The idea of using dogs to help people with disabilities began with seeing-eye dogs and blossomed into an entire industry. Service dogs are not only pressed into service as people's eyes and ears but also as early-warning signals for heart and seizure patients. To be welcome in public, service dogs must be well-groomed.
The Americans With Disabilities Act
The purpose of the ADA is to ensure disabled Americans have the same access to public places as everyone else. It does not mandate specific grooming requirements. However, service dog professional associations address hygiene as part of the industry standard.
In its "Grooming and Appearance Care" policy, Service Dog Central, a community of service dog partners, states, "The first part of good grooming care is simply keeping up with regular brushing every day." A service dog needs brushing as often as his particular coat warrants to minimize shedding -- this varies from breed to breed and from coat type to type. If not brushed regularly, dogs with heavy coats, thick undercoats or long hair may leave hair behind. Regular grooming minimizes that.
The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners is a professional association established in 1993 to be an "independent cross disability consumer organization that could represent all Assistance Dog Partners." They encourage service dog partners to adhere to certain hygiene standards. According to the IAADP, a service dog must be well-groomed and odor free. Service dogs need bathing as often as necessary to maintain a clean coat.
Birgit Edler, a South Florida groomer who cares for service dogs, says, "The shampoos we use in our shop have a light fragrance. Heavily perfumed products generate allergies in some people. We take special care to clean the ears because if a smelly infection is brewing, we catch it early." Brushing the dog's teeth to remove doggy breath odors is also part of the grooming routine. Edler explains that groomers use a technique called a sanitary cut to shave around the dog's anus to remove excess fur around the rectum and under the tail so the fur is not soiled upon defecation. Not all dogs need this, but dogs with long fur such as golden retrievers usually do. This further eliminates doggy odor.
The IAADP states that service dogs must be free of external parasites. A monthly flea and tick preventative is warranted even if you've never seen fleas and ticks in your home. When the dog is out and about, working in public, using strange patches of grass for elimination, he could easily pick up a few bugs that can multiply so fast you'll be hard pressed to eradicate them. Prevention is essential.
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