As the holidays draw to a close, I am concerned about changes I have recently witnessed in Whistle. My sister and her family visited during the Christmas holidays. Whistle was thrilled to spend some time with my niece and nephew and my nephew’s girlfriend. They are all college students with boundless energy and Whistle reveled in playing with them and falling asleep on the couch with them.
It did not occur to me until after they went home this week that Whistle wanted to remain in the holiday mood. I noticed that when we went out into public he was sniffing quite a lot, more than usual. I commanded him to heel but he was more interested in the crumbs on the floor. Overall, he seemed distracted and much more interested in smells and morsels of food in his immediate vicinity.
This was unusual behavior for Whistle. I began to wonder, “What happened to my usually attentive service dog?” His behavior had definitely changed and his responsiveness to me had diminished. He was clearly more interested in other things than working with me.
And then it dawned on me, he had been unharnessed most of the time they were visiting. He had romped and played with them all day and late into the evening. He had sniffed every yuletide aroma during all of the abnormal cooking and food preparation that occurred throughout their visit. He was a carefree dog for the entire week. Basically, he was on vacation and he was loving it.
Franz and I live alone with Whistle, my retired service dog, Morgan, and three kitties. Whistle was not used to this much activity around the house but he was clearly enjoying it. I don’t think he has any interest in returning to our normal routine.
So it begs the question, “How do we handle our service dogs during the holidays?” Do we let them overindulge like we do throughout the holiday season or should I be Ebenezer Scrooge and require him to keep working without any holiday revelry?
I learned this season that I need to be more aware of how Whistle spends his time during the holidays. Like all of us, I think he should have some holiday fun but in moderation. I allowed Whistle to overindulge in treats and youthful attention and afterward I have a young dog on my hands that had rather play than work.
Whistle and I have to get recertified in January as part of Paws With A Cause’s requirements for all working service dog teams. It is clear to me that Whistle and I have to get back into shape. We need to work on his commands and my overall expectations of him as a working dog.
Whistle and I both overindulged during the holidays and now, we have to get back in shape. We both must set and adhere to some strict New Year’s resolutions that include sharpening our obedience and public access skills. It’s almost New Year’s day and the party is definitely over for me and Whistle!
As a person with a disability, getting a service dog and becoming a member of a service dog team changed my life in ways I never imagined. But as I look back at my experiences, I have to stop and reflect on what it must have been like for my husband to live in a home with a service dog team. How did it change his life?
When I was considering getting a service dog, I immediately discussed it with my husband, Franz. I wanted to make sure he supported my decision. It was strange at first because Franz and I are very close and I was bringing another being into our home. And this was a being that would be by my side 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When I brought my first service dog, Ramona, home, I was amazed at how respectful Franz was from the very beginning. He never tried to distract her from her job and yet, he was always there to assist me with her care and well-being whenever necessary.
During our first year together, I sometimes questioned my decision to get a service dog. Franz constantly reassured me that I had to have to a service dog. It was not a question of “should I have a service dog” but “how could I not have a service dog and live the kind of independent life that I wanted.” He was the silent partner of our working dog team, the unsung hero.
I admire partners and family members who support their loved ones who receive a service dog both emotionally and sometimes physically with assistance in daily care and maintenance. Franz says that my service dogs not only provided me with independence and devotion but they also gave him more freedom and security that I could be more independent and self-reliant. He says his job is to offer unconditional support to our working dog team. I guess you could say that my service dogs changed both of our lives in ways that we never could have imagined.