Service Dogs and Our Responsibilities

Working on a huge case, so haven’t taken Emmy on an outing for the past few days. She is getting restless. Extra sessions on the treadmill help some, as does extra time outdoors in the crisp, fall air of a Georgia October. She sniffs at the leaves, “reading the newpaper,” as it were, and explores the far corners of the fence. I don’t like her spending too much time there, because I can’t see what’s going on, and I can’t walk that far up the hill. It’s pretty steep. It may be paranoid, but I don’t trust the teenagers in the area. It concerns me that these kids who seem always to trael in packs might decide to go on a dog-killing spree and set out poison in the far reaches of people’s yards. Such has happened before in other neighborhoods in which we have lived. The resulting carnage is indescribable.

So I worry and fret on the patio while Emmy has a wonderful time sniffing and snuffling among the leaves. She chases the occasional squirrel who rapidly climbs the nearest tree then turns and scolds her from a safe distance. She doesn’t try to jump up the tree or even put her forelegs on the trunk. She just enjoys the chase. The Ol’ Curmudgeon and I have jokes that we should put in a “sight dog track” with a racoon tail or something on it that we can turn on and she could chase. That would certainly take care of the exercise problem!

Today, I will finish this case, and we will have several outdoors sessions as well as our indoors practices. She has decided to “balk” at going “under” a chair. I’ve spoken with my counselor from PAALS, and we’ve devised a strategy to deal with it. It seems to work, but of course I would prefer that she not balk. It seems she loves an audience, so I’ll get grandsons over to be a cheering section for her, and see if that helps.

Having a service dog isn’t like having a cane in the closet or on a rack in waiting for you to need it. the dog is a sensitive, loving animal who needs to work and needs to be needed – 24/7. Emmy needs to be practices on her cues every day – no matter what else is going on. Special sessions for special cues like “Hilf,” or “Tread” are needed. That means special treats are needed – she works better with her special treats – for the special cues, and help a lot with the “normal” cues, too.

Special treats consist of cutting up a slice from a dog food “log.” I’m using Natural Balance Lamb and Rice Roll. I get it at Pet SuperMarket. It’s also available from PetCo. There is another brand that’s available from PetSmart, but the Natural Balance is what she likes best. Prices are comparable.

I slice about 1/3″ off, then dice that up fairly small – about the size of green peas. Add some chopped up baby carrots and one stick of chopped up string cheese, and you have about 3/4 c of highly nutrition and delicious treats for a dog! We find that letting it get room temp lets the cheese kind of soften some and the scent of the meat permeates the carrots. I offered her a raw grean bean the other day, and she chewed it “forever,” still leaving bits of the bean all over her “place.” So, no more green beans in her treat mix! I also add a little bit of her kibbles to the treat mix. The volume of this is subtracted from the volume of food she receives each day so she won’t gain weight. Labs are such “chow hounds” – always ready and willing to eat whatever is available – that they tend to get overweight with ease. Because of concerns for hips and ability to work, a service dog must be kept at what used to be called “fighting trim.” They are kept slender, but not skinny. Not permitted to become obese. So we watch what she eats like a hawk. I take her in to the vet every couple of weeks just to sit on the scales and keep track of her weight. If she should gain a significant amount (more than 1/2 #), she will get more carrots and fewer pieces of lamb roll and kibble in her treats. Her volume will be decreased ever so slightly, and a week later we will weigh her again.

Why spend so much time describing her weight management regimen? Because it is VERY important. We who are blessed to be partnered with a good assistance dog must keep it in good health. We have a great and blessed responsibility to be good partners to our assistance dogs. If we need their services, we need to ensure they can provide those services day in and day out, year in and year out. There are no days off for them – only some “free time” every day. Some days there is so much to do there isn’t much time for “free time.” Sometimes the only “free time” a service dog will get is when the partner finally goes to bed to sleep. So we need to be sure that “real” “free time” is a happy event.

I’m working on developing a play date schedule for Emmy with other service dogs. I’m not enthusiastic about “doggie day care” places – who knows what kind of personalities those dogs have, and who knows what their health records contain? Another service dog will be more likely to have a pleasant disposition and be in good health.

The activity involved in caring for Emmy is very good for me, even though I am having a few more flares. I need to be more active. The benefits are immeasurable. Emmy is immeasurably loving and wonderful. Today she picked up the sash for my fuzzy robe when I dropped it. This was first thing in the AM when I am particularly tottery. This is a biggie! I have fallen before trying to pick that sash up. Today I did not fall – Emmy picked it up for me. I need her – so I’ll keep her as healthy as possible and as close to her predetermined “ideal” weight as possible!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Denise Portis
    Oct 28, 2008 @ 19:32:09

    Keep posting about our dog’s weight. You are exactly right about how important it is to keep them at “working GREAT” weight! We all need the reminders!


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