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Service Dogs for EDS/POTS/Depression/Anxiety

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After years of thinking about it, I'm finally pursuing a medical assistance service dog. I found a local organization that assists in adopting a young dog from a local shelter and training it to be a medical assistance service dog. I'm really excited about the prospect of having a service dog who can assist me during/after fainting episodes, when my pain levels or fatigue are high. I've only seen a few articles and stories about people with medical assistance service dogs for POTS/EDS, so I was wondering if I could connect with anyone on here who does have a service dog. What was the process like for you? How has it improved your life, and what are some tips you might have for me? Thanks so much!

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I have used service dogs.  I trained my own because I could and because many of the organizations are worse than reputable.  Taking dogs from shelters is a major red flag, btw.  Shelter dogs that pass aptitude testing only have a 1% success rate in becoming service dogs, while dogs from breeding programs intending to produce service which also have passed the same aptitude test have an 80% success rate.  I did not believe the statistic and tried training dogs for other people.  Only a couple succeeded - and they were not shelter dogs.

Anyhow, I was very methodical about defining my symptoms and the work or task the dog could do to mitigate symptoms.  My best dog was one that would alert me to tachycardia and perform deep pressure therapy.  He would help me balance through presyncope with "counterbalance" (probably not a great idea), but at the time I was misdiagnosed with something else and had no idea about POTS.  He would pick up dropped items and return them to me.  He woke me up, brought short-acting medications in a pouch and a water bottle.  He would open and close household doors. 

I may have a service dog in the future, I've been thinking about it a lot.  Now that I know about POTS, I would teach a dog to respond when I collapse by crawling under my ankles and standing up to elevate my legs.  That would be helpful When out shopping.  I'd train deep pressure therapy and response to tachycardia, bracing for when I feel faint so I don't actually collapse.  I'd trained retrieving dropped items again too.


  • Do your homework and be sure you can prove legal disability.  Just file the documents away carefully in case you ever have a legal situation over a public access challenge our housing issue.  It's the disabled handler's responsibility to prove disability in the case of a legal dispute.  
  • Do your homework in documenting the dog's training, continuing training, and the tasks.  In a typical public access setting, you can be asked what your dog does for you.  In a legal setting you may need to prove that your dog performs the task - and that the task mitigates a specific symptom in a way that is not normal for an untrained dog.  As in, "my dog brings me a ball and it makes me happy and feel better" is not something special that requires training so it doesn't count.  
  • Are you comfortable setting boundaries with strangers?  With being harassed by random people? With being questioned about if you are disabled by random people? With being interrupted 20+ times just trying to get a gallon of milk at the store?  Are you okay with the presence of a service dog causing you to have to stop and stand (aggravating symptoms) just to deal with the general public.  Are you okay if people follow you through stores, insist they cannot control themselves because your dog is "cute".   I had people yell at me because I wouldn't let them pet my service dog.  I've had MANY MANY people ask "who are you training him for?" And then tell me I don't look like I need a service dog.  People can be just rotten!

The hassle of handling a service dog in public was more stressful than the amount of benefit I got from having the dog with me.  I gave my service dog to a friend who is severely disabled with similar symptoms. 

I'm sorry this isn't a sunshine-and-rainbows post.  Service dogs are a mixed bag.  I have mixed feelings about them.  I've seem amazing things happen with service dogs and I've seen some really ugly things too - fraudulent trainers, abusive handlers, discrimination, harassment, etc.  I'm thinking I might train a service dog for myself but not take it out in public.  Except the post office, because if you're disabled with a service dog you get to cut in line and don't have to wait at the post office.

I would say the only time that a service dog really really helped in public setting was flying because I got to preboard.  Standing in airplane aisles is horrible because of POTS!  But now I know better and can contact the airplane and get preboarding set up in advance - dog not necessary.

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I just read your go fund me.  In my experience, training a dog is extremely beneficial for those with depression and anxiety.  I saw some pretty amazing things when I was training service dogs with/for other people.  I think the process of training is almost more beneficial than the service dog's tasks.

For example, with depression it can be really difficult to get up in the morning.  However, if you're training a young dog, you know that if you ignore your dog's new morning behavior that all of your training will be ruined.  That's a strong reason to wake up promptly and the dog's response to receiving the reward is always happy for the person too.

Another example, young dogs need LOTS of work in public.  We did an hour of training in public 5 days per week, plus 1 full day 4 - 8 hours depending on the dog's age.  That exposure paired with the handler's intense focus on the dog made some tremendous progress in anxiety.  One handler was pretty much home bound, and boy was her therapist SHOCKED when she was suddenly just fine for 4 hours of training in shopping mall type environments. Another got over anxiety with public transportation quickly while training the dog maneuvers to ride city bus unobtrusively.

Training your own dog may be an option if you're patient and willing to search out training resources.  The benefit is higher and the cost is much lower.  There's no magic in service dog training.  Dogs can manipulate things by pawing, nose nudging, retrieving, carrying, and depositing.  Almost every task (think tricks) is a combination of these behaviors. Training the tasks is the easy part.  Picking a dog who can handle working in public is the hard part.

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