Service and Therapy Dogs and Your Family

Service and therapy dogs have become an important part of life for millions of Americans over the past several years. These loyal animals not only help people with physical challenges navigate the world around them, they also help people with severe emotional problems cope with equally difficult challenges. In the past, people would roll their eyes at individuals with mental health issues such as PTSD or depression. Luckily, today the real seriousness of these issues is better understood, and these dogs play a huge role in the lives of countless people.

We’ve written a lot about how to navigate the world outside your home with a service or therapy animal. The biggest challenge is often getting strangers to understand your situation and accommodate you and the laws they might now even know exist. But there’s another aspect of having one of these working dogs that most people fail to consider: the challenges faced at home from family members!

A dog sitting on the back patio

This can be a tricky situation because in the home you share with your family, people feel especially at ease and there are less formal rules in place to manage something like a service animal. This is not to say that service and therapy dogs have to be “on” all the time and can’t relax and play with family, but that’s still something that should be done at your discretion. Let’s be honest, you need the help of your service/therapy dog inside the home, not just outside. So, what can you do to make sure well-intentioned family members don’t get in the way?

First, you can never rule out the value of a heart to heart talk. Most likely, your family doesn’t realize that their actions are impeding on your dog’s ability to do his/her job. You may have another, non-working dog in the household and they’re just trying to treat all the animals the same. They might not also understand the extent to which you need your dog. In either case, simply sitting down with them and explaining the situation can go a long way. Of course, not all family members get along, but odds are that your family members love and care for you and want you to be as happy as possible.

Another strategy is to allow for time when your little worker can be more part of the family. Yes, working dogs work, but that doesn’t mean they work all the time. If you set aside some time in the home for your service or therapy dog to play with the other household animals and people, it can help immensely. Then, when playtime is over, everyone can more easily accept your dog’s transition back into work mode.

Talking to family about sensitive issues can be hard – sometimes harder than talking to complete strangers. The important thing to remember is that your family loves you and wants the best for you. Any tension caused by your service or therapy animal in the house is more likely the result of them not understanding the situation or feeling overly comfortable with your dog in a home environment. A little communication can go a long way!