In May of this year I announced that my psychiatric service dog, Ben, would be retiring. At that point I didn’t know if it would be temporary or permeant. In the meantime I was very blessed to have another dog (Shona) to step in and fill his duties. In five months since then Shona has become a great service dog in training who has learned, grown and proved to be a great partner. Our bond has grown and she has proved that she is meant to be a service dog. However, in the last month or so Ben began to indicate a desire to work again. I was cautious for many reasons. Ben was retired due to some fairly serious problems but at the time I also wasn’t completely convinced it would be a permeant retirement due to the adolescent period labs go through, our relatively new partnership and a variety of other factors. So when he began to show interest I cautiously began introducing Ben to non-stressful working environments around the beginning of September.
Since then Ben has shown that he is truly ready to be a service dog. He is a different dog than he was four or five months ago. He is now a focused, secure dog that shows little to no signs of stress when out. Of course he still retains that goofy temperament that makes Benny, Benny but it is tempered by the attitude of a (mostly) mature dog. A very, very different Benjamin than who he was back in May. I contribute this to several factors. Benny and I hadn’t even begin together for a year when he began to show signs of needing at least a temporary retirement. We loved each other but really we were still getting to know each other. It’s understandable that he and I needed time to bond and learn to trust each other without the stress working in a public situations brings. Taking time to play, snuggle and spend time together without worrying about going out was so beneficial to both of us. Benny is now my constant shadow. Even more so than when he first arrived. He is more intuitive to my needs (although not quite as much as Shona) and I believe as time goes by he will continue to be.
In addition, I began comprehensive obedience work. I am very confident in this situation. I have shown in obedience since I was seven years old and the structure is comforting to me and familiar. This is a direct contrast to public situations. So this gave Benny a time to trust me. To follow my lead and for me to demonstrate that I was the leader in our relationship. He could relax and follow my lead and he loved it! In addition, the extra training and commands helped Benny to focus his scattered mind and keep him sharp as he took a break.
Finally, the break allowed Benny time to just be a dog and I really think he needed this. He played. He ran with my dogs. He wrestled. He soaked up attention from my grandmother. He was able to be petted whenever he wanted. He was in heaven. But then one day he suddenly wasn’t. He wasn’t okay when I left. He started asking to have his vest put on. And so I put it on him. I took him for a short outing to a low stress place that we could leave at once if things didn’t go well. But they did. And so we went again. And then to a different place and gradually we’ve kept going and I’ve been really proud of him. He’s learning new things (a “where’s the car” command and a “lead out” command where he finds the exit as well as leading me to my parents in the store). And so far he’s been great.
I’m not pushing things though. I don’t work him too much or in stressful situations. I switch him out with Shona and Shona does a lot of the more stimulating and stressful situations (she does well with them). I think Benny will always work part time or quarter time and Shona will fill in the gaps and I’ll never hesitate to retire again and permanently if he needs it but honestly? I think Benny is ready to work. I think he wants to work. He’s happy. I’m happy.