By Mila Sanchez
Dogs have been helping us for thousands of years, and have rightfully earned the title “man’s best friend.”
In the last hundred years, they have become even more than a best friend for millions of people — they are integral part of living their everyday life.
They serve as guides for people with vision impairment. They are trained to alert people with severe medical issues like epilepsy and diabetes. They are even being trained to support disabled veterans.
According to an infographic from the University of Nevada-Reno, there are more than 3.8 million veterans who have a service-connected disability, such as a loss of limb that inhibits mobility and/or PTSD which can be debilitating to adjusting to civilian life.
People who own service dogs already know how important it is to make sure their dog is impeccably taken care of and kept as healthy as can be.
If you are looking into getting a service dog for yourself or a family member, you need to make sure you are ready to care for one. While all dogs should be well cared for, because of the vital and often life-saving assistance that service dogs provide, extra special care needs to be taken.
Regular vet checkups
All dogs should get a checkup at least once a year, but unfortunately many pet owners don’t do this, especially while the dog is in its young adult years. This is something you cannot skip as a service dog owner.
Regular visits to the vet will ensure that any health problems your service dog may develop can be addressed immediately.
You should also be watching for sudden changes in health, as they can be caused by a number of different parasites that are common to dogs. Taking preventative actions like giving heartworm medication or flea and tick ointment are also great ways to help prevent problems before they arise.
High quality food
The type of food you choose can affect the health and lifespan of your dog. You want your service dog to live as long as possible, so feeding him high quality food is essential.
Though, with so many dog food brands advertising that their food is highly nutritious, it’s hard to discern which ones are actually healthy.
A great site to use to compare dog foods is dogfoodadvisor.com. You can look up different foods based on their name or star rating to see how they stack up.
As an alternative to kibble, many dog owners swear by raw feeding, believing it’s more nutritious and natural. Keep in mind, though, that feeding raw is incredibly expensive and if done incorrectly, can actually be hard on your dog’s health.
Keep up with training
Contrary to what you might believe, service dogs trained by organizations aren’t just “finished” when they graduate from their service training programs. You have to be prepared to continually work with them everyday and be prepared to be firm and uphold their training standards.
Dogs aren’t robots that can be trained and then listen 100% of the time. The need to keep up with their training so that they can keep you safe and be a good ambassador for service dogs everywhere.
The growing number of fake service dogs is already causing problems for the disabled community; real service dogs that aren’t kept to standard with regular training will add to that problem.
Service dogs are a wonderful asset to so many people with disabilities. The tasks they are trained to perform are helping them live more independent lives.
But with the benefits comes a lot of upkeep and responsibility. Preparing yourself for every aspect of a service dog before getting one is going to ensure you can have a long and productive partnership.
Mila Sanchez is a writer with a BA in English Linguistics living in beautiful Boise, Idaho. Her ambitions include traveling the world, studying languages, and taking pictures of her dog, Baymax. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram!