My generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), treatment-resistant depression (TRD), and panic attacks started in 2014. Panic attacks in public are the scariest. When your heart is racing, breathing is quickening, and your body shaking for no apparent reason, you really are in no hurry to... All this made me feel very helpless.
Then I found another way. After reading up on service dogs as well as the introduction of a Service Dog Training School training course, I thought it would be nice to have a dog — one that would warn me if a panic attack was about to happen in public, one that might even get my Klonopin from my purse. My doctor thought it was a great idea in my present condition.
In 2018 I began the process: I adopted Amber and started the training at a Service Dog Training School under the excellent guidance of my instructors, Michelle and Jim. It was a fun and challenging 10-week training. First, I completed training the basics of obedience: sit-stay-come, walk nicely on a leash, stay calm, despite the loud noises around. Amber picked them up quickly. After the official “In Training” coat arrived, I took her everywhere with my boys.
Then it moved forward for to a more advanced training — train her to recognize that I’m about to have a panic attack. When I approach a crowd, my breathing becomes agitated. I used that as a signal for her to tell me that I was about to panic. To train her to recognize this, I used the “click and reward” clicker training that I learned in my first class at the Service Dog Training school. I would breathe faster during these training sessions so that she would become familiar with it. After lots of repetitions - ie faster breath then click-treat - Amber learned to cuddle my right leg when my breathing changed.
The first time I took Amber to Walmart, she was still being trained to ignore the loud noises. I learned something. Namely that everyone is supportive of the need to train service dogs, even though service dogs in training, unlike regular service animals, can’t automatically go everywhere.
Now she is ready. Going out has become more enjoyable and manageable. My husband says he can see less stress and simple enjoyment on my face when Amber and I are out as a team.