Always keeping your assistance dog clean, neat, and tidy is very important. It helps show the public that assistance dogs receive quality care from their disabled owners, combating a common misconception and misguided criticism.
A well-groomed dog is also more readily accepted by those who aren’t necessarily dog lovers (or who aren’t thrilled to have a dog in their places of business). Furthermore, it benefits people with allergies by limiting released hair and dander.
Proper grooming also goes a long way toward keeping your dog looking and feeling it’s best, of course, and it’s a great way to strengthen the bond between the two of you. Use grooming as an opportunity to monitor your dog for new lumps or bumps, out-of-sight injuries, skin conditions, discharge from the eyes or ears, and other problems and warning signs of health concerns.
Brushing or Combing Your Service Dog
Good grooming includes regular brushing or combing, in many instances on a daily basis, to prevent tangles and matting and to distribute your dog’s natural oils over it’s fur. Your dog’s coat type and whether or not it has an undercoat determines what type of brush or comb will be most effective.
Many people use a shedding blade or undercoat rake on a heavy undercoat, while others prefer the newer FURminator tool. Some use a greyhound comb on the topcoat, and the old standby slicker brush can also be very useful. A mat breaker is usually the go-to tool of choice if you find matting. Your Vet or groomer can advise you on the best brush or comb for your dog. The grooming routine can be critical for the general health care on your assistance dog
Extra Care for Extra Shedding
If your dog has a thick undercoat, it’s likely to shed heavily twice per year to “blow” it’s undercoat. During these periods of heavy shedding, increase your grooming as needed, which may mean brushing two or three times daily. You might appreciate the help of a professional groomer or self-serve dog wash and their force dryers. Brush your dog as you blow dry it to help remove dead undercoat. During major shedding, consider using a Lycra Bodysuit on your assistance dog to reduce the dander and fur released into the environment in public.
Veterinary dental specialists recommend that you brush your dog’s teeth every 24 to 48 hours. If you go longer between brushings, plaque and tartar harden into a layer that can’t be brushed off, requiring a professional cleaning. Don’t scrape or scale your dog’s teeth on your own, as you can cause pits or other damage, making your dog’s teeth more susceptible to cavities, cracking, breaking, and infections.
When you brush your service dog’s teeth, use a toothpaste specially formulated for dogs. The fluoride in human toothpastes is dangerous to dogs. Canine toothpastes come in a wide variety of flavors, so find one your dog likes. Introduce it to your dog by first letting it lick a little off your finger. Then, put some toothpaste on a dog toothbrush or finger brush (a thin plastic device with a bristled tip that slips over your finger) and massage your dog’s gums and teeth.
The “AVDC Service Dog Oral Health Exam” program is a philanthropic event provided to the Service Dog public by board certified veterinary dentists of the American Veterinary Dental College. If your Service Dog qualifies, it would receive a complimentary oral health screening exam in June to help identify any problems that may affect the dog’s oral comfort and health. . A professional examination of your assistance dog’s teeth is recommended each year (National Service Dog Oral Health Exam).
Ear and Eye Care for Your Assistance Dog
Clean your dog’s ears with a canine ear cleanser and cotton balls, gently swabbing the outer area of the ear canal. Black or dark brown discharge is a sign of an infection or ear mites, so if you see any, make a Vet appointment.
If you have a dog with light fur around the eyes, it may become visibly stained by your dog’s tears. A number of products are sold to remove them, though they vary in effectiveness; ask your Veterinarian or groomer for a recommendation. If you notice your service dog squinting or any colored discharge from one or both eyes, make a Vet appointment right away, as this points to an infection or injury to the eye.
Depending on your dog, how it’s foot is structured, and how much you walk, you’ll need to trim it’s nails every one to four weeks. Nail clippers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so it shouldn’t be hard to find an appropriate one. Many people like scissor-type clippers, while others prefer the guillotine style; others prefer to sand down the nails with a rotary dremel grinder. Your Vet or groomer can show you how to properly and safely trim your dog’s nails, or they can do it for you for a small fee.
When trimming your dog’s nails, remove only the tip, taking care not to cut too low, or you’ll sever the blood vessel or “quick” in the nail. This is painful and causes bleeding. If it happens, use styptic powder (available at pet supply stores and websites) to stop the bleeding. If you don’t have any, flour or cornstarch work as slightly less effective substitutes.
Bathing Your Assistance Dog
Because of their work and increased public interactions, service dogs generally need more baths than house pets. Along with maintaining cleanliness and a fresh scent, frequent bathing helps reduce shedding and allergens. Depending on your dog and situation, bathing is typically recommended between once weekly to once every two months. Ask your Vet or groomer for advice.
If you bathe your dog at home (rather than have a groomer do it or using a self-serve dog wash), use a gentle canine shampoo and conditioner. Frequent bathing with human products or harsh dog products dries out the dog’s skin and causes irritation and itchiness.
If your service dog has medium to long fur, trimming the hair around her feet, eyes, face, genitals, or other areas may be necessary. It’s safest to let a professional groomer handle this aspect of care. If cost is an issue, contact a local pet grooming school and ask whether students provide free or reduced-price services for assistance dogs. If you want to trim or clip your dog, your groomer may be willing to teach you and many even offer discounts to disabled individuals with financial need.