A sable poodle wearing a red training vest faces his handler. She has her long hair back in a ponytail and is wearing a black mask. She is wearing a red puffy jacket, blue jeans and has a blue purse. They are in a greenhouse and surrounded by various house plants.

How do disabled service dog handlers care for their dog?

Inquiries about how disabled handlers manage their service dogs often arise from curious members of the public. However, this post is not aimed at addressing them. How one navigates their life is their own business.

This post is directed towards fellow handlers or potential service dog handlers who are navigating new disabilities and uncertain terrain. As someone who has embarked on this journey myself, I understand the concerns and challenges that come with it. I continue to learn about tools and techniques that can simplify the process, and I’m eager to share my discoveries with others.

Responses to the question of service dog care will vary based on individual circumstances and disabilities. Fortunately, there are numerous tools and resources available to make caring for service dogs more accessible. Many of these tools are readily available at pet stores and have proven invaluable to individuals living with disabilities.

Dog Care Essentials

Photo shows a black shepherd in a sit position looking up at his handler, who is wearing a white shirt and blue jeans. THey have short hair and have a leash looped around their torso like a purse strap. There are trees in the background.

Check out “Scoot Nemander” on Instagram!

Hands-free leashes

These are great for people who have limited use of their hands. The dog generally has to be trained already in order to use these in order to prevent getting hurt or pulled around. OR they can be a backup during training for those who struggle to grip leashes.

The photo on the right is of Becs with their service dog, Ranger. Becs is also known as “Scoot Nemander” on Instagram, where they showcase the service dog accessories they design and create. They are demonstrating their own hands-free leash combo here! Interested? Check out their Instagram here!



Flip top water bottle

A water bottle with a scoop attachment that works for dogs to drink water from easily.These are an easy item that can be used with minimal mess, spillage, and for anyone who may not be able to bend down to put it on the ground. It’s an easy-to-carry solution to keep the dog hydrated while out of the house.



Over the shoulder treat pouch

There are many styles of treat bags. The most common ones tend to attach to pant waistlines or belts, and these don’t work for everyone. Wheelchair users find they fall off or are not easily accessible, and they can get in the way for those who use ostomy bags. Some people struggle with sensory and nerve issues with tight fitting clothes and belts, and some treat bags don’t stay in place properly without a belt. The over-the-shoulder option is a great alternative for all the struggles mentioned!



Pooper scoopers/Extendable poop collection loops

Photo shows a poop collector. It is a loops that holds a doggy poo bag at the end of a stick that can be held to a dog's rear end while it potties.Bending over to pick up poop isn’t always an option for people. That doesn’t mean that they don’t pick up after their dog, however – it means they find a different way to! The claw-style poop scoopers are an easy backyard solution, but are bulky and awkward to carry around. There are simpler, telescoping poop collection tools that can catch it at the source, before it even hits the ground. The loop is covered by a bag so the mess is contained, and it can be easily tucked away and stored or carried.



Flirt poles, ball launchers

Photo depicts a german shepherd dog in a "sit pretty" position, with various flirt pole attachments laid out to show options.It’s not unusual to skip a day (or more) of walks, and dogs can get bored. Giving them different options for activities can help keep dogs active with minimum energy-spending from their handler. Flirt poles, ball launchers and similar toy options help a handler expend minimal energy while maximizing energy used by their dog.



Puzzle toys (snuffle and lick mats, etc)

It’s true – handlers can barely get out of bed some days. What’s a dog to do?? Lick mats, stuffed kongs, snuffle rugs and puzzle toys are a dog’s best friend on days like this. Not only do they get enrichment, but they get fed at the same time. Handlers will often prepare these in advance. Having an “off” day can’t always be preplanned, but these toys help be prepared for those days when they do happen!



Cooling vests/bandanas/boots

Many accessories are available that can help ensure a dog is well cared for. When a service dog is out with its handler it becomes more difficult to control the environment they are in, such as being outside on a hot day. Keeping a dog comfortable and safe is important for both short and long term health. Handlers will use cooling vests, bandanas and collars on hot days, or booties to keep feet from burning on sidewalks. During the winter there similar items to use. Booties are important to use not only for protection from extreme cold, but also for protection from salt and ice melt solutions that can cause chemical burns on their feet.



Pet swimming pool

Backyard swimming pools are not only great for cooling a dog down on a hot day, but gives a rich enrichment opportunity for both play and training. Many dogs will easily tire themselves out when given a pool to wade in!



Raised feeder

Photo shows a pair of stainless steel dog dishes on a raised platform, with various heights shown below it.Food dishes on the floor can be a struggle for many. Having raised food dishes can help a handler reach them more easily while minimizing averse reactions or pain.



Gloves

For those with disorders such as sensory processing disorder or raynauds, gloves are invaluable for day to day living. They allow handlers to touch surfaces and textures they might otherwise be averse to, such as leashes or dog fur. They can also keep fingers warmer to prevent the seizing and stiffness that can accompany a Raynauds or arthritic attack.



Robo-vacuum

I would be doing the service dog community an injustice if I didn’t mention the robo-vac. Having a lab comes with fur, and more than an adequate amount of it. Keeping up on the fur in the house is a daily chore that is easily taken care of by the robot vacuum that runs on a regular schedule.



Exercise Equipment

Photo shows a German shepherd on a Dog Pacer self-propelled treadmill.Winter especially can be a struggle for many handlers to manage. Going out isn’t always an option, whether due to health or lack of accessibility. So how do you keep a dog fit during the winter when you can’t go out? Gym equipment! Bosu balls and step equipment help with conditioning, and dogs can be trained to use treadmills very successfully. There are also dog-specific treadmills where the dog sets its own pace.

Specific gym equipment can be expensive, however, and isn’t always needed. Obstacle courses can be set up using common household items. A balance board can be made using a cutting board and rolling pin, for example, or stairs can be used for step exercises. The only thing that limits a team in indoor activities is their imagination.




If they can afford it, service dog handlers also have paid services available that can take over a dog’s care when they are not able to do it themselves. Dog walkers, trainers and mobile groomers are a few service offerings that handlers can call to get help with their dog’s needs.


Train the Dog

There are many ways that the service dog itself can help with its own care!! Watch Tzila as she helps clean up after herself. You’ll see her get the towels used to cover the bed and floor to keep messes minimal (towels are easier to wash than the floor or the bed), she brings me her Kongs when she’s done with them, as well as her own food bowls.

@steadfastdogs

Dogs can be work to take care of. But they can also help with that! Service dogs are supposed to make their handler’s lives easier, not harder, and @Tzila Pants demonstrates how she helps her handler by taking care of her own mess every day. #servicedog #dogtraining #selfsufficient #gooddogs

♬ Work (60 seconds) – TimTaj




It’s not cheap! Some of the above tools can be compromised with DIY solutions, which can help ease the financial burden of pet and/or service dog ownership. Having a dog can be complicated, but the right tools can help any owner have an easier time with their care.

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

Krystal has been historically known to love doing everything the hard way. “Love” is a bit of a misnomer, here, since she complains bitterly about the thing while doing it, knowing that there’s an easier solution to make the thing easier. Once she tries the easy way, however, she realizes that she can get SO much more done when she learns to work smarter, not harder. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks, and she’s living proof!