Paws for Parkinson's

People with Parkinson’s can benefit greatly from dog ownership. A dog can provide a mandatory opportunity for exercise several times a day as well as companionship to help alleviate the common symptom of depression. They can also be trained to assist Parkinson’s patients with several types of daily activities.

Desirable Characteristics of a Dog

Choosing a dog requires careful consideration to make sure you and your future canine companion can meet each other’s needs. Keep in mind that puppies may be cute and fun at the animal shelter, but once at home they will require house-breaking and basic training. Someone with Parkinson’s needs to be very careful not to trip; a rambunctious puppy is likely to be a hazard for tripping. A good choice is a one to two year old dog that is not skittish. Some key characteristics include:

  • Calm demeanor
  • Not easily frightened
  • Good around both young children and adults
  • Has mastered basic training (sit, stay, heel, etc.)
  • Is an appropriate size

It is also wise to consider the characteristics of your home as they relate to the dog. For example, some dogs drool, which could cause hazardous slippery patches on a wood or laminate floor.

Before choosing your dog, consider what your current needs are and what you expect your long-term needs to be. Do you see your dog as always being only a companion dog? As your Parkinson’s changes over time, will you want to expand your dog’s training to that of a Service Dog? You may want to consider working with a trainer and getting a Service Dog right from the beginning.

Canine Good Citizenship Training

This is a first (or sometimes last) step in having a well-behaved dog that can provide important companionship for a person with Parkinson’s, or anyone else. It provides an excellent foundation for future training, and is required prior to moving on to other training levels.

What is a Canine Good Citizen (CGC)?
The CGC program stresses responsible pet ownership, as well as basic training and good manners for dogs.

What are the benefits of the CGC training?
A well-trained dog is a controlled dog. To be a Canine Good Citizen, dogs must pass a ten-part test that includes the following:

  • Accepting a friendly stranger
  • Sitting politely for petting
  • Going for a walk (walking on a loose lead)
  • Walking through a crowd
  • “Sit!” and “Down!” on command, and staying in place
  • Coming when called
  • Reaction to another dog
  • Reaction to distraction
  • Supervised separation

What are the limits of CGC training?
CGC training is a program that produces a well-behaved dog and a good companion. The Good Citizen program provides training to support a companion dog (a pet) to remain calm in stressful situations; it does not provide the dog with access to any area where any pet dog would not ordinarily be allowed. It is not a training program to produce a Service Dog, but is an excellent start for any dog that may go on to Service Dog training.  

Resources & Associated Costs
Classes are available through the Humane Societies throughout the United States, PETCO®, or any reputable dog trainer. Costs vary, but are relatively low. Training can also be completed with some dedication on your own at home. A great resource is the American Kennel Association.

Service Dog Training

This is an intense training program for dogs and their persons, together.  The training can take several months to over a year to complete, depending on the dog and the tasks it needs to handle.

What is a service dog?
A service dog performs specific tasks to assist a person with a disability with tasks they may not be able to perform on their own. A service dog is considered a working animal, not a pet (although your pet can be trained and certified as a service animal.)

What are the advantages of a service dog?
Service dogs provide support in the daily life of people with Parkinson’s. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are allowed in public areas, such as stores, restaurants and public transportation. Other benefits for people with Parkinson’s include:

  • Companionship
  • Walking support
  • Assistance with breaking a freeze
  • Alleviates depression
  • Lessens social isolation
  • Retrieves dropped objects

What are the disadvantages of a service dog?
Dogs can draw attention from many people and may solicit unwanted interest, such as petting while on duty. The dog may be the center of attention and may be greeted before the person with Parkinson’s. Uninformed businesses may (though not legally) question a person’s need for a service dog and cause difficulty for a person with a service dog. (Businesses may legally inquire if the dog is a service dog, may question what service the dog provides, but may not inquire into your disability.

Dogs continue to need exercise, feeding, veterinary care and grooming throughout their lives, which adds up in costs as well as time. They also have a shorter lifespan than humans. This may lead to a disruption in “service,” and will certainly cause emotional distress to the person with Parkinson’s.

Choosing a Trainer & Associated Costs
Choose your trainer carefully, making sure to select one who has experience in training service dogs. Some may offer to train the dog for free (and take a tax deduction) or at a reduced rate, but most likely the cost would not exceed, over a two year period, more than a thousand dollars. While the trainer guides the training process, much of the work of reinforcing the proper behavior is done by the patient, which also helps to reduce any costs.