“Where’s your service dog today? If you don’t have him with you all the time, then you must not really need him.” Let’s unpack this! Many service dog handlers choose not to take their service dog with them every time they go out. There are a variety of reasons why someone might choose to do this. It does not mean they do not need their service dog. It is more than okay to not take your service dog with you everywhere, all the time, and it should be no one else’s concern to tell you otherwise.
Good Health Days
Disabled people have good days and bad days and may need to rely on their dog sometimes more than others. Some service dog handlers may choose to leave their service dog at home if they feel that they are physically and/or emotionally able to manage the situation or environment they will be navigating. Disabled people typically know their bodies well and can recognize and anticipate how much support they may need in any given situation. Someone may also be out for a short amount of time and decide to not take their service dog for a quick errand or outing if they are feeling well enough. However, that same activity on a bad health day may require significant support from their dog.
For the Person
Beyond time spent out, environment matters. Different places and environments may or may not be challenging for disabled people to navigate. This could be due to accessibility and navigation issues in the space itself, overwhelming crowds, bright lights, long distances, and more.
A quick stop at the convenience store may be completely feasible to manage on their own, while a longer grocery store outing can create far too much hardship on the person, and could be made significantly easier to navigate with their service dog at their side.
For the Dog
Service dog or not, some places are just not safe for a dog. Handlers must always look out for their partner’s best interest and health, and sometimes that means leaving them at home. For example, taking a service dog to a crowded, rowdy bar on a Friday night may not be in the best interest of the dog or person who would then have to closely monitor their surroundings and ensure safety from the crowd.
Weather is another factor. Hot temperatures can be very dangerous for dogs. Going for a hike or even to a street market on a very hot day may be a time when someone chooses to leave their service dog to stay cool at home.
For tips on how to help your dog stay cool, check out this blog post!
Giving Your Dog a Day or Night Off
Just like us humans, service dogs need to have their time to decompress from all the hard work they do. Perhaps the dog has had a very long travel or workday with their human partner. They had to stay focused and on-duty for hours on end, or even several days in a row. Service dogs deserve to have time to recuperate and relax. Could you imagine performing at your best 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year? Why expect the same of our service dogs?
For many disabled people, a service dog can significantly increase day-to-day independence. Where they may have needed an aid, a helper, or even a friend to help them stay safe day-to-day, a service dog can allow someone to navigate their daily life without relying on another person. But there may be times when the handler is out with a person (or people) they trust to help them if need be. This may be a time where they choose to leave their service dog at home, especially if they will be going somewhere that may not be safe for their dog, or when they want to give their dog some time to relax.
Preventing Separation Anxiety
Because service dogs do go almost everywhere with their person most of the time, staying behind may be something that could cause both the dog and the person distress. It is essential for service dogs to learn to be separated from their person, and for the person to learn to be separated from their dog. Emergencies or situations may occur where the team cannot be together. Additionally, the service dog will eventually retire and no longer be able to go everywhere with their person, but instead live a cozy pet life at home. Not practicing separation could lead to significant issues for the team.
If you have concerns that your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, you may want to consult a certified dog trainer who can help you and your dog.
For many disabled people, leaving their service dog can be a very difficult thing to do. They are now navigating spaces without their faithful “shadow”. But, as reviewed, there are many legitimate reasons for leaving one’s service dog at home from time to time, and often, these factors intertwine. When deciding whether or not to bring their service dog, a handler is likely thinking of many of the above factors at once and calculating the risks versus the benefits. Having their service dog stay home on any given day is a personal and likely well thought-out decision. This does not reflect any less on the handler’s need for the dog, or the legitimacy of the dog’s work.
Want to learn more about service dogs? Check out some of our other blog posts!
About Atlas Assistance Dogs
Atlas Assistance Dogs is a non-profit organization that fundamentally expands access to assistance dogs. We support people with disabilities to train and certify their own service dog using positive, ethical training methods. At Atlas, we believe anyone who would benefit from a qualified assistance dog should be able to have one.
We work with people with a wide range of disabilities who wish to train their own service dog and offer a comprehensive Academy for professional trainers wanting to become service dog trainers. For more information about Atlas’ Client Certification program or other training services, please visit www.atlasdog.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org