Guide Dog Class Lecture: Care of Your Guide Dog
There are practical considerations when you enter into a relationship with a guide dog. Your dog will rely on you to provide the basic necessities for her health and welfare. You will be responsible to feed, water, relieve, groom, exercise and shelter your dog. It will also be your role to attend to her emotional well-being. This comprehensive discussion covers both daily and regularly scheduled care, as well as any additional attentions that will keep your guide dog healthy for a long time to come.
Daily Care - Feeding
Feeding the right amount of quality dog food is a real way to contribute to the overall good health and wellbeing of your dog. Although dogs are considered carnivores, a large portion of their diet should consist of carbohydrates. Many commercially prepared dog foods are fully balanced in protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and trace elements.
What to Feed
GDB feeds and recommends Eukanuba® brand dog foods for our program dogs. While in the kennels and during class, the majority of the dogs eat Eukanuba Large Breed formula . Occasionally our veterinary department determines that a dog would do better on an alternate formula. The food that your dog is eating meets the National Research Council standards for dog food and is readily available nationwide.
Since quality kibble is nutritious and balanced, most dogs will not require supplements in their food. However, adding warm water to the meal before feeding allows the kibble to expand which aids in digestion.
Most dogs are offered kibble food rewards to reinforce desired guidework behaviors. You may choose to put aside some of your dog’s daily ration for use during the day. For your dog’s evening meal, add any unused kibble from the day into your dog’s bowl along with the evening ration. That way you will know that your dog is not eating too much or too little. If you choose to use a different form of food reward, as long as the rewards don’t exceed 15% of your dog’s total ration, it should not be a problem. But be alert for stool issues, upset stomach or weight gain that could be associated with alternative or excess food rewards. Alternative rewards from well-established manufacturers are probably the safest bet, and your local veterinarian can provide guidance about choosing wisely for your dog.
If your dog seems to be doing well on his current type of food, we suggest that you continue feeding the same food. Though people tend to enjoy variety, dogs thrive on eating the same food each day. Leftovers or scraps from the table are not good for your dog. In fact, frequent or abrupt changes in a dog’s diet can cause gastric upset or other problems.
If you decide to change your dog’s diet, ask your veterinarian for comparable alternatives. He or she can also discuss how best to transition to the new food. As your dog ages, your veterinarian may recommend a food formulated for the changing needs of senior dogs.
We do not recommend pre-packaged moist dog food or canned dog food. High quality kibble has more consistency of ingredients, contains less sugar, and is less expensive.
Animal bones can easily splinter and cause major medical problems for your dog. We never recommend animal bones of any kind for your dog; this includes sterilized bones found in pet stores.
How Much to Feed
The number of cups you feed your dog depends on several factors: your dog’s metabolism, activity level and the type of food. The amount you feed at home is often less than what you feed in class. To avoid inadvertently feeding too much or too little, use a level standard measuring cup when scooping the food.
When to Feed
Currently your dog is fed twice a day. For many dogs, the smaller feedings are easier to process and digest, and your dog gets the bonus of eating two meals. What dog wouldn’t enjoy two meals a day? If this twice-a-day feeding works well for your schedule at home, we encourage you to continue it. However, you may wish to feed your dog once a day, which is certainly fine; your dog will remain vital and healthy on this routine as well. When feeding once a day, the total ration remains the same.
Daily Care - Watering
Water is essential to your dog’s health and well being. Offer fresh, clean water to your dog at regular intervals. A water schedule allows you to monitor your dog’s intake. It is normal if your dog occasionally takes just a few laps at an offering. Your dog will drink when she is thirsty. When you offer water to your dog on a schedule, you will get to know her drinking habits and recognize if she changes that pattern. Depending on the circumstances, a drastic increase or decrease in water consumption may indicate a health issue.
If you plan to “free water” (i.e. keep a pan of water down all day in the house), clean the bowl and change the water daily. We will discuss considerations for free watering and how to change over to this method later in the course.
If you are traveling, your dog’s food and water schedule will likely need to be adjusted. Please refer to the travel lecture for more information.
Daily Care - Relieving
In order to be comfortable and maintain clean habits, guide dogs need the opportunity to relieve themselves at various times throughout the day. In general, offer your dog at least 4- 5 relieving opportunities each day. Your dog may need six like we offer in class. While some dogs may begin to relieve themselves as soon as you say “do your business”, many dogs need up to 10 minutes or more to fully empty, especially if they are in a new relieving area. Keep in mind that drinking, eating and physical exercise all stimulate the dog.
Daily Care - Relaxing
A private, out-of-the-way area in your home gives your dog a chance to nap while remaining close to the household action. When deciding on a regular place for your dog to rest, select an area that is away from drafts and out from underfoot. Many dogs enjoy sleeping on their rug or dog bed.
Since dogs naturally want to be with you, select an area in your home where your dog can observe daily activities. Most often, this means the main room and/or near the kitchen. At night, most guide dogs prefer sleeping in your bedroom, either at the side or foot of your bed.
And if you are a smoker, please consider the harmful effects that secondhand smoke may have on your dog. Respiratory infections, eye irritation, lung inflammation and asthma can result from the exposure. Chewing on a cigarette or cigarette butt can cause serious reactions in dogs, including rapid respiration, muscle weakness, excitability, vomiting and diarrhea, or worse. Smokers should choose a designated area where smoke and tobacco products will remain away from their dog.
Daily Care - Grooming
One simple way to maintain your dog’s good health and appearance is to groom your dog every day. Pick a time when you can be thorough and relaxed in your handling.
If regularly tended to, healthy dogs are fairly odor free. Between baths, regular grooming maintains your dog’s coat, ears and skin in good condition. If after stroking your dog you notice that your hand feels somewhat oily and smells “doggy”, a bath may be warranted. After working in rain or snow, we recommend drying your dog off thoroughly, paying special attention to her paws.
The grooming session also allows you to “take inventory” of your dog. When you know your dog’s body well, you will notice if anything changes. You can feel for lumps or skin abnormalities by running your hands over your dog’s entire body.
Your sense of smell can also catch if something unusual is going on with your dog. A health problem may leave your dog smelling unpleasant despite a recent bath. Otitis can cause ears to lose their sweet scent, and noticeably pungent dog breath may indicate gum disease, a broken molar or another health issue. If your dog is scratching a lot, it can cause a smelly skin infection. For these situations, see your veterinarian for assistance.
Daily Care - Teeth
Healthy gums and teeth play a very important part in good overall systemic health. As a bonus, your dog’s breath will smell fresh! Use a toothpaste or gel that is specifically formulated for dogs.
Regular Care – Vet Visits
Your guide is healthy, eats a good diet, and has been immunized against major canine diseases. With continued good care, feeding and grooming, you will likely incur only routine veterinary expenses for your dog. To help offset these expenses; GDB has a veterinary care program that provides a reimbursement for approved veterinary care expenses up to a certain dollar amount. This will be covered in more detail in the Graduate Services discussion.
Bring your guide dog to her veterinarian for regular check ups, booster shots and for other preventatives. During this visit, your vet will likely check your dog's skin, ears, eyes, teeth and gums as well as listen to the heart and lungs.
You may want to have your dog’s nails clipped while you visit the vet. Having someone who is experienced clip your dog’s nails will help prevent an accidental cut of the “quick”, or blood vessel, that runs down the nail. A cut “quick” can cause pain and subsequent reluctance in your dog at the next trim. Nails may need trimming every month, depending on how much your dog’s nails wear down. If your vet office is not conveniently located for you, another option to regularly clip your dog’s nails is to bring your dog to a groom shop or an experienced friend.
During training your dog received a rabies vaccination, which gives immunity for three years in California and Oregon. Other states or provinces may require you to re-vaccinate your dog more often.
Your guide dog has received a DA2PP booster vaccination that protects against distemper, adenovirus-type2 [which includes hepatitis], para influenza and parvovirus, respectively. Some veterinarians annually re-vaccinate, while others may use a two or three year interval.
Before you graduate, you will receive a health certificate signed by our staff veterinarian and a complete health history on your dog. Bring these documents to your first vet visit at home. A current health certificate may be necessary when you travel, both interstate as well as internationally.
Keep in mind that if you have any tests or procedures done on your guide dog that require anesthesia, you will need to make alternative arrangements for your trip home. A guide dog cannot be safe when under the influence of tranquilizing drugs. Explain this to your veterinarian. If these drugs are needed, it is best to wait 12 – 24 hours before you resume guide work with your dog.
Regular Care – Preventative Medication
Heartworms - Your guide dog has been tested for heartworms and placed on monthly preventative medication, which not only protects against heartworm but other internal parasites as well. Please continue to give this every month. Many dog owners find the first of the month an easy day to remember. If you forget to give a dose, give a tablet immediately and then resume your original medication schedule.
Fleas & Ticks: Excellent products for the control of fleas and ticks are available. These products need to be applied at the correct interval and with proper technique to be effective. Shampooing can reduce the effectiveness of these products. It is best to bathe your dog only when necessary and when you do, be sure to wait a day or so before or after the topical application.
Regular Care - Healthy Weight
One of the most common health issues we see in guides is overweight dogs. An overweight or obese dog can have serious health problems that can shorten not only their working life but overall life expectancy due to the strain on the heart, joints, and other vital organs. Extreme weight conditions in guides can be considered negligent care by GDB.
It is easier to maintain your dog’s current weight than to take excess weight off. If you use common sense and consistency in feeding your dog, you can look forward to having a fit and healthy guide dog that maintains its stamina, focus and agility.
In general, your guide should stay within a few pounds of graduation weight for her entire life. Keep track of your dog’s weight by regularly weighing your dog on the same scale whenever possible. Also, be aware of what healthy weight feels like. Run your hands along your dog’s sides from the shoulders to the hips. You will feel an indentation between the last rib and the hip area. This is your dog’s waist. This is the first area where your dog will put on weight. Regularly check for this indentation when you groom your dog. The last area your dog will gain weight is in the neck and chest area. Therefore, if you notice that your dog’s collar and harness are getting tight, your dog may have gained a significant amount of weight already.
If you discover that your dog has gained weight, immediately reduce the amount of your dog’s daily ration and carefully monitor where your dog is getting calories. Consult with your veterinarian about the appropriate reduction of kibble for your individual dog. If possible, weigh your dog weekly to monitor weight loss. If you use food rewards, be certain to factor this in to your dog’s daily ration.
Your veterinarian can be helpful in advising you on weight control. If necessary, he or she may recommend another food to aid in weight reduction.
Regular Care - Ears
To maintain healthy ears and prevent infections, we recommend cleaning your guide’s ears at least once a week. You will learn how to do this in class. There are many types of ear cleaning solutions available; your vet will be able to dispense an appropriate one. These ear products are gentle and maintain a dry canal as well as remove any debris that make living conditions in the ear hospitable to microorganisms.
Routine care of your dog's ears will help deter infections, but it won't completely prevent them. There can be different signs of an ear infection: Get familiar with the sweet scent of a healthy ear. A change to a foul odor is generally an indication of an ear infection. An inflamed, red ear or one with dark waxy build-up that returns soon after cleaning can be another sign. Excessive head shaking may indicate trouble, too. See your veterinarian for assistance.
Regular Care – Identification
Your dog has had a small Avid microchip inserted under the skin that can help identify him should he ever be lost or separated from you. During class we add a simple plastic Avid ID tag to your dog’s collar (with Avid’s phone number and your dog’s microchip number). It will be a good idea to keep the chip number easily accessible in case you ever need to contact Avid for help in locating your dog. After graduation, GDB will register your dog’s chip number with Avid – you will be registered as the primary contact and GDB will be designated as the alternative contact. If your address or contact information changes it is important to contact Avid to update the registration.
Most animal shelters and veterinary facilities have universal scanner wands that, when waved over the micro chipped animal, reads the information uniquely associated with that dog. The facility could then contact Avid, who would in turn inform you of the location of your guide.
As Needed Care - Skin and Coat
On occasion, your dog’s skin can get dry and itchy. Extreme temperatures (hot weather and air conditioning or cold weather and heating), diet changes or baths can cause dry skin which may lead to scratching or licking. Other clinical signs of itchy skin could be due to irritation from flea bites. GDB encourages regular use of approved flea preventative products such as Frontline, Advantage, Advantix, or Revolution. An occasional scratch or lick is acceptable. However, any dog can scratch or lick themselves to a point that they cause hair loss or even sores. Prevent this scenario by interrupting your dog after she scratches or licks a few times with a verbal correction and an offer to chew a nylabone or other diversion. Praise her for stopping. If interrupting the behavior is not effective and your dog continues to excessively scratch or lick, see your veterinarian for a consultation.
As Needed Care – Paw Care
Certain working conditions can irritate a dog’s paws. During the rainy season, motor oils spread around on the roadways. In snowy conditions, chemicals and salt are used to prevent slips on icy surfaces. During gardening season, there’s lawn fertilizers that can irritate your dog’s feet. After working in these types of conditions, wipe off your dog’s feet. In temperature extremes, consider the option of dog booties. This will be discussed more in another lecture.
As Needed Care – Seeking Non-Food Items
Dogs will sometimes eat just about anything, including stones, paper, wood, and cat or dog feces. To deal with this, managing the environment and prevention are the best courses of action. Put the garbage can under the sink. Put a hood on the litter box, and place it in a room that is inaccessible to your dog. Put attractive items away. If your dog shows any interest in eating feces, you will want to monitor and clean up every defecation.
Dealing with the environment is one thing; you must also manage your dog’s behavior. At the moment your dog tries to put something in her mouth, correct her and praise her if she stops. Give her something else to do (a sit and down, give her a bone to chew on, etc.). If you notice your dog makes a conscious decision to chew her bone rather than nibble on the holiday wrapping paper on the floor, praise her!
As Needed Care - Vomiting
Dogs have efficient systems. Vomiting is often a normal reflex whenever something in their stomach disagrees with them. Some dogs may also try to eat grass, which can result in vomiting.
Occasional vomiting is fairly normal. Multiple episodes or frequent vomiting, however, can be indicators of a more serious health issue. A dog that is vomiting repeatedly and is lethargic or seems to be in pain needs to be seen by a vet.
As Needed Care - Medicating
Only use medications that your veterinarian has prescribed specifically for your guide dog. Be sure to follow the directions and continue their use for the prescribed duration.
As Needed Care – Overheating
In warmer climates, dogs can overheat with excessive play or work or when they are left in parked vehicles on hot or even warm days. If you normally have your dog with you and are attentive to her, you will generally be able to avoid this potentially life threatening situation.
Normal body temperature for your dog ranges between 101 to 103 degrees. With overheating, a dog’s body heat can rise to 106 or even 108 degrees. These are extremely high fevers that can be tolerated for only a few minutes before irreversible damage occurs to the central nervous system.
Signs of overheating include exceedingly heavy, fast panting, general sluggish responses, unsteadiness of gait and a possible reluctance to take water. Extreme overheating can cause tremors, collapse, and vomiting.
High fever must be reduced rapidly to save your dog's life and prevent permanent brain damage. Gradually immerse your dog in cool water or run water from a garden hose over your dog’s groin and chest area. Take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Suggestions for travel in hot weather are discussed in detail in the Special Travel Conditions lecture.
As Needed Care – Cold Weather Care
Most guide dogs have double coats which help keep them warm in cold weather. In below-freezing temperatures, however, even this cushion may not be enough. Common sense rules when it comes to caring for your dog in cold weather. Avoid over-exposure for both yourself and your dog! Suggestions for travel in snow and ice are discussed in detail in the Special Travel Conditions lecture.
You know your guide dog better than anyone else does. You will likely be the first to recognize when something is wrong in your dog. Poor appetite, diarrhea or constipation, vomiting, coughing, excessive head shaking, limping or signs of pain – any of these signs will cause you to take notice. That said, it is also important to know when the situation is serious. Is this an incident or is it a trend? If your dog doesn't finish one meal, has one loose stool, vomits or coughs once or twice, you don’t necessarily need to rush to your veterinarian. Often times, these symptoms alone are a reaction to temporary discomfort, not an indication of something serious.
Caring for a canine friend and guide is a big responsibility. Your dog relies on you. You are the best judge of your dog’s health and well being. Your efforts will not be wasted; and your dog gives you so much in return. Here’s to good health!
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