Service dogs often work long hours in complex environments. The demands of this work can be stressful for the dog. Prolonged stress can trigger dogs to develop behavioral or possibly health problems. For this reason, stress reduction techniques need to be a priority right from the beginning of a service dog’s career.
Trainers can help owners prevent burn out in their service dogs by teaching them:
- To identify stress in their service dog. Service dogs often tend to inhibit their stress, so indications may be subtle.
- To respond appropriately when they recognize indications of immediate significant stress. How and when to remove the dog from the situation. How to incorporate sniff breaks or use tricks, massage, body wraps or other strategies to help the dog.
- To incorporate relaxation and enrichment in their dog’s daily routines. Activities like slow feeding bowls, soft music, toys, playtime and unstructured sniff and explore opportunities in a quiet, natural area are important.
- To provide regular, off-duty, down time. Owners need to have a plan for how they will meet their disability needs when the dog cannot accompany them to place of public accommodation because the dog is sick or because the dog needs a break.
- To understand the impact of aging and health on the dog’s behavior. Older service dogs may need more down time and fewer rigorous duties.
- To be able to identify unusual behavior in their service dog. Owners need to understand that behavior can be impacted by changes in the dog’s health, as well as by the environment and situation.
For many service dogs, the job can also mean extra attention and TLC from their owners. Making an extra effort to incorporate education on addressing stress in the dog and reducing it can go a long way to helping ensure working dogs are at the top of their game in helping their owners.