To pet or not to pet: That is the Question

 

When asked to consider animals who assist people, most of us immediately think of dogs that aid blind or partially sighted individuals. This is thanks to organizations such as Guide Dogs of America and The Seeing Eye who work hard to ensure that those with vision challenges receive assistance. Over the last couple of decades, different types of animals are increasingly used to help people dealing with a broader range of physical and behavioral conditions.  The benefits of using these animals are numerous, with the result that they are being employed more widely and with greater frequency. Today, chances are that you are more likely to meet service animals in your daily routine than in the past. As they are actually “at work” and are not pets, what are the best approaches to take when encountering these animals?

Categories of assistance animals

Assistance animals fall into differing categories depending on the type of assistance required.

Service animals

Service animals are specifically trained to perform tasks relating to the handler’s needs. Not just for the visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf, and mobility dogs have become available allowing people with differing needs to be able to go about daily tasks with a greater level of autonomy and liberty than in previous generations.  People dealing with issues such as seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, anxiety, and diabetes also benefit from using service dogs.

Working dogs

Police or military dogs are in the working dog category. Sadly, with terror threats being a more common occurrence over the last 15 years, we tend to see more of these dogs on duty.  This is particularly true at airports where they are now an intrinsic part of the security process, rather than just used to detect contraband at customs.

airport-security-dog

Therapy animals

In recent years there has been a rise in the number of therapy dogs used in various settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and even in courtrooms. These dogs differ from service dogs in that they are used to provide affection and comfort to people, helping to reduce anxiety, stress and sometimes acting as an intermediary between the care recipient and professional staff.

dog-with-person-in-hospital

Emotional support animals

Typically used by people with specific behavioral health conditions requiring extra support and comfort, these animals may accompany an owner or may be employed by a business to help improve customer experience.

Only dogs allowed?

According to an article in the Huffington Post,¹  the cost of a service dog in 2016 was around $20,000. At that time, one Web site that places 75-100 service dogs a year, had a wait list of 1,600 people. This equates to a potential wait time of 16-22 years, which for people requiring assistance is simply too long.

Fortunately, given the level of need, dogs are not the only animals being used in this capacity. Other animals are also suitable to assist with different medical conditions. Ferrets alert owners of seizures. Boa constrictors (yes, you read it correctly!) are used for seizure alerts, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. Parrots have a calming influence on those with bipolar disorder. Miniature horses help the visually impaired. The Guide Horse Foundation believes that miniature horses are a great option for people who love horses, for those allergic to dogs, and for people wanting longevity from their service animal.

CUDDLES 11

Capuchin monkeys are great for people with dexterity issues who struggle to pick up or hold items. Pigs can help visually or physically impaired individuals or can act as therapy animals. For example, San Francisco airport employs Lilou a Juliana breed pig to comfort anxious travelers in the terminal.

Dos and Don’ts of interacting with working animals

Dos

Do interact with the owner or handler

Interact with the owner but not with the animal.  The owner and animal are a team and the owner’s life could depend on his team member staying focused on the job.  It is better (and not considered rude) to ignore the service animal altogether. Let the owner know if his dog approaches you, and allow him to correct the situation. Therapy and emotional support animals are slightly different.  For example, if the animal is employed by an airport to help calm passengers, then do ask the handler if it is OK to interact with the animal.

Do be respectful

Be respectful of the owner. Just as a police officer will not be prepared to discuss details of why she is on duty with her dog, other service dog owners will not want to discuss their personal details with a stranger.  If you cannot figure out why the owner needs a service animal, don’t ask them. Equally, if your offers of help are refused, don’t be offended, just accept that this can interfere with the work of the service dog and can confuse commands previously given by the owner.

Do keep your own dog on a tight leash

Keep your own dog away from the service dog completely as other pets can be distracting for the working animal.

Do allow service animals into your business

If you are a business owner in an establishment that normally does not allow pets, make sure you do allow service dogs and their owners to enter. This is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law applies to any service animal that gives assistance when there is a disability.

Do educate children about service animals

Explain to children that service animals and working animals are not like regular household pets and that they have a special job to do to help the owner.  Keep children at a distance from a service dog and do not allow them to pet the dog.

Don’ts

Don’t pet the animal

You may be the biggest dog lover in the nation, but don’t be tempted to pet a service dog unless you have the owner’s permission. Petting the dog distracts him and may prevent him from following out a complete command.  An example of this is with dogs trained to detect seizures, who need to give a 10-minute warning so that the owner can get to a safe place or get help.  If you distract the dog by petting him, he may not be able to warn the owner in time, which could be catastrophic.

dont-pet-me-im-working

Don’t give treats

You may love giving treats to dogs, but please don’t give treats to dogs that are on duty. Not only can it distract the dog, making for a dangerous situation, but many service dogs are on specific diets and should not be given anything that does not meet the diet criteria.

Don’t make assumptions

  • Don’t assume that if a service dog is asleep he is off duty. If he is out with his owner, he is working.
  • Don’t assume that these dogs have a worse life than other dogs.  They have fantastic bonds with their owners and when off duty they get to relax like any other dog.
  • Don’t assume that the owner has a certificate proving the dog is a service dog.  Not all states require such certification and, in the states that do, owners are not always required to carry the paperwork.
  • Don’t assume that only dogs and only certain breeds of dog can be service animals. Many breeds of dog and different types of animal are trained to work.
  • Don’t assume that service dogs are only for adults.  Many children with many different needs benefit from service dogs.  Interestingly, one county in Colorado now uses dogs in the courtroom to help comfort children when giving testimony.

autism-service-dog

Don’t fake it

Don’t pretend to have your own service dog.  You may be tempted to put a special coat on your pet and take him to places where pets aren’t ordinarily permitted, but please don’t. Not only does it confuse the distinction between pets and service animals, it is actually a federal crime.  Allow people with genuine needs to be helped by genuine service dogs.

The best approach

For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of an individual living with physical or mental conditions, which in some cases are life threatening.  If an animal gave you the opportunity to live the fullest, most independent life possible, how would you react to someone interfering with and compromising the hard work of that service animal?

The following YouTube clip shows Windsor, a remarkable service dog, assisting his handler in running errands.

To pet or not to pet: that is the question. The answer?  If you are not the individual receiving therapy or service, do not pet. Encountering a working service animal is perhaps one of the most appropriate situations in life to adopt a don’t-touch approach. Following this guideline and the others mentioned above, we can allow these incredible animals to carry out their invaluable work. You can’t help but be in awe of them – I know I am.

Reference

  1. Lillibridge L. What’s the Harm in Faking a Service Dog? Huffington Post. August 13, 2016
Advertisements

5 Amazing (but true) Things About Dogparents

Encouraging kids to grow up to be well-rounded individuals is something that every parent or caregiver tries to achieve.  We already know that having a pet in the home makes for a memorable childhood, but we perhaps fail to appreciate the more profound effects that pet ownership has upon child development. It is typical to ask friends to become godparents and be involved in our children’s lives, but what about the role of dogparents that our pets perform, sometimes without us even realizing. Aspects such as physical and social development, to name just a couple, are enhanced if a child helps to nurture a pet at home.

Benefits of pet ownership for children

Physical development

Dog walking is a great form of exercise and an easy way to burn calories. In a world where our kids live more sedentary lives and are more prone to obesity than previous generations, going for a daily walk or run with the dog is a great habit to form. Fantastic for the child’s physical and mental health, it is a habit that can be continued into adulthood.

boy-running-with-dog

Social development

Encouraging a child to be respectful and caring of a pet, also transitions into his or her treatment of other people. There are obviously exceptions, but for the most part, children who have been shown how to behave with pets and have looked after a pet have a tendency to become more caring, more compassionate and more responsible adults. Emotional intelligence, interpersonal interaction, and impulse control are vital attributes to have. Acquiring and further developing these strengths can be facilitated by pet ownership. It is very important to note that simply having a pet in the home is not sufficient for these skills to be acquired. It is vital that kids are shown the best ways in which to interact with and treat other living creatures and they often learn these skills from examples set by parents or caregivers. Kids with dogs have plenty of opportunities to learn patience, kindness, sharing, and generosity; all character traits that can help them to develop closer human friendships. In providing care for an animal they also start to develop some basic parenting skills useful for later in life.

Cognitive development

Cognitive development is the way in which information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory all develop through childhood into adulthood. As we know, not all learning takes place in a classroom. Having a pet in the family can help with all aspects of cognitive development.  Encouraging a child to read about his own dog’s breed, to be involved in puppy care and the training of the dog, and to be involved in learning how to care for the dog are all valuable ways of learning. Reading skills and confidence improve when a child reads to a pet, and some school districts are introducing READ (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) programs with these benefits in mind.

child-reading-to-a-dog

Emotional development

Caring for a dog allows a child to interact with a live being without being judged. This enables self-esteem to build and can help a shy kid overcome timidity.  Dogs also make superb service helpers for children living with physical or behavioral health conditions.

Interacting with dogs also releases endorphins in a child’s body, making the child happier, more relaxed, and less anxious. Additionally, as dogs have a relatively short life cycle, children learn about life and death and how to work through the bereavement and grief process.

girl-whispering-to-dog

Immune system development

In a 2015 study published in JAMA Pediatrics1, Swedish scientists analyzed the relationship between dog ownership in the first year of a child’s life and the incidence of asthma in children up to the age of six. They found that children in Sweden who have grown up with dogs in the house since birth had a 15% decreased risk of asthma by the time they attended school compared with children whose families did not have a dog. The researchers believe the findings would also be applicable to other developed countries such as the US.

How do you increase kid-dog interaction?

Get the kids involved! There are lots of little tasks involved in pet care and if your children are involved in some of them it can make them feel important and responsible.  For young children, setting up a chart with small rewards for tasks completed can be a good way to start – there are even apps for that these days! Carrying out simple age-appropriate duties like filling the dog bowl with fresh water or measuring out kibble can make children feel more grown up, trusted and helpful.

girl-feeding-dog

Give your dog extra praise and attention, for being a terrific dogparent, helping you in your quest to raise your kid to be a balanced, content adult.

Why not share how having a pet has enhanced your child’s development?

Reference

  1. Fall T, Lundholm C, Örtqvist AK, et al. Early exposure to dogs and farm animals and the risk of childhood asthma. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169:e153219. doi:1001/jamapediatrics. 2015.3219. Epub 2015 Nov.

The 5 Biggest Puppy Care Blunders: Are you Guilty?

Whether you received a little bundle of fluff during the Holidays or you’re about to get a puppy as the weather starts to get warmer, you know that there’s going to be a lot of work and fun ahead of you.  Just like having a new baby at home, the first few weeks or months with a new puppy can be tiring and somewhat frustrating. So what are the biggest mistakes that new puppy owners make and how do you get on the right track to raising your new best friend to be an adorable, well-behaved adult?

beagle-puppies

Blunder 1

Not starting as you mean to go on

It’s important to remember that when raising a puppy, dogs think in terms of the dog pack hierarchy. For your dog, where every family member is part of a hierarchy that matters to him, he needs to see you as the pack leader or alpha (top ranked) in the household. You should eat first, go through a doorway first, sit and sleep in the best places in your home. By doing these simple things, your dog understands that you are the boss. It is very difficult to break undesirable habits, so it is better to begin as you mean to continue. You decide on the household rules and if you want your puppy to behave you need to not only enforce the rules but also stick to them. Be firm and consistent with your dog so he knows what you expect.

Blunder 2

Overlooking issues that affect health and safety

puppy-carrying-a-leash

It is so tempting to want to try out the new leash and introduce your lil’ buddy to the neighbors, but unless your pup has received all stages of vaccinations, it can threaten his health. Vaccinations are vitally important. Your puppy’s immune system is in its infancy and needs the protection of the vaccinations to prevent him from contracting diseases from other dogs. If you have an enclosed yard that is not accessed by dogs outside of your immediate family, that is absolutely fine, but don’t be tempted to go for walks yet as he will be susceptible to airborne infections or could even contract something from the sidewalk.  When all vaccinations are completed and you are ready to go out, make sure that your puppy also has a safe area to travel in your vehicle.  Placing him in the rear with a vehicle-specific pet barrier installed is one of the best options for avoiding driving distractions and giving your pup a secure, comfortable area.

travall-pet-barrier-and-divider

Blunder 3

Trying to be the Mom

cavalier-mom-and-pup

There is always going to be a certain amount of separation anxiety when a puppy leaves his mother, but your role is different and it is important to adopt your differing role from the outset.  A puppy should not be allowed to be by your side for every single minute of the day and night, or the separation anxiety will only increase into adulthood. There are many and varied approaches to training puppies. Crate training has become increasingly popular in recent years and for many it just makes sense.  One of the great reasons is that it gives the puppy his own private, safe space to which he can retreat for some quiet time, allowing him to learn to be on his own for short periods.

Blunder 4

Feeding table scraps

dog-eating-toast-from-table

Although we are so easily persuaded to give into big, soulful eyes staring at us longingly while we wolf down a cheeseburger, feeding table scraps is a bad habit to get into.  If you start to feed your puppy scraps from the table, he will come to expect food from your plate (and from others) at every meal.  It is far better for your puppy’s health if he is only fed with dog food and far better for your dinner guests if your puppy is kept at a distance from the table during mealtimes.

Blunder 5

Taking him out of the crate

dog-crate

As mentioned above, crate training is great for giving your dog his own personal space and this can be the perfect place to sleep at night too.  Initially adjusting to being in the crate overnight can take a while as the puppy is used to sleeping with his mother and the rest of the litter. It is common for the puppy to cry in the crate at first, but don’t be tempted to take him out of the crate.  Allow the puppy to fall asleep by himself by covering the crate with a blanket (or a cute fabric crate cover) so that it is darker inside. Sometimes placing a ticking clock outside of the crate can have a  soothing effect on a pup.

puppy-progression-picture

Above all, when training your dog, be kind,  patient, and consistent.  You will absolutely reap the rewards in the long term and will be able to enjoy your precious time together. January is National Train Your Dog Month; what better time to start?

Have you had any hilarious experiences when training puppies? We’d love to hear about them.

Why Getting Active With Your Dog Will Change Your Life

If you and your pet have been active all year, there should be no reason to become sloth-like during the winter.  Admittedly, it can be tempting to hunker down inside when temperatures plummet, but getting active and staying active with your dog will actually change your life. No exaggeration.

With a bit of creativity and planning, it’s possible to enjoy every season with your pet and get more benefits than you might realize at the same time. Here are a few activity suggestions that could help keep you both healthier during the colder months.

Skijoring

Skijoring is a unique combination of cross-country skiing combined with dog power.  This sport began hundreds of years ago in Norway and was called skikjøring (or ski driving). Horses and reindeer were used in Norway, but when the concept spread to Alaska, dogs were used instead.  The dog wears a skijoring harness and is attached to the skier with a belt and a towline.  This sport only works well with larger dogs, but you don’t need to own a Husky. Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, or Border Collies, for example, can all enjoy the sport. If your dog weighs at least 35 lbs, is healthy, and has a lot of energy and stamina, it could be a good option. Both owner and dog get a fantastic workout (with owners able to burn between 700 and 900 calories per hour) and take advantage of the snowy conditions at the same time.  If this sounds like the sport for you, it is advisable to get a health check for you and your dog. If you’re both good to go, start out slowly, building up the length of sessions as you get more familiar with the activity. Look online for Skijor clubs in your local area, which could offer some group sessions and may give you tips specific to your location. SkijorUSA might be a good place to start. Some states that typically get winter snow have designated trail areas, so check out what might be available in your state.

skijoring

Snowshoeing

This is becoming increasingly popular in the snowier regions of the country as you can burn between 420 – 1,000 calories in an hour depending on speed. Some dog owners like to carry poles, so prefer to snowshoe with their dog on a waist leash.  This activity offers cardio training, strength building, agility, and balance – a serious workout for owner and dog.

Become a mushing team

When we think of mushing, we often think of a sled pulled by multiple dogs, but actually, the term refers to any form of transport that is powered by dogs. Traditional mushing with a sled in the snow is extremely popular in Alaska but is also growing in popularity in the lower 48. Dog mushing has become a popular activity for those wanting to explore the backcountry. There is quite a bit of equipment and training required for this version. If you find the thought of traditional mushing a bit daunting, there are other options, although most of these are better suited to conditions without ice or snow.  There is a wide range of products on the market, so why not check out the different options and see if there is something that appeals to you.

Hiking

Hiking is a very popular activity and shouldn’t be reserved for the warmer months. When there is snow on the ground, it certainly adds to the intensity of a hike.  This activity can be achieved without needing to purchase or rent additional equipment, but do take plenty of water, snacks and a first aid kit with you. Ensure that both you and your dog are adequately protected against the elements with appropriate clothing and footwear. With any outdoor activity during the winter, make sure your pet’s paws are washed clean of salt after being outside.  If you are likely to be going out into harsh weather conditions regularly, you may want to consider investing in hiking boots for your dog, to protect paws from injury.  Not all dogs will wear them so paw wax may be a good alternative to protect the paws from ice and snow.

man-walking-his-dog-on-a-path-in-the-snow

Practice nose work

Not everyone wants to or is able to participate in intense forms of exercise with their pet, but in addition to regular walking, there are other more moderate activities that you can introduce during the winter months.  Practicing nose work is a fun search activity for your dog,  based on the scent training that police and rescue dogs undergo.  This activity provides great physical exercise but is fantastic for mental stimulation too.  Dogs learn to search for a specific odor and find the source of that odor. The nice thing is that it can be done almost anywhere. The wind, rain, and snow can affect scent flow, so practicing in the winter can be a different experience from other seasons.  If you would like to develop your skills,  K9 Nose Work can help you find an instructor in your area.

Make an indoor agility course

If the weather is just too severe to venture outside, you can set up an agility course in your own living room. It is possible to purchase objects like tunnels, hoops, and hurdles for your pet, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to those, simply look around your home and everyday objects can achieve a similar result. Set up obstacles with items like brooms or rolled up blankets and encourage your pet to jump over these obstacles. You may have to jump too initially but aim to progress to verbal cues. Put items like newspaper or aluminum foil on the ground, so your dog gets used to different textures and sounds under his paws. Add a collapsed tunnel adventure by using a chair draped in a blanket – sit one side and encourage your pet to go through.

living-room-agility-course

Go to an indoor dog park

Designed for year-round use, but particularly helpful in extremes of weather, indoor dog parks are a great option.  Many indoor dog parks have opened throughout the United States, so check online to find one in your area.  At some, you can sign up for an agility class, a swimming lesson, or even have a go at doga (yep,  yoga with your dog!).

indoor-dog-park-dallas

How can these activities change your life?

The benefits of getting active with your dog are many, but the following are just a selection of ways in which your life will be changed for the better by exercising with your pet during the winter months:

  • Any activity or exercise during the winter (whether inside or out) is great for improving cardiovascular health and overall muscle tone for you and your dog.
  • Exercise has been proven to be helpful in improving mental health, as endorphins released during exercise reduce depression and anxiety.
  • Being exposed to as much natural sunlight as possible helps in overcoming SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) that can affect many people during the winter months.
  • Although you are never truly lonely with a dog in your life, engaging in activities that promote greater social interaction (such as going to an indoor dog park or signing up for a class) can be so helpful for anyone struggling with isolation and loneliness at this time of year – again improving mental health.
  • Embarking on any activity allows you to develop stronger, closer bonds with your pet, which is good for the soul in general.  

With countless benefits, whatever you do this winter, pick an activity that you and your pet can enjoy and will do regularly.  Get active and maximize your time with your best friend!

What do you and your pet love to do at this time of year? We’d love to hear about it!