A fluffy white and brown doodle relaxes floppily on a picnic table

This is a common question to service dog handlers, and sometimes not even posed as a question as much as a generalized comment. “I feel bad for service dogs. ” I’ll ask them why and they respond that “they never get to have any fun”.

And I laugh, because I don’t think there could be anything further than the truth.

All service dogs that I know get dedicated time off in order to be a dog. This is so important to not only their personal well-being, but to their career as well.

@steadfastdogs

It’s a common misconception that service dogs don’t get to have any fun. Rather, they get dedicated time SPECIFICALLY to have fun!! It’s so important for working dogs to have time off to just be a dog. A new blog post is dropping tomorrow on this topic. Check out our website to learn more! #servicedog #doglife #dogtraining #playzone #dogsoftiktok #yegdogs #LiveOutlandish

♬ Rock and Roll Session – Canal Records JP

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

Everyone needs a break from work. Service dogs are no exception. When service dog prospects start out as puppies, it’s important to give them time to grow up and be a puppy. They learn so much in this early time. Working them too hard at this age can lead to early burnout, and the dog is likely to wash early because of it. Working tasks aren’t started at this age. Rather, they build a solid foundation of confidence and manners. They take in experiences, learn how to relax, and they have fun. It is important for puppies to have fun in all kinds of situations so that they are able to work in them later. Anything that can cause stress can result in anxiety later, which can affect a dog’s working capabilities.

A dog that’s overworked may also become disinterested in doing its job, or start to show signs of anxiety or fear. This can lead to a mis-step or mistake that can cause harm to the dog’s handler. This is usually a sign that they need a break from working and need to have some downtime. This may look like a day of rest, or going for a favorite activity like a run or swim.

But they look miserable!

They actually don’t.

They look focused.

Many times, a dog’s task is considered fun for them. Tzila is a great example of this. If she’s bored, she’ll wander the house looking for things to bring me, and there are ALWAYS things she finds. Fallen receipts that blow off my desk, laundry (especially socks!) or anything else that may have dropped to the floor. This is a regular task and is work, but it’s her favorite thing to do.

She’s a retriever – it’s literally what she was born to do. If she can’t find items that need to be picked up, she’ll find something else like a shoe or she will steal things off the counter to bring me. She’ll even take my keys or phone from my hand in order to give it back to me. The point is, she most often chooses to work rather than play. It’s what she loves doing. I rarely ask her to help with these things because she just does it when she feels like doing it. She’s efficient!

Even when someone is working in a job that’s considered fun, they will be focused on their job. They still need a break from it, however. They may even have days that they just don’t want to do that job and they don’t excel in it, because they need a rest or to do something different for awhile. Monotony is no one’s friend.

Dogs are no different.

 

What do service dogs do for fun?

Service dogs are really no different than any other dog when it comes time for play. They all have their preferences, too. Some dogs want to rest. Others to play. Whatever a pet loves to do, service dogs do, too. They are often given dedicated time to be able to do those things, too, which helps balance work with fun. There’s no Jack Torrence in this movie!

Do service dogs to to off-leash parks?

Most handlers don’t take their dogs to public off leash parks. These off leash parks are notorious for their risk of disease transmission and risky situations with other dogs. Dog parks are not natural or normal places for dogs to socialize. The dog fights that sometimes happen at them can have detrimental consequences to any dog’s confidence. It’s often not worth the risk to take service dogs to them.

There are private dog parks that many handlers will take their service dogs to. These are usually pay-per-use, fully fenced and often fully serviced parks that have no risk of contact with other dogs. Laneway Getaway and Doglandia are two such examples of private parks we have used in the Edmonton area.

Service Dogs are living a great life!

Service dogs get to do so much more than companion dogs. Many working line dogs are bred to do a job. When they are not given a job to do they can become bored, unruly and unhappy, which presents itself in different ways. The dog may be reactive, anxious, destructive or demanding.

Working dogs with a well-balanced job, on the other hand, tend to be calm, focused and well mannered. Their needs are being fulfilled. They not only get to do the job they were bred and born to perform, but they get to do that with the person they are bonded to. These dogs have an incredibly satisfying lifestyle. They are very well loved, valued and cared for.

Before assuming a dog is miserable, think about what kinds of things that dog would be doing if it weren’t doing the tasks it gets well rewarded for. Most dogs do not want to be at home alone sleeping all day. They would rather be with their people, which service dogs are able to do.

How can you tell that they are happy?

While I can’t speak for every service dog, I can speak for the ones I know, especially my own. Every service dog that I’m familiar with gets time to be themselves and to have fun.

Tzila gets regular sniff walks, play time, chew time and other time to do whatever she’d like to do. I make a point of taking her to private off leash parks, swimming or play dates on a fairly regular basis. She plays as hard as she works, and at the end of the day she chooses to curl up next to or right on me. Her wagging tail and attentive nature tells me everything I need to know. She’s a very happy, friendly girl who is happy to help.

Dogs “speak” in body language. Most working dogs will look neutral or focused while they are on duty, but seeing them off duty is an entirely different matter. There are very noticeable differences in their mannerisms and behaviors once their vest comes off or they are given their release command. Just like seeing people at work, you cannot know what their home life is like based on what you see when they are at work.

A silhouette of a black lab in the middle of an echo beat.

If you guessed that Krystal is a fan of horror based on the headings in this post, you’d be correct. She doesn’t have many fears but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t scare easily. She loves the thrill of horror movies and has been known to scream bloody terror in theatres. This is quickly followed by laughter from both the rest of the theatre occupants as well as herself. She’s happy to give others a reason to smile, even when it’s at her own expense!