SuperDogs is an owner-run company for training service and scent work dogs. I got my start by training my own service dog, Pepper Potts, for PTSD and anxiety, and immediately fell in love with training dogs. I made the decision to train my own service dog because of the price to get a fully-trained dog and the incredible wait lists that most reputable service dog places have. I did extensive research, and discussed it at length with our vet and dog obedience trainer. From there, I researched what common tasks for PTSD service dogs and anxiety service dogs are, to decide what would be the most helpful for me. I also researched and interviewed breeders to find someone who would help me choose a dog with just the right personality traits.
Little did I know when I met Kristi at VonBussler Labrador Retrievers & Labradoodles, that I would have a new family member. She's been there with me from "aww, a little baby puppy look at her tiny toes and her puppy breath" to "what did I get myself into with this little land shark" to "Pepper just got her second title this is amazing". I returned to her for my second dog, Ganon, and will be getting future dogs for both myself and as trainees from VonBussler as well.
My focus is currently training psychiatric service dogs, and I am working on training diabetic and allergy alert service dogs. If there's another type of service dog you're looking for, feel free to ask. If it's something I'm not familiar with, I may at least be able to point you in the direction of someone who trains that type of dog.
The bond between a service dog and handler is something special, and it's hard to describe without experiencing it. It goes beyond the bond of a regular pet, the dog becomes an extension of you. Having a service dog is also a huge responsibility. You always have to be conscious of things like "where could I take my dog to potty" or "is this pavement too hot for my dog to walk on". And nobody understands this better than someone who lives every day with a service dog by their side.
Adjusting to life with a service dog isn't an easy journey, but you'll never be alone. My job does not stop with delivering a service dog. I understand what you are going through on a daily basis, because I face the same challenges. I’ve had family members who couldn’t understand that a service dog was a valid treatment until they saw the full change she made, I’ve been yelled at by angry parents when I wouldn’t let their kids pet my dog, I’ve hired a lawyer to tell a job “yes, you have to allow this dog in the workplace”, I’ve been turned away from stores who didn’t understand the access laws for service dogs. I will be part of your advocacy team, and so will your dog. This may be a lifelong struggle, but with a SuperDog you have two hands and four paws more support than you did before.
I have PTSD from a series of armed robberies at a store I used to work at. I also have severe anxiety that I’ve carried with me all my life, and the PTSD compounds that. In 2013, my PTSD got to the point where it was no longer manageable. I was no longer able to leave the house without my husband, except to go to work. Even at work, I was barely functional some days. Always on high alert, in fight-or-flight mode, terrified of every loud noise, it was exhausting. When I fled a gas station because of somebody yelling “hey, how ya doin?” across the store, I knew I needed help.
I went to a therapist who helped me learn coping mechanisms and a psychiatrist who prescribed me medications to help control the anxiety symptoms. While both helped, my medication dosages were going up and up and up without ever getting me to the point where I could live normally.
And then someone suggested I get a service dog. Hey, I love dogs, I already have one (although he turned out to not have the right personality for service work and not be healthy enough for it) and I’ve recently discovered a love of dog training! So I did what I always do, and threw myself into research. What tasks are common for PTSD dogs? How do you teach these tasks? What breeds are best? What personality traits does the dog need?
After several discussions with our trainer and vet, I decided to give it a go. So I did more research - this time to find just the right breeder. I interviewed breeders like you’d interview an employee. I was going to make sure I did this right. I ended up meeting Kristi at VonBussler Labrador Retrievers, and she happily answered all my questions and helped me choose a dog with just the right personality. After playing the waiting game for a litter of puppies with a silver lab with the right personality, I came home with Pepper.
From day one, we trained. Every single day, no matter what. Pouring rain? Train the dog. Sinus infection? Train the dog. Sprain your ankle? Train the dog. The only time we took a break was when she was recovering from spay surgery. After 4 months of working with her, she was regularly going out in public with me. And something amazing had happened - I could leave the house alone again! Well, “alone” in the sense that I didn’t have to have another human with me.
It wasn’t always easy. The first time we went to the grocery store, she grabbed a toy off the shelf walking by the pet section and I didn’t even notice until I bent down to get something off a bottom shelf later. (Yes, we bought the toy, I wouldn’t put it back covered in puppy slobber.) Another memorable trip to the grocery store had her licking the floor in produce, then puking all over in the checkout line later. We still had a lot of training to do. And we kept at it.
She went to orchestra practice, to the doctor, to the gym - everywhere I went. Working with my psychiatrist, we started to cut back my anxiety medicine. It ended up at half the dosage I was at before Pepper and I was finally stable again. She gave me my life back. I am living like a normal person again. She’s my superhero.