Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How Are Service Dogs Cared for Off Duty?

I've noticed several readers have found my blog recently searching for information on how service dogs are cared for off duty.  While that varies from dog to do, from owner to owner, of course, generally, they are treated like pets when they aren't working.  Now, you probably know that some pets are treated really well, some are pampered or spoiled, and some are not treated so nicely.  I'm sure the same is true for service dogs, as well.

I suspect that, overall, service dogs may be treated better than many pets, because they are generally valued very much by their owners.  When you spend as much time with your dog as service dog owners usually do, I think you can't help but bond very closely.  In addition, a service dog gives his owner increased independence and is valued for that as well as for his love and companionship.  Service dogs are also expensive and require a lot of training; even if you get a dog from a program, like I did, you need to put a lot of time and energy into training and working with that dog, as I have with Isaac.  There's value in that.

Most people I know with service dogs feed their dogs a high-quality dog food.  Isaac eats Taste of the Wild, which isn't available at grocery stores or even many pet stores, and is expensive.  The people I know with service dogs make sure their dogs are always up to date with vaccines, that they get heart worm and flea prevention regularly, and that they get veterinary care whenever needed.  They spend money on quality treats, chews and toys.  They do things like pay someone to take the dog for a run three times a week if they can't run with him themselves.  Service dogs are generally kept well-groomed because you can't take a dirty, smelly, poorly-groomed dog into a restaurant.

So service dogs are generally loved a lot and cared for very well.  But I'm not sure that really answers the question.

Off duty, service dogs don't wear special vests or other gear.  Off duty, they get petted and talked to and get plenty of attention.  They play with toys.  They go for long strolls and sniff things.  They roll in poop in they get the chance.  They play with other dogs, although many service dog owners avoid dog parks due to concerns about aggressive dogs that might injure their service dogs.  Some service dog owners join play groups or arrange play dates with friendly, well-behaved dogs instead.  Service dogs get belly rubs.  They sleep on the couch or bed.  They play with, or annoy, the family cat.  They lick their butts.  They sniff the cat's butt or the butts of their humans.  They do typical doggie stuff.  And they get treated like typical doggies.

Now, I think some service dog owners might be more careful with their off-duty service dogs than the typical pet owner is with a pet doggie because they want to be absolutely sure no harm comes to their service dog.  But in general, a service dog off-duty is treated like a pet dog.  If you meet an off-duty service dog, you probably won't realize he is a service dog.  When he's off-duty, Isaac acts like a typical goofy lab puppy dog.  People that first meet him off-duty are surprised to see how well-behaved and service dog-like he acts when he's working.

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