It’s pretty obvious at this point why we appreciate service dogs so much, but do they appreciate us? Are working dogs happy? Considering how much they help us, it’s good to question their well-being.
In order to be happy, dogs need:
- Safe humans
- Mental stimulation
If you remember from my last newsletter, only about 50% of dogs who begin training for service will meet the passing requirements. Only dogs who truly enjoy working will end up being service animals. And dogs who get to wear that vest of honor will end up receiving all the things that make dogs happy in abundance.
Service dogs tend to be healthier, as their owner is more attuned to nuances in their behavior. They are allowed breaks, just like a working human, to just relax and be a dog. And they get to have more time with humans than a lot of household pets.
#1 Hand-feed them
It may sound silly and time-consuming, but hand-feeding your dog, especially a new pup, exponentially increases their trust in you. Puppies will quickly learn how to not bite fingers and older dogs are reminded that you are the giver of all good things. This is especially beneficial for shy dogs who have difficulty trusting humans.
#2 Teach them something new
Naturally, service dogs enjoy training but all dogs crave mental stimulation, and teaching them a new command or silly trick is a fun way to provide that need. As they focus on you for guidance, their trust and dependence on you is reinforced and your bond continues to deepen.
#3 Play together
Playtime reduces stress for humans and dogs so it’s a win-win in my book. Simple interactive games, like tug or fetch, give your pal the opportunity for exercise and mental stimulation. Regular play sessions reinforce routine and that you are the source of all fun things.
#4 Be consistent
Dogs, like small children, are creatures of habit and thrive in a consistent routine. Knowing what to expect allows them to trust that you will always provide for their needs. Regular meal times, neighborhood walks and bedtime cuddles reduce the stress of not knowing what is coming next.
#5 Pet with intention
A random scratch behind the ears is nice, but make sure you’re also giving your dog your full attention other times. Touching your dog’s body is a constant reinforcement that you are safe and can be trusted.
While taking the time to build a strong bond with your pet may seem like an added responsibility, taking the extra time to make sure that your dog understands who you are as a human will build a relationship that will last for years to come.
If you missed our first post on service dogs, you can find it HERE.