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Planning My Successor Dog

As previous blog posts have indicated I’m personally at a cross roads where my assistance dog is approaching retirement age. I had planned last year to begin training up my successor dog so there would be a smooth transition from working  Nikolai to having a mature fully trained dog to take over. It seemed like the right thing to do in theory but it did not go as planned. My ADiT failed his training and I had to rehome him. The heartbreak of that I covered in THIS & THIS blog post. Now that my heart has stopped crying every time I think about the puppy I rehomed I had to sit down and reassess my situation and work out what to do next. Nothing has changed, Nikolai is still 6 years old and while happy and healthy right now his breed life expectancy is only around 10. So in about two years time he is going to be considered elderly and retirement will be looming. 

I’ve sat on this and thought about my choices long and hard. I’ve personally come to the conclusion I will not bring in another new puppy until Nikolai clearly no longer wants to work. I’m well aware that this decision will mean there will be a period of time where I possibly have no K9 support at all and at the very least a period of time when I will have a puppy too young and inexperienced to be effective. However, I’m in a much much better place mentally and physically then I was when I started training Luigi and even when I was working with Nikki being young and inexperienced. If I can pull through and manage it twice in the past when my circumstances were even less desirable in relation to my health etc, then as difficult as it may be, I’m confident I will be able to do it again. 

The reason I’ve chosen to do it this way is because working with my last ADiT was pretty much like being without the support anyway as he was young and inexperienced and I couldn’t dual handle so I was leaving Nikki at home while working with the puppy anyway and from an emotional standpoint I was not ready to open my heart to another puppy in the way I needed to. This puppy was a very deliberate choice and was emotionally hard on me because it really was making me think about and face my current boys mortality in a way that was in many ways premature. I started to grieve for them even though they are happy and healthy. This made it very very hard for me to bond strongly with the puppy and while it was not *the* reason  he failed his training it definitely played a part in it. Waiting until Nikolai clearly no longer wants to work will probably not alleviate the feelings of sadness that will come with a new puppy, but it won’t be premature. At this time there is no way for me to work through it, I was stuck there and would remain so for another 2+ years. Not bringing in the new puppy until Nikki clearly is wanting to retire means I can work through that and not see the puppy as a sadness but rather as hope for the future. I feel like this is a very very important part of the equation. 

If there is anything I’m learning from going through this is that it is an incredibly emotional journey. Replacing your AD is not at all like replacing another disability aid you use. Your wheelchair gets old you go to the store and get a new one without too much thought. When your assistance dog is getting old it becomes so much more complicated. I do not think there is a right or wrong way to approach this part of your assistance dog handler journey, and there are many factors that may influence the choices you make along the way but I feel like this needs to be considered by all prospective or new assistance dog handlers. It’s easy to look forward to all the wonderful parts having an assistance dog may bring to you, but I would be doing my clients a disservice if I didn’t point out these harder realities. 

Tags : Assistancedog