successes and so much progress. Don’t get discouraged.
I know this entry turned more into a pep talk, but that’s what I needed today. Sure, I could have easily let the frustration consume me. I know that will not make Finn and I successful, though. To anyone struggle out there, I understand and you are not alone. No matter what difficult challenge you are facing. Just stay positive. You can do it.