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Assistance Animals: It’s NOT All Work and No Play!

Every dog wants to have fun, at least some of the time, and that goes for assistance animals such as service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs. While some assistance dogs need to be on the ready 24/7 to aid their handlers when a need arises, that doesn’t mean they never get a break.

Handlers of working assistance animals love their dogs and are grateful for the support they provide. They see their dogs as friends and trusted family members, and they want to enrich their lives as much as possible. They want their canine partners to have happy, enjoyable lives, and this means meeting all of their dogs’ needs including providing plenty of opportunities for free time and play.

Modern Training Methods

Image: Original art by Tasha Attwood

Playtime for assistance animals might even occur during training practices. Modern force-free, fear-free training methods use play as a way to increase their dogs’ engagement and willingness to learn new, helpful skills. Playing with their handlers can be a very strong motivating reward for dogs during fun training practices. Gone are the days when training meant a dog must “obey, or else.” Fun, playful, upbeat lessons that never hurt or scare, help dogs want to willingly cooperate with their handlers.

Rather than undermining the working relationship, playing with their human partners provides the off duty working dog with opportunities to experience their handlers in their best moments. This can strengthen the relationship and trust between them and improves quality of life for both.

Teamwork and Plenty of Play

Handlers of assistance animals may play with their dogs the same way people play with pet dogs, but they are always aware of situations that could undermine their dogs’ training. For this reason, they do not allow their assistance animals to play with unfamiliar dogs or people.

When you see a working dog out in public with their handler, rest assured in addition to that devoted, dedicated teamwork, they enjoy a rich emotional private life together that includes plenty of play!

About the Pet Professional Guild Assistance Animal Division: Our volunteer committee includes a broad representation of pet professionals with a variety of skills and interests specific to assistance animals. We look forward to welcoming you into an inclusive group that prioritizes humane treatment and welfare of both people and assistance animals!

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