Guide Dog COVID-19 Tips

By Rosemary Martin, PAGDUS President

During this time of uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, both humans and their guide dogs are adjusting to the “new normal.” Pennsylvania Guide Dog Users and Supporters (PAGDUS) have continued to meet virtually to share ideas regarding keeping ourselves and our guides engaged and enriched. Our next bimonthly meeting is on Wednesday, June 10, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. ET. After we conduct business, we will discuss our favorite dog movies and books, not just working dogs but any dogs of all ages and breeds. All are welcome, not just PAGDUS members. We will also continue our conversation from our April meeting regarding life during the pandemic, and how we can be of support to one another. Dial 605-313-4802, participant Pass code: 985255#. Stay tuned for details on our August 12 meeting.
With so much information going around, we wanted to compile notes from some guide dog schools across the United States regarding the Coronavirus. All these notes are public knowledge shared by graduates of the schools via email, social media, and on websites. These are not meant to be universal instructions, as each of us has our own circumstances and we know our dogs best. If you have particular concerns, contact your school directly since they know your dogs, too.

COVID-19 in dogs
In early April, Dr. Holle, VMD, Director of Canine Medicine and Surgery at The Seeing Eye, sent an email to Seeing Eye graduates addressing a concern about guides carrying or contracting COVID-19. Dr. Holle reached out to a colleague, who is an infectious disease expert, and he explained that our dogs are at low risk but practicing social distancing is important. “The key thing to remember is that if a dog is contaminated, it got it from a person that it was in close contact with, so most likely that would be you, or someone in your family. If people with guide dogs just do their best to keep people from touching their dogs, that’s all I’d do. The risk of random aerosol deposition on the dog during walking is basically zero.” Our dogs are at much less risk of carrying the virus than roaming neighborhood dogs since they are always with us.

If you or someone you are living with tests positive for COVID-19, your dog and other pets should be kept separate as there are still many unknown factors with the virus. Practicing smart social distancing, washing your hands, and wiping down your dog after a walk are all steps you can take to ensure your health and safety.

Walks and Enriching Activities
Though many of us are staying home and practicing social distancing, a regional Guide Dog Mobility Instructor from Guiding Eyes suggests walks if you are healthy and able. “You can still go outside for a nice walk! Sunshine and fresh air seem to be our best medicine right now. Get out there and explore some new areas if you are able. Check out a new park or venture into a nearby neighborhood if you feel safe. Your dog will find all the new sights, sounds and smells very enriching! This may also give you the opportunity to work on distractions and focus. If learning a new route, remember you can always use your cane first to gain confidence and then teach it to your dog.”

If you are unable to walk with your dog, there are other activities to do around the house to keep your guide dog sharp. Some handlers have set up obstacle courses to work through with their guide dogs, both inside and outside their house. Obedience sessions at various times and locations around your house can also exercise the dog’s brain. You can introduce toys or food refusal to your obedience sessions or practice touch from long distances if this is a command you utilize. Take advantage of the time at home to use the clicker to teach them tricks or to reinforce good behaviors. Guiding Eyes also mentioned blowing bubbles for your dog as a fun indoor activity that can keep your dog stimulated. Regular grooming and massage can be a great stress reliever for both you and your dog.

In their weekly notes, the Guide Dog Foundation (GDF) points out that “Incorporating play into your daily routine is a great thing to do for your dog’s mental and physical health. Playtime releases pent-up energy, improves your bond, and provides interaction on the days where you are unable to work your dog.” GDF reminds us that playtime should always be initiated by the handler, thereby preventing the dog from developing undesirable behaviors like playing keep-away, fixating on bouncing balls and objects, barking, etc. Each dog plays differently, and you will learn about your dog’s preferences. You can incorporate obedience into play with games such as hide and seek with your dog resting while you hide then call them. Find the toy is a similar concept. Stuffing a Kong or purchasing puzzle toys is another way to keep your dog mentally stimulated while filling their bellies, too. Lastly, GDF reminds us that “A dog’s strong urge to play may override his or her need for rest. Do not ignore signs that your dog is tired or overheated as this could result in a medical emergency. Apply extra caution in the heat.”

Calories count for us, and for our dogs as well. Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) remind us that “sheltering in place has resulted in a reduction in both guide work and exercise. To keep your dog at a healthy weight during this period of reduced activity, you may need to adjust his or her food ration accordingly.” GDB does not recommend feeding fewer than 2 cups of food daily. Substituting healthy treats such as apples, carrots, green beans, and blueberries given in small portions and eliminating high calorie treats can keep your dog’s weight down during this time of lower activity. If you need to conduct a food switch as a result of a dog food shortage of your desired brand or formula, GDB recommends that you purchase the new food in advance of the switch, and gradually introduce the food over a 9 day period to allow for your dog to properly transition.

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