Especially Needed Companions. 

We have put together this page for people who have been told that you, or perhaps one of your children, have a special need. Before we begin, let us say that we know these needs include love, patience, understanding, and access to a full life 
- why is that considered "special"? 
Regardless of labels or acronyms you've come to know, we want to open a conversation about the dogs who are especially needed.

As a disclaimer, Starstruck Labradors is not a training facility. We do not provide trained service/therapy dogs or puppies. We focus entirely on bringing together the best genetic qualities in Labrador Retrievers to provide families with pets, not service dogs

You've read countless articles on the benefits that pets, especially dogs, can be to families and people in general. 

Study after study will show that dogs increase our health and wellbeing by their companionship, keeping us active, and providing us with unconditional love. 

It sounds like a "no-brainer" to include something so wonderful in your home, especially if you have a particular need for canine companionship. 

Before you get ahead of yourself, there is a checklist of items that you should consider.

Definition and purpose: There are differences between certified service dogs, certified therapy dogs, and  therapeutic companions/pets. A dog with certification is usually granted access to serve where most companions without certification are not regularly permitted.

If you feel that you are in need of a dog who is granted public access to all areas of life, like grocery stores, airplanes, etc, then you will need to either contact a service organization directly or partner with a qualified trainer who has finished dogs for these organizations and purposes. We know the wait lists are long, but if this is what you need, then the wait is well worth it! 

If you are looking for an un-certified companion, for therapeutic reasons, and public access with your pet is not mandatory, we still recommend partnering with a master-trainer, and beginning with a very carefully selected animal.

To simplify this conversation we are going to refer to this prospect as a "therapeutic companion". 

Costs: By "going it alone" without placement from a certified organization, you are going to encounter costs for acquiring, training, and upkeep. 

General upkeep can be less if you are lucky enough to get a sound and healthy pet. Pet health insurance, along with healthy diet, and careful research into when/not to spay/neuter can go a long way. You can read more about this by clicking on the links below

The cost of purchasing a companion can range greatly. With a new puppy, generally the purchase price should reflect the amount of purposeful breeding that has taken place. If you are set on starting with a puppy and can afford it, seeking out a pup with a health warranty and genetic health testing to back it, is ideal. 

For Labrador Retrievers, the basics for health testing that should be completed prior to breeding can be found by clicking on the link below

If however, you are on a tight budget, and would like to save up for training, the most cost-effective source would be a well-balanced rescue dog or puppy. While you might not get as much pick over colours and size, rescuing paired with aptitude testing is certainly the way to go! 

After all, help can come in any colour, any size, and any breed! But due to colour or breed preference, many undiscovered gems go unclaimed. 

Selection: A hiccup in the dream of getting a lovely little companion animal, is that if not very carefully selected, this animal will need a significant amount of training that could overwhelm ANY pet owner, and even some professional trainers! Careful selection is always the first step to success.

Training Environment: If you are seeking a therapeutic companion for your home, you need to be able to provide it with a training environment that is conducive to the outcome you hope for. This can be very difficult to self-asses. If your home needs a therapeutic pet for calming and grounding, it may not be an ideal environment for puppy-rearing and better suited to a mature adult, or pre-trained dogs. 

Imagine being asked to conduct air-traffic at a large airport with absolutely no training! We have to complete (sometimes years) of training before we are expected to work important jobs, and we certainly don't expect children to do them.

Puppies are infants themselves. Like sponges, they soak up the energy of their adoptive homes. If you have a calm, gentle home life, your pup will have a greater chance of maturing into a calm adult dog. If your home is busy and active, then too, you will expect that a pup raised in this environment will be busy and active. To increase your chances of making your end goal for therapy, keys to success include masterful selection, ideal environment, and professional training.

Lets step back for a second and consider different levels of training. Basic training includes house training, leash training, crate training, and a few commands, like "sit" and "stay".

Therapeutic training generally takes place after basic training is completed. Biologically, it is unrealistic to expect a puppy to behave like an adult dog, or to be able to complete basic training until it is an adult. 

This of course, leads us back to cost consideration. We recommend working with qualified trainers to aid in the selection process as well as the training process. If you begin with a young puppy, the amount of time and money you will need to invest may be even greater than you first imagined. Not only will you have basic training to complete, but therapeutic training to finish. If you begin with a adult dog, who has already completed basic training, you may require less "finish training." 

Either way, it is good to consider and prepare to invest both time and money in this venture. There is always the option to apply for a certified dog, which can be less costly, and comparable to waiting on a pup to mature.

Time - One of the things everyone struggles with it seems, is time. We are no exception to this! 

A clock that nearly stood still while we were in grade school, is spinning faster each day. We feel it too!

Another self-assesment that can not be overlooked is to ask yourself, how much time and energy do I have to invest in this project? Although the ideal end result is worth all the time in the world, realistically, without adequate time to spend with your pet in his or her primitive training stages can be permanently detrimental. 

If you find scraping time for yourself, just to have a bubble bath in peace to be difficult, you might be asking too much of yourself to add a new pet to the balance right now. 

Like adopting a baby or child, a new pet can feel like an all-consuming endeavour. 

Lifestyle and preference - If you and everyone in your hame are a long-time dog lovers, then this next point isn't for you at all, but believe it or not, on more than one occasion it became apparent to us that a person (or family) desperate for help will do just about anything for it! We have met with families who wanted, more than anything, freedom to explore the world around them with the assistance of a well trained therapeutic companion. 

Upon meeting with several different families with similar requests, it slowly became apparent that not all of the family members would benefit from a pet addition, or were obviously allergic, but working so hard for the happiness of their home, were willing to try anything in the hope of help.

Truthfully though, if you see yourself or your family in this story, it really isn't fair to the dog who will need everyone on board, so to speak. If you are planning on raising and training this companion yourself, for yourself or your child, you have to be prepared for how hard it will feel some days. If you wouldn't be considering a companion if it wasn't especially needed, then don't push yourself into a life-long commitment of training and living with a creature who, let's face it, will lick it's own posterior, and then your face without hesitation! There is no shame in admitting our own faults! It is only human ... or canine..

Difference in Species:

And speaking of friends who greet each other, bum-first, our last point worth your consideration is expectations, with respect to the difference in species. Despite the tendency we have to project human emotion on to our dogs (we all do it), we have to respect that they are and will always be dogs.

Canines, of no fault of their own, are born with a completely different moral compass. While you and I might think that the sound of a baby crying is "sad" or "cute", to a dog, it may sound "weak" and "easy to take advantage of"! 

What a horrible thought! Can it be? 

In the wild, canines thrive in packs. Packs have pecking orders, leaders and followers. They use their body language more than their vocalizations and to be perfectly honest, most humans really stink at reading or talking with their body alone.

If your expectation of a puppy or dog is set in human morality (no biting people in the face when they don't respect your personal boundaries, for example), you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. To prevent this, counselling with a skilled canine behaviouralist/trainer will help you set goals for training, and can help you self asses your own (or your children's) body language for better pairing with the right canine companion. 

Successful Training Homes Include

  • Realistic expectations and timeline. Planning in years, not months.
  • Professional guidance to select the right dog - saves you heartache.
  • Experience and success in previously training dogs to high standards.
  • Ideal environment to train and socialize. 
  • Raising and training apart from anxiety, high energy, or stress.  
  • Plenty of time each day. This will be a full -time commitment.
  • Regular professional training support. Weekly or Bi-Weekly check-ups.
  • Financially stability. Purchasing, training, and upkeep taken into consideration.
  • Whole-Home, or Whole-Family participation and equal commitment. 

We hope you've enjoyed this page, and have found it useful. If after reading all this you are wondering about other avenues, or how an animal may fit into your home, here are a few more ideas to "try on".

 -Consider fostering (offering temporary housing through a rescue organization),which benefits the animals, and might be a nice way to "trial" a pet in your home
-Offering pet-sitting services for trained (basic) dogs. Do you know friends with a good 'ol boy? Ask if you can borrow, or pet sit for them next time they go on vacation!  

-Or you may be able to find therapy dogs already working in your area! Ask around! Children's hospitals, seniors homes, and even some schools have a few volunteers who visit with their therapeutic pets! Organizing a get-to-gether would be a nice opportunity for everyone!