Fatigue is a common challenge for people with different kinds of disabilities. Conditions like multiple sclerosis, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic brain injuries and depression can all cause significant fatigue. In some cases, the fatigue may be a result of the person’s condition, while in others it may be a side effect of medication. The amount of fatigue someone experiences varies greatly from person to person and even for the individual from day to day.
People who do not have disabilities tend to underestimate what is tiring for a person with a disability. For some people with disabilities, even one outside-the-home activity, like attending a dog training class, may be exhausting. Activities of daily living that seem simple, like taking a shower, can be draining for some people with disabilities. Pushing through fatigue can risk exacerbating the person’s underlying condition. While training a dog is fun, it’s also tiring. Dog trainers supporting people training their dog for service work need to be prepared to accommodate their clients’ symptoms, including fatigue.
Strategies to mitigate fatigue in training:
- Consider the time of day when planning for training classes and practices. This may mean scheduling training earlier in the day.
- In training classes, alternate working on skills that require more energy and movement, like loose leash walking, with quieter activities, like stays or discussion of dog behavior concepts.
- Use tools and strategies that reduce the need to move around, such as tossing treats, shaping, and use of a target stick or training devices like the Manners Minder or Pet Tutor.
- Emphasize strong technical training skills, to allow owners to accomplish goals more quickly.
- Use board and train or day training to address training challenges.
Meeting a dog’s daily care needs can also pose challenges for people with disabilities. Some strategies that may help include:
- Outsourcing demanding tasks like grooming to a professional.
- Having a pet sitter visit while the owner is home to provide exercise or help with feeding on days when energy levels are especially low.
- Incorporate food-fillable enrichment toys, lure toys and scent games to meet the service dog’s energy needs.
Although owning a dog can be tiring, it can also be motivating. The additional activity and exercise involved in training and caring for a service dog can even be beneficial to clients experiencing fatigue. Beyond the physical benefits some people experience from increased activity, the sense of accomplishment can be energizing and confidence-building. While working through fatigue issues may require a bit of creativity, it can be a win-win situation for both the handler and the service dog.