We talk a lot about how service dogs are different from pets, but one of the things I don’t see addressed often is how much more care goes into our service dogs than most people put into their pets.
To give you an example, I know what texture Hudson’s poop is and I pay attention to whether he is straining or uncomfortable while he’s doing his business. It’s important because it tells me a lot about his mental health – when he’s anxious or stressed, he’s very prone to diarrhea. It also tells me how his gastrointestinal system is doing with his current food, which has been an issue for us.
Hudson’s food costs over $1.50/lb. We make his treats ourselves from ground beef (and we are thinking about branching into other things like sweet potato chips).
Hudson gets brushed almost daily. Even among people with longhaired dogs, I know few people who brush out their pets daily. He also gets tick-checked almost daily. I’ll admit that there are occasions where I just don’t have the wherewithal to do it, but even on bad days, I check his head and his paws, as those are the most likely places to find ticks. Tick checking means I go over his entire body with the pads of my fingers, feeling for lumps, bumps, and anything out of place as well as for little bloodsucking monsters.
His teeth get brushed daily. I’ll admit this is one I fall down on when my fiance isn’t around, because Hudson wants to get the toothpaste so badly that brushing his teeth without someone holding his head still is about as difficult as feeding an uncooperative baby (except that he struggles against me with 65 pounds of strength!) – things go everywhere but where they’re supposed to, I get frustrated, and his teeth don’t get done well.
His nails get cut weekly. Most people let their pets’ nails get long enough to tick on tile or cement, but this is actually too long. It makes dogs shift the way they carry their weight and will wear out their hip joints faster.
Hudson’s ears get cleaned weekly. I know there are a variety of thoughts on how often ears should be cleaned, but that’s what our school taught and he gets frequent enough ear infections that it seems like a good idea with him.
He gets his paws and ahem personal areas trimmed twice a month. As a longhaired dog, Hudson is prone to getting mats between his toes, around his groin, and around his anus, so I have to get in between his pads and around areas he’d rather I left alone and trim away fur. He gets trims to his beard and moustache about every 6 weeks because otherwise he makes an enormous mess when he drinks.
Hudson sees the vet much more often than your average pet does. My dog sees his doc any time he seems to be significantly under the weather, and he has gotten the canine flu vaccine because I can’t afford for him to be sick. He takes medication to take care of his allergies and gets his monthly flea, tick, and heartworm meds.
Hudson also gets washed every 4 weeks plus any time he goes in the ocean. He has to be clean and not smell too strongly of dog for public work, not to mention it’s probably good for him. He also periodically gets a steroid conditioner as he has itchy skin when his allergies flare.
Hudson doesn’t care for a lot of the things that are done on his behalf. He’s quite sure that his paws and nails are fine without any interference, thankyouverymuch. He believes that his groin and his hind end don’t need to be touched. The bath is entirely unnecessary. Toothbrushing is a waste of time and I really should just give him the toothpaste to lick up. Ear-cleaning is enough to get him fighting with most of his strength to get away from me pouring cleaner in and scrubbing his ear. Tick-checking is annoying, and I really should just pet him instead. Giving him pills is an annoying habit of mine that I really ought to stop (and trying to get him to take them via something like Pill Pockets is just silly). Bathing is cruel and unpleasant, especially when it involves washing his head and his beard. Brushing is unkind and I should stick to scratching and petting instead.
In short, Hudson isn’t fond of most of the care he recieves that keep him in tip-top shape. He makes a lot of his care mildly difficult – in general he is very polite about the fact that he doesn’t like it, but it’s clear he’d rather we didn’t do it. The most pitiful is probably the hangdog body language while he’s being bathed, while the strongest attempt to escape what he needs done is when his ears get cleaned. For the most part, he makes it clear that he’s tolerating what we do. He hates being clipped and has to be held in position by someone else while I clip him – usually my fiance, as no one else is willing to hold onto the dog quite firmly enough.
For a little bit of amusement, let me tell you what happens when we’re done doing pretty much any of Hudson’s necessary care. Once we’re finished, I announce ‘All done!’ Hudson starts running around and frolicking, followed by a spate of doggy breakdancing. His favorite move we call ‘the moustache’, where he uses both of his front paws to smooth over his snout like a man grooming his moustache, except that Hudson tends to make an even bigger mess of it.
So there’s my bit of difference: the difference in healthcare and grooming that a service dog recieves from his partner. I had a lot of other topics I wanted to write about, including the difference in how people respond to you, but I decided that I didn’t want to write yet another post about how normal folks treat us in uncomfortable ways.
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