I had a wonderful discussion today with Michelle Stern of PoochParenting.net
about Emotional Support Animals. Michelle is a dog behavior consultant and trainer. She specialized in working with families who are expecting babies and want to properly introduce their dog/s to the new family member. When asked about how to pick the right emotional support animal, Michelle shared some great advice. This is the raw script:
When you're talking about emotional support animals, we really need to look at the emotions of our dogs, or cats. Because sometimes living with people, especially young people who have had trauma or who are dysregulated, in some way, can be hard to live with. There's a lot of big feelings, and we just need to really be very careful about how we support our animals through that process.
It is possible that sometimes people don't have the right match. They don't necessarily have an animal that's resilient enough that it can endure some of the challenges whether they're emotional challenges or physical dysregulation.
Children can have a hard time controlling their bodies near the animal. For example, if it's a child who has some trauma, and may act out, like let's say they make tantrum or have rages, then we need to make sure that the dog is not particularly sensitive to loud noises or just sudden movements or to objects being thrown. We need a dog that understands how to just get out of the way, but not a dog that's wanting to flee from the situation. A dog that can sort of keep a calm head.
We also need to understand that there are some dogs that are not right for some special needs. For example, you wouldn't bring in a barky breed if you have a child with sound sensitivity. That would be a really poor choice. Not because that dog is bad but because certain breeds are bred to make noise like Beagles.
It's really unfair for us to put expectations on dogs that go against the behavioral characteristics. I have a blog post that I think is really helpful. It's called Choosing a Pet Dog For Your Special Needs Family. That's a really well thought out post that talks about the special needs of different types of family members and how to choose a dog that is going to react appropriately for those kinds of things.
I also have a blog post that's called Did I Get The Wrong Dog For My Family. It asks you to really assess honestly what your lifestyle looks like so that we can pick characteristics and a dog that match that family. Are you more like sit on the couch and watch movies or have game night or are you a let's go camping/backpacking type of family? Not what do you wish you were, but what do you actually are. For example, I wish I was more of a backpacking person but I'm just more of a day hiking person, so I need a dog that is willing to go maybe three miles but I don't need a dog that can go 20 miles because that's not what I'm going to do. You want to set yourself up to have a dog that is satisfied.
I was so grateful to have the opportunity to talk with Michelle. I completely agree that it is very important to take into considerations the temperament of the pet you are getting. If the animal is in constant distress it will NEVER be a good fit. On the other side, if the temperament/behaviors of the pet doesn’t match the needs of your family again no one wins. If you want to learn more about how to make the right choice for your family check out Michelle’s website https://poochparenting.net/
or reach out to her. The blog posts she mentioned are listed below.
PS I have some other great interviews coming up that you are going to love!