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It is once again that time where people buy gym memberships and go for about a week or two before they lose steam and stop. This is a great time to pick out ten simple steps toward making ourselves a better Service team, and to be sure that we leave nothing but a great impression. Here’s to 2017 being great for Service Dogs and handlers everywhere!

Prepare For 2017: Check Your Gear
Is it clean, serviceable and still relevant to your current needs? Now is a great time to sit in a warm house and clean gear, spruce up those leather harnesses with some saddle soap, and make sure that that really nice backpack doesn’t chafe your partner’s underarms, for example. Since you’re probably working on taxes or your budget for the coming year – now’s a good time to consider if you’ll need to replace or upgrade any gear in the coming year.

Prepare For 2017: Make a Binder for Your Service Dog

Service Dog Binder 2017

Preparing a binder together is a great way to practice long downs and relaxing!

This is more important than it sounds. Include things like a current vaccination record, microchip information. AKC, breeder, trainer, or even rescue information could be included also. A list of all of the tasks your dog performs for you, and a list of all of the commands and behaviors that your dog has mastered could be included too. Other ideas include a current series of photos that show your dog both dressed and from the front and side, in case you ever need them. There’re lots of ideas, these are just a few.

Prepare For 2017: Do a Service Dog Skills Check
It’s a good idea to evaluate your partner’s skill set multiple times per year, but a large scale audit is good at least once per year. This is a good time to see if you need to focus your training anywhere specific, or to simply update your list of what your dog knows. Getting video is a good idea too.
Prepare For 2017: Update Your Service Dog’s Task and Behavior List
Now is a good time to update their Task/Behavior list. Cell phones make it so easy to get good quality video these days too. It’s a really great way to log that your dog can demonstrate a skill when needed, just make sure that there is sufficient lighting and the behavior is visible with minimal cues and distractions. Storing these files on a USB Drive or even a SD Card makes life a lot easier, and copies can be made relatively inexpensively. Storing copies in multiple places is a good idea too.
Prepare For 2017: Lay Out Training Plans
Consider Planning future lessons/tasks to be trained – Think ahead… train even the things you don’t think you’ll need – you never know. 2016 was a crazy year. Let’s hope 2017 is more mellow, but just in case, start teaching that next stage of the behaviors you already employ. If your dog already retrieves, consider teaching them to pick up and put away their toys, or maybe teaching them to load a front load clothes washer, or transfer loads to a clothes dryer, for example.
Prepare For 2017: Create an Emergency Kit
2017 Emergency Service Dog KitA proper emergency kit for your region and the season is a good thing to have also. Ready.gov is a good resource. https://www.ready.gov/animals Think also of comfort items, like a familiar bath mat for your Service Dog to lay on in a shelter situation. Don’t forget water and food bowls. To learn more about creating an emergency kit for your Service Dog, check out this article. Don’t forget to make a Service Dog disaster plan while you’re at it.
Prepare For 2017: Make or Update Your Will 
Make a proper will that includes what to do for your Service Dog should you become unable to care for them for whatever reason. Keep in mind that in some states, you can’t leave money to the animal. Also, make sure that your designated care giver will actually care for them.
Prepare For 2017: Figure Out How to Exercise More as a Team
Get Healthy! Time to live up to your own New Year’s resolution, even if it’s going around the block, our partners need regular dog exercise also! Eat well, sleep well, exercise both your bodies and your minds well, and above all, BE WELL!
Prepare For 2017: Set an Intention to Educate Others
Ready, Set, EDUCATE! Access issues still happen. Getting knowledgeable on City, County, State and Federal laws that govern Service Dogs, and knowing which ones beat others – like Federal beats them all – is important. Have access to copies of the ADA Business Brief, and other such documents. Having the DOJ (Department of Justice) phone number handy is also important. Be the most educated team out there, and spread the knowledge!
Prepare For 2017: Leave Great Impressions
Most importantly, have fun and leave nothing but a great impression. Peoples’ opinions of what a team looks and acts like are important. If you’re working and you happen to have only invisible disabilities, and someone offers you assistance assuming that you’re blind, be nice. They’re trying to help out of kindness. If you’re mobility challenged and someone eyeballs your dog but nothing goes wrong? Be nice, correct, educate and most of all, don’t belittle or yell. These people are all a product of what they know and what they know about us is what we teach them. Teach them that we’re wonderful caring people and that we don’t bite, and neither do our dogs. Leave a great impression, and maybe make a friend.