There is a myth that a service dog is working on some level 24-7. I am a big advocate for service dogs getting regular time off. Time off for a dog is something the dog would do naturally such as sniffing and exploring, running in a yard, napping or a mix of all of the above. It does not involve any training or any type or form of work, obedience or similar activity – so while agility might be fun it is not off time.
No human being works 24-7 and no dog can nor should ever be expected to work continuously without breaks. Even cardiologists and other highly important medical professionals are not constantly on call.
Some off time should involve the dog being left alone. Some alone time is important to a dog’s behavioral health. There are situations where alone time may be unavoidable such as when there is a medical emergency (for the dog or owner). Regular short periods alone also helps prepare the dog for eventual retirement from work as a service dog and can prevent potentially serious behavior issues like separation anxiety. Alone time should not be unpleasant, my dogs get alone time with a food filled KONG and they listen to soft classical music.
All people with disabilities need to have some type of “plan b” accommodation for times when the dog is not working. That alternative may be less than ideal but it should still allow the person to function in a reasonable way. I have an alternative accommodation for when my power wheelchair is out of commission (get rental chair, a friend pushing me in my manual chair).
Just how much time off the dog needs varies. Some rules of thumb: inexperienced younger dogs and senior dogs need more time off in most cases, if the dog is working extensively in a complex environment it needs more time off than a dog that does not. A dog that works primarily in the owner’s home and only does a few tasks may have plenty of off time built into the daily routines and not need structured off days. A dog that is doing physically demanding work needs more time off than a dog that does less. If there is a change in routine, a move or a new job, the dog may need more time off during the transitional period. Lastly, some dogs do better in some situations than others. If the dog is not a big fan of the job or situation, then it may need more time off to recover. For instance, few dogs enjoy air travel, it makes sense to give the dog extra time off after landing.
As we start to approach summer I hope all of our readers are enjoying thinking about their own and their dog’s time off. Happy vacationing season!