In May of 2021, I received my service dog Atlas from a local program and in August 2021, I began my senior year of college with him by my side. Do you or someone you love have a service dog they will be bringing to their college or university this fall?
Here are a few things I learned this school year that could benefit other service dog teams.
1. It Is A Big Commitment
Having a service dog in general is a big commitment. You have to keep up with their training and oftentimes put their needs before your own, too.
In a college environment, it is even more of a commitment because dorms and apartments aren’t set up like a house. Depending on your conditions, tasks that take less time at your house might take a little longer at your apartment or dorm if you don’t have direct access to the things your dog needs such as grass to potty in.
In my case, I was able to put in a request for a housing accommodation and was placed in a first floor apartment with easy access to a large grassy area for my service dog to play and do his business.
2. Communicate With Professors
It is incredibly important to both your success and your service dog’s success that you communicate openly with your professors throughout your college experience with your service dog.
Let them know if you need a certain seat in the classroom to accommodate your service dog and the things you and your dog need from the professor to have a successful semester in their class.
I’m generally a very open person, so most people in my classes knew why I had him and my professors and fellow students were great about him.
Being open and honest about your needs as a team can help you have a great semester and maybe even inspire professors to help advocate for you in classroom situations that come up.
3. Set You And Your Dog Up For Success
Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that although my service dog is incredibly well-trained, he may make the occasional mistake. As his handler, it is my job to set him up for success.
On the first day of classes during the fall semester, I vividly remember walking into my communications research class without getting my dog in the mindset of working. As a result, he made a mistake and barked a few times at people coming in the door for class.
I of course was mortified by this, but quickly remembered that in order to set him up for success, I needed to take a few minutes to go through some basic commands before class so he realized it was time to work. From that day forward, he never made as much as a peep in class.
4. Having A Service Dog In Student Housing
Similar to advocating for you and your service dog with your professors, it’s equally as important to advocate for yourself in terms of your student housing options.
Be sure that you know which housing options offer what you and your dog need to be successful when working, but also during downtime.
I was lucky enough to get an apartment on the first floor with easy access to grass and very close to the shuttle stop for my complex, which was exactly what I needed. My dog needed somewhere to play off-duty and I needed first floor access as well as to not have to hike across the complex to take the shuttle to class.
5. Bringing Your Dog To Class
Bringing your service dog to class can be tricky depending on the class layout.
For example, in fall 2021, I took a class with a laboratory portion to it. Luckily, it was a small class and did not require my service dog to wear anything special to protect himself.
All of my other classes were in regular classrooms or computer labs, which made it easy for Atlas to lay under my desk or beside it to stay out of the way.
My biggest advice when bringing your service dog to your college classes would be to try and scope out the classroom before the semester starts so that you can get a feel for it and get an idea of where you and your service dog can sit.
6. Dealing With Criticism
Dealing with criticism is something that as a service dog handler, I’m still learning to do. In college I was definitely not expecting the amount of criticism I would receive from students about my service dog when they didn’t even know my dog.
But at the end of the day, that’s just it: they don’t know my dog. They don’t know that we do dedicated training sessions at least once a day to work on obedience and tasks to make sure he is up to par. They don’t know that he spent the first year and a half of his life preparing to help me by learning over 20 commands and tasks.
At the end of the day, you as the handler know your dog best and that is what you should cling to when bringing your service dog to college with you for the first time.
Do you have a service dog you’ve brought to college with you or will be bringing them soon? Comment below!
Feature Image provided by the author.