By now you’re probably getting antsy to know the plan about actually training and placing psychiatric service dogs for body-focused repetitive behaviors like dermatillomania (skin picking) and trichotillomania (hair pulling). If you missed the last post in the series, check out It’s All Dog Business: But Actually Here’s A Podcast, Phase 1B.
I already shared what I was able to teach my first foster dog, Bellie. That set of foundational commands doesn’t explain exactly how this whole thing’s going to work for mitigating BFRBs, though. Or how I’m going to choose dogs in the first place. Or if I can train your existing dog. Or how to know if you technically fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States as having a disability (which justifies your interest in getting a service dog), and if it even makes sense for you to get a psychiatric service dog to help you with your skin picking, trichotillomania, etc.
It’s not exhaustive yet, but here’s some Q & A:
Business wise, what will letting the dogs out look like?
Look back at the first post in this series for the outline of the business plan. This phase is the least fleshed out yet because I’m working on raising funds to get the training, which I need to make this part a reality. Below these next bullet points I try to give you a little more detail. Know there will be a follow up post on this once I do have more fleshed out info.
PHASE 2: THE DOGS
- TBD – raise/evaluate, train and place the first 3-5 dogs with BFRB partners (including me)
- TBD – develop cost structure
How do I know if a BFRB service dog is right for me?
Great question. Just because you pick your skin or pull your hair doesn’t make you a dog person. Nor does it mean getting a service dog will “cure you.” I make absolutely zero claims to that effect.
First things first though, here’s how the United States ADA defines “disability:”
“…a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”United States Americans with Disabilities Act
You can learn more from the ADA, but let’s say your skin picking, trich, or other BFRB really messes with your day to day life, right? Counts. That means you likely “qualify” for having a service dog.
Now it’s up to you to really and truly evaluate if you think taking care of a fluffy partner will enrich your life. Remember: it’s a living, breathing, beautiful being–but not a robot that doesn’t need you to enrich its life as well. This is a PARTNERSHIP, dudes (I use that term as gender neutral).
What can a BFRB Dog do for me?
I plan to have all BFRB Dogs trained to do certain things, and based on you individually, maybe a few others. But to “count” as a service animal in the first place, we need to define the term using ADA speak:
“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”ADA Requirements of Service Animals
ADA defines “work” as something the dog picks up on without you necessarily being the one to initiate asking. For example, if the dog sees you pulling, it might start “working” to come over and paw at you.
A “task” might be when you’re actively feeling urges, you proactively give your dog a task to help, such as asking them to bring you a fidget–or be your fluffy fidget.
Here’s a few examples of work or tasks I might train a dog to do for you. Note the titles are not necessarily the names of the commands, and anything listed is just initial plans. AKA not final ;).
DEEP PRESSURE THERAPY
This really helps me when a doggo snuggles close and presses down. It lowers my anxiety and makes me more likely to pet them, which in turn, sometimes helps with my skin picking.
Mindless picking or pulling? Time for your BFRB Dog to pay attention for you and alert you that you’re engaging in behavior. The alert action can vary, but may include nudging, licking, barking, bringing items, etc.
When you’re feeling the urges and you can be proactive, it’s time to play with your doggo. Or if you’re in a public place, maybe have said doggo lick your fingers. Or something else that works for you. Your BFRB Dog will pay closer attention to you for a while until you give the all clear (or your doggo needs a break).
BRING ME A FIDGET
…or a Band-Aid, or meds that are near a mirror that might make it more likely for you to engage in behavior, etc.
BE MY FLUFFY FIDGET AND DEMAND I TOUCH YOU INSTEAD
…into a specific place where you normally pick or pull, and ask your dog partner to pay close attention so they can interrupt you if you start trying to regulate your highly sensitive nervous system with pulling, picking, etc.
Catching my drift now? I plan to borrow some established psychiatric service dog work or tasks as needed from the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP). The ones above are meant to give you an idea specific to BFRBs like skin picking and trich of course.
Will you train service dogs for other things?
Nope, not primarily. But I know for me at least, my BFRB is intertwined with other components on my mental health rap sheet, so I would train a dog to help ease my anxiety, for example, because that could also help with the behavior. The same deep pressure therapy task could also help my own dog ground me when I start dissociating, because that messes with my nervous system and later leads to picking, because my nervous system is craving to physically feel more.
I wouldn’t take on potential human clients that also have mobility issues and need dogs to physically help them transfer from a wheelchair though, because that’s beyond the scope of BFRB Dogs. Also, BFRB Dogs could be any size, not just big labs and golden retrievers. Make sense?
Where will you get the dogs?
That’s a really tough question, and I’m not sure the split yet. I would LOVE to use mostly rescue dogs as BFRB Dogs, but a suitable service dog candidate can be really hard to find, never mind amongst rescue packs. I’m not training seeing eye dogs, so I don’t necessarily need dogs of that caliber. But still; I want you to have the best canine partner possible. I’ll discuss this in more depth once I start the search for suitable dogs.
If you’re an organization that would like to partner with me to source potential BFRB service dog candidates, please do contact me.
Can you train my current dog?
I can assess any dog, but there’s a good chance the one you have won’t work. It’s really important (to me at least) that your BFRB Dog can pass what’s called the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test and behave in public. What’s more, your BFRB Dog should LIKE being out and about and working for you. Again, this is a partnership, after all.
How much does a BFRB Dog cost?
This is still TBD. My goal is to make BFRB Dogs as affordable as possible so the average human has access to this option, because poor access to treatment is a big reason why I wanted to pursue this idea. Sorry; I can’t make it free, though. This is a for-profit business so I can expedite the whole process, and we have expenses.
Early in the placement process, I will likely work more locally in the New England (USA) area so it is more cost effective for me to actually get there and work with you for the time it takes to transfer skills your dogs has learned from me onto you, their new and permanent partner.
If you want to be an early client and you’re not local, I’d just need you to pay to get me and your dog to you, and house us for a couple weeks while we train you as a partner.
How can I sign up to get one of your BFRB Dogs?
Easy. Just contact me and say you want to join the waitlist. Remember: this is a 5-year plan, so know this isn’t an immediate thing.
How long could my BFRB Dog work for me and how would I get another one?
This is a really important consideration, even at such an early stage. A BFRB Dog won’t be a working dog for all its life. You might only get a few years of work with them before they tell you they’d rather be a couch dog than a BFRB service dog. When this happens, it’ll be your decision to keep your friend or reach back out to the BFRB Dogs organization to help you with rehoming.
You will be allowed to get another BFRB Dog with your retiring dog in your home. Here at BFRB Dogs, we’ll check in with you every so often to see where your dog is at, and you can get back on the waiting list for a replacement dog when the time comes.
Do you even know what you’re doing?
I’m learning! And making great progress, if I do say so myself. Again, it is still early, and I’m working with one dog at a time for general experience and practice at this stage. I’ll let you know more about how it’s going once I start the Animal Behavior College Dog Trainer Program.
Hang tight for the final post in the It’s All Dog Business series, where I talk about how I’m going to scale this project and bring more trainers on board.