Berner - Psychiatric Service Dog

Discussion in 'The Dog Breeds' started by BriannaLeigh92, Feb 20, 2013.

  1. BriannaLeigh92

    BriannaLeigh92 New Member

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    Hi all! My name is Bri. I live in CT, and I have been looking for some resources around me for getting myself a psychiatric service dog. I am 20 and I have anxiety disorder, depression, agoraphobia, bipolar 2, and obsessive compulsive tendencies. I would want a PSD to help me with these issues, and I heard that berners make great PSD's because they are large I feel that it would also give me a sense of protection which is also a fear of mine. I am having a really hard time locating any places in CT that could help me and get me set up with a PSD. I would want it already trained and everything, I don't want to train myself (too stressful!) Any help would be greatly appreciated... Feel free to PM me or just reply to this thread. I am so isolated now because of all of my issues and really am not living my life at all, and I feel that having a PSD would be SO great for me. Thanks!
     
  2. Julee

    Julee UNSTOPPABLE

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    Welcome! Where are you? I live in Kent with a training partner in Wallingford. We both have owner trained PSDs and would be happy to help :) Shoot me a PM if you'd like, I'd love to chat :)
     
  3. Greenmagick

    Greenmagick New Member

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    I know an awesome Berner breeder in CT but have no clue on the PSD aspect
     
  4. Saeleofu

    Saeleofu Active Member

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    Giant dogs are a huge hassle in public access situations. They're hard to fit into small spaces. I have a smooth collie (my autism SD) who is 26" tall and 70 pounds, and he can even be hard to fit places. I do not recommend a giant breed unless you physically need one (ie, a tall dog for someone really tall, a heavy and stout dog for someone who's heavy and needs mobility work).

    As far as getting a dog trained, most places use labs or goldens, and so that's what you'd have to settle for. I owner-trained with the help of two trainers and dog that was already a year old and VERY well socialized, and trained in basic obedience and some SAR foundations. I do know some programs use rescues, so you might be able to find a bit more variety there, and some places do specialize in other breeds (GSDs, collies, poodles). I do not recommend owner-training for anyone with their first SD (I would have preferred a program dog, but there simply were none that trained what I needed). Very few people can get it right on their first try, especially without prior SD experience. I think going with a program is a very good choice.

    One program that I have heard good things about as far as PSDs go is Susquehanna Service Dogs. http://www.keystonehumanservices.org/susquehanna-service-dogs/default.php At least I think they train PSDs. Whatever program you go with, it is important to make sure they are reputable, actually train the dogs, and have healthy dogs. All SDs need to be temperamentally sound, but PSDs even moreso because they have to stay calm and collected even when you're not. A dog freaking out when you need help is NOT helpful.

    Also, welcome!
     
  5. Romy

    Romy Taxiderpy

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    Welcome!

    Sael has a lot of great info. I agree that going with a trainer is a great choice for a first time handler. Even after the dog is placed with you there will be some behavioral fine tuning and having someone to mentor you through that and with any questions or problems that arise later is invaluable.

    For breeds, I agree with Sael. There are a few general things you want to keep in mind when selecting a prospect.

    1. Health. You want to select a prospect from health tested lines. It takes about 2 years to finish a dog and have it ready to work. It would be devastating to invest two years worth of training, time, money, and emotion, only to have to wash the dog a couple of years later because of joint problems or something similar.

    My dog had to be retired at 5 years old because he developed epilepsy, which was a freak occurrence because there is no family history of it (he was poisoned).

    2. Longevity. Similar reasons as number 1. Two year to train a dog. If you pick a breed that tends to live 7-9 years, you're only going to get 5-ish years of work out of it depending on whether it works up to the day it dies or has to retire early from age related health problems.

    3. Size. There are pros and cons to all sizes of dogs.

    Small dogs are very portable and less expensive to keep. Portable is a big deal when you're working with a service dog. They tend to live longer. If you don't need mobility assistance you might consider a smaller breed.

    The cons, if they're small enough people can step on them. They can get bumped by shopping carts. Worrying about your dog's safety can make an outing more stressful. People also tend to take small dogs less seriously as working dogs. Many will assume you are just sneaking your pet dog into stores. Most probably won't say anything about it, but someone at some point might.

    Giant dogs are good at mobility related tasks in addition to psychiatric tasks. Their presence is comforting for people with social anxieties. People will approach you about your service dog to say nice and not nice things no matter what, but I've noticed that they tend to take medium and larger breeds more seriously as working dogs.

    Giant dogs are harder to fit places. Crowded aisles, in cars, in bulkhead seating in an airplane, etc.

    Medium dogs have the best of both worlds (talking about aussies, collies, and stuff here). They're big enough to be sturdy, small enough to be pretty portable, and tend to have a decent lifespan and health compared to most giant breeds.
     
  6. Romy

    Romy Taxiderpy

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    Also, there are things that make some breeds in general more suited to PSD work than others.

    You generally want a dog that is independent, but still very handler oriented. It's kind of a weird combination and it's tricky to find an individual dog with the right balance of the two and then raise/train it correctly. What you don't want is a dog that is sooo into you, that they start mirroring your emotional state. Because then you have a dog that is upset when you're upset, scared when you're scared, and that's just about worthless as a PSD. You want them to have emotional autonomy, but still be really into you.

    Collies tend to be like that. Some aussies can be too, though some are too far on the independent side of the spectrum. Some border collies can, though they can be a little dependent. My dog is a borzoi, he was the pilot dog for an org that trains borzois to be PSDs for veterans with PTSD.

    I haven't met enough berners to be able to say whether the breed is a good fit for this kind of work, but I would be concerned and cautious about the health and longevity aspect. If you go with that breed, try to find lines with dogs that regularly live 10+ years if possible.

    All that said about breeds, with picking a service dog prospect you're really looking for an individual dog that is perfect for the job. So you might have to sift through a bunch of berners, borzois, various herding breeds, maybe some mixes, or standard poodles, etc. until you find the dog. If you're really set on a breed, it's probably wise to pick one you want to live with and go from there.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  7. Saeleofu

    Saeleofu Active Member

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    Very, VERY true. I started my search looking for a standard poodle. Thanks to Romy I ended up with a smooth collie. He's really the perfect dog for me, a fantastic service dog, and he's made me fall madly in love with collies. I'd still love a standard poodle someday, but I think my future SDs will be collies as well. I have since even found a program that uses primarily collies (and mostly smooth ones at that) that is willing to try to train a dog for me when I need a successor dog (hopefully many, many years from now!).
     
  8. Aleron

    Aleron New Member

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    I knew someone who had a Berner guide dog and I believe that he said the dog came from an organization in Canada that used them regularly. I would be extremely cautious of choosing a Berner for service work though, as they are what people call a "heart break breed". Early cancer is a widespread issue in the breed and I have known some who had cancer by 2 or 3 years old :( 6-8 years is probably their average lifespan.
     
  9. BriannaLeigh92

    BriannaLeigh92 New Member

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    The only reason I thought Berner is because in public I have EXTREMELY high anxiety and NEED space...I figured a huge dog kind of demanded that people give me a good amount of space...if people get too close to me or crowd me and bump me my high level of anxiety actually turns into "rage" (its more like intense anger) and i literally just freak out. hence why people think I am crazy. people don't understand that individuals with high levels of anxiety don't know how to control it or channel it...so when people constantly crowd me and put me into situations where i can't control my anxiety and anger i just shut down. i would need the dog to literally be able to pull me to a quiet place. (i am physically able - i can walk) but i would need the dog pulling me to almost snap me out of my state and remind me to walk and move. which is why i suggested a berner. but I am open to suggestions based on this new information...does anyone have any other dogs they'd suggest?
     
  10. frostfell

    frostfell Kung Pow Fish

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    What about a medium/small cute dog that draws attention to HIM. "HI! Look at me! No... over here. Me! me me me. Im CUTE! You love me! Pay no attention to my owner, shes not important. Look at ME! Yay! Okay thats enough now have a good day bye!"
     
  11. yv0nne

    yv0nne Vizsla mom

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    I think a cute, smaller dog would be the opposite. People would be crowding her to ask about or talk to the dog. I can see a lab or something small but mighty working to literally pull you away from the situation.

    I know Penn can physically pull me away and she's only 44lbs ..and I'm 116lbs. I don't think you need a huge dog. You could also get a shepherd or something so people assume the dog is mean and are more willing to give you room to move. See, stereotypes for breeds can have benefits ;)
     
  12. BriannaLeigh92

    BriannaLeigh92 New Member

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    I think you are right. Part of me kinda wants a dog that will be intimidating so people don't do the typical "OMG YOUR DOG IS SOO CUTE CAN I PET IT?!?!?!" I always respect service dogs and don't even ask their handler if I can pet it...because when the harness is on...the dog is WORKING. I want something that not everyone in the world is going to ask to pet haha
     
  13. AdrianneIsabel

    AdrianneIsabel Glutton for Crazy

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    Berners are adorable, beware. ;)

    Have your considered a Borzoi or Standard poodle or Shepherd? Still big yet agile and less likely to draw all teddybear snuggles.
     
  14. Romy

    Romy Taxiderpy

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    Shepherds typically aren't really great for PSD work because they're one of those ultra super focused on their handler types that mirrors your emotions. In addition to that, they also tend to have a strong defensive streak. I tried using a GSD as a PSD and didn't get very far into training before it became obvious it was a very bad match. She started mirroring my emotions, and instead of helping me calm down when I was anxious she started hunting down whatever was around me at the time thinking THAT was making me anxious when in reality it had nothing to do with it. Then she became extremely reactive to those random things, thinking she needed to drive them away from me so I'd be happy. She could have very easily become dangerous, so was placed with a different handler who only needed mobility support.

    That said, one of our members is partnered with a GSD, and that individual dog is perfect for PSD work. So again, while most of the breed isn't suitable you it boils down to the individual dog.

    My borzoi is trained to body block. Basically he positions himself between me and people, then braces so they don't bump me from behind or something. He's a giant weird looking dog so he gets a lot of attention. For the most part people don't grab at him but be prepared to get lots of questions. Nobody has ever bumped or grabbed at me personally while we were out as a team. The right borzoi can work really well because they're tall, they naturally want stand next to you and lean while looking around, and typically they're more aloof to strangers vs. defensive. You have to be careful not to get a shy/scared dog because with aloof breeds a lot of people see shy dogs and think that is correct and breed them, and it's not. They also live 12-14 years which is pretty long for a giant breed.

    Sael's dog is a tricolored smooth collie. A lot of people see them and think they're doberman mixes, and they're large enough to body block as well.

    Gordon setters are worth looking into as well. The ones I have met were all extremely stable, and have black and tan coloration that most people associate with dobermans and rottweilers.
     
  15. Saeleofu

    Saeleofu Active Member

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    I agree that a GSD or mal or something along those lines is not a good idea in this situation. If you get angry when you get stressed, that sort of dog will pick up on that in no time. They'll act appropriately for their breed, but inappropriately for a service dog.

    To prevent questions, a lab, golden, or poodle will be your best bet because those are common SD breeds, and people just don't question it. I get tons and tons of questions about what breed my service dog is. 99% of people assume he's some sort of mix - doberman mix, GSD mix, greyhound mix. It gets annoying sometimes, but I always answer because smooth collies are awesome and I like blowing people's minds ;)

    A large or medium dog, not a giant dog, is perfectly capable of pulling hard enough to move a person. The task of keeping people at bay is a trained one, not something that magically happens because the dog is big.

    With Berners only living 6-8 years, that means if everything goes as planned, he'll start working at 2, and by the time he's 4-5 you'll have to start training a successor dog. Two years between training dogs is not very long. This is one reason (of many) I didn't want another boxer to be my SD. Logan will be 4 in may, and I couldn't imagine training another service dog already! He'll have only been working for 9 months by the time he turns 4. With a bit of luck Logan will be working for at least another 6 years, if not longer.
     
  16. AdrianneIsabel

    AdrianneIsabel Glutton for Crazy

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    Not a mal, too small, too temperamentally influenced by handler anxiety, as a general rule. With an unstable and inexperienced handler the average Malinois will be unsuitable for public access, in short words they feed off emotions.

    There are always exceptions but I would never recommend the breed to an inexperienced and particularly emotionally unsteadied handler.

    You're looking for a ying to your yang with a PSD. :)
     
  17. Romy

    Romy Taxiderpy

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    You'd have to look into health and lifespan, but I always thought a stable handler oriented leonberger would make a fantastic PSD for someone who wanted or needed a giant dog.
     
  18. AdrianneIsabel

    AdrianneIsabel Glutton for Crazy

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    Great suggestion. I have only known a few but they were all rock solid dogs. I knew one who dropped dead from a heart problem at 2 but the rest seem to live til 10 ish.
     
  19. JessLough

    JessLough Love My Mutt

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    I highly doubt a Berner would "scare off" people from asking questions and such. We have a ton of berners around here, and people always go right on up to them because they look friendly.

    I would almost agree with a Leonberger, except for again, the size. They naturally walk away if the situation gets too intense, which would be helpful for needing the dog to pull you away.
     
  20. BriannaLeigh92

    BriannaLeigh92 New Member

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    If anyone has any breed suggestions for me...or program suggestions...any kind of information at all please PM me...or feel free to email me at brianna_leigh92@aol.con

    as mentioned I am super new to this, and really could use ALL the help i can get!
     

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