If it weren’t for service dogs, many people with disabilities would have great challenges in completing everyday tasks. Dogs have been associated with humans for thousands of years. The service dog industry begins as far back as the late 1800s with police dogs. Eventually, dogs for the blind were being trained, and today there are a variety of dogs for services available.
Types of Service Dogs
There are almost as many types of services dogs as there are breeds. Their work ranges from assisting the elderly to going to war.
Assistance Dogs International defines a guide dog as a dog that assists someone visually impaired in avoiding obstacles, stopping at curbs and steps, and negotiating traffic. The blind partner gives directional commands, and it is the dog’s duty to lead their team safely from point A to point B, even if the dog has to disobey an unsafe command.
Hearing dogs are for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Dogs for The Deaf states that these types of service dogs are valuable inside and outside the home. The dogs are trained to touch their owner and lead them to the sounds like alarm clocks, oven timers, and smoke alarms. This creates a safe environment and more freedom for the hearing impaired.
In public, taking the hearing dog out with them, the owners become more aware of their surroundings by seeing how their dog is reacting to sounds around them.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
There are also dogs that assist those with limited or no mobility. Little Angels Service Dogs are trained to enable their owner to be more mobile, whether they are in a wheelchair, using a cane, or crutches. Mobility assistance dogs are trained for a variety of tasks, like retrieving, finding a phone, pulling a wheelchair, getting help, and utilizing lights. They can even carry items and act as a balance for the owner.
To learn more, visit Custom Canines: Mobility assistance dogs.
Autism Service Dogs
Dogs assisting a person with autism is a relatively new development. Operation Autism states that dogs trained to assist someone with autism are physically attached to their owners by tethers or ropes.
There are two main objectives with the use of autism service dogs. The first is to keep the owner safe, as this is the main job of all service dogs. The dog can keep a person from bolting across a street, slow down a child trying to get away, or stand in doorways. They are also trained to listen to parents’ commands should the dog be in the service of a child.
Second, the dogs can have a calming effect for the owner with autism. Touching a pet is shown to decrease stress levels. The dog can also be used as an opportunity for a child to practice language and socialization skills. Also, dogs are believed to be a good transitional object to bond with. After the child bonds with the dog, it may lead to bonding with other people not within the immediate family.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Psychiatric service dogs are trained to assist those with various psychological and psychiatrical disorders. The dogs are a comfort to those with psychological disorders, but they can also act as an early alert system. By alerting the owner to a potential episode, the owner can begin positive coping strategies. Wilderwood Service Dogs lists the variety of disorders and how dogs handle them in a comprehensive list. Disorders like anxiety, apathy, and self-mutilation are alerted or alleviated by tactile stimulation, deep pressure touch, routine prompts, and grounding.
To learn more, visit Psych Dog Partners: Work and task list.
ADD/ADHD Service Dogs
Dogs that assist with those affected by ADHD are shown to alleviate many of the symptoms of the disease. Usually, children will have service dogs for ADHD. The US National Library of Medicine conducted a study of therapy dogs used with children suffering from ADHD. The dogs work to comfort their owners when symptoms arise and can also be a perfect bonding tool that can later promote bonding with other individuals. The study shows that therapy dogs can also assist those affected with ADHD in being more accepting of other behavioral therapies in a comforting environment.
PTSD Service Dogs
Most PTSD service dogs are used for returning military veterans, but they are also used for those suffering from other forms of PTSD. Service Dogs of America states these service dogs are trained to do multiple tasks, such as alleviate anxiety, provide psycho-emotional grounding, assist someone with night terrors and nightmares, distract a person from a triggering event, and bring medication to the owner. PTSD service dogs are a great tool for those affected with this disorder.
For more information, visit the US Department of Veterans Affairs: Dogs and PTSD.
Service Dogs for Cancer Patients
Service dogs for cancer patients have a multitude of tasks and assistance they can provide. The National Foundation for Cancer Research has a list of several ways a patient can benefit from having a service or therapy dog. Having cancer can cause depression and feelings of isolation, but those who work with a service or therapy dog have improved emotional and social well-being. Service dogs can relieve stress, which can happen from intensive cancer treatments. Petting a dog can release endorphins that improve moods. They can also provide comfort, companionship, assist those with mobility issues, and give those recovering a simple and effective way to exercise by going for walks.
Diabetic Alert Dogs
Diabetic alert dogs can detect sugar levels within the blood, alerting their owner to dangerously high or low levels. Diabetic alert dogs provide safety, stability, and support to those trying to control their sugar levels. Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers train diabetic service dogs to detect sugar levels, retrieve a third party for support, retrieve food for their owner, and dial 911 on a special device.
Seizure Alert Dogs
K94Life states that a service dog can be trained to alert an owner to a probable epileptic episode. These service dogs are also used to give those suffering epilepsy a great sense of freedom. Dogs are trained to alert their owner up to one hour before a seizure so they can take the needed precautions, like lying down or leaving crowd areas. Other tasks the dog will perform are staying with the owner in the event of a seizure, protecting them from falls, alerting a caretaker, or retrieving a phone.
Seizure Response Dogs
While seizure alert dogs warned their owner of an imminent seizure, seizure response dogs work during and after a seizure. Service Dog Central lists tasks the dog may perform. These include, but are not limited to, opening airways, cleaning vomit from the mouth, getting help, and helping the person to rise up. Most seizure alert dogs are also trained in seizure response. Usually, seizure response dogs begin to alert the owner of seizures within six months of placement.
FASD Service Dogs
FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It is a life-long birth defect caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Dogs trained to assist those suffering from FASD are similarly trained like those in autism assistance. Dogs are trained to distract owners from sensory overloads, keep a child from bolting in public, recognize the specific scent of the adult or child, increase social interaction, and provide stability and the ability to empathize with other people.
To learn more, visit 4 Paws For Ability: FASD assistance dog.
Allergy Detection Dogs
With growing allergens to nuts, dairy, and other foods, service dogs have been trained to alert an owner to potential allergens in food. My Assistance Dog INC says with this amazing sense of smell, those suffering from life-threatening allergies can feel more freedom and less anxiety when dealing with the food they eat that isn’t prepared by themselves.
Victims of Crime states that police dogs were once utilized much differently than they are today. Mostly, they were used for companionship when police were out on patrol. Nowadays, they are used to take down runaway criminals, enter a dangerous situation, and detect narcotics. K9 dog units are used in the most dangerous situations.
To learn more, visit the National Police Dog Foundation: Homepage.
Arson Dog states that a fire or arson dog is used to find minute traces of accelerant that may have been used to start a fire. The arson dog program was funded by State Farm for dealing with the high increase in criminal arson on personal properties. Dogs and their handlers go through rigorous training and are responsible for also informing the public about fire safety. Usually, labrador retrievers are the breed of choice due to their superior ability to detect scents after a fire.
For more information, visit the US Fire Administration: Training for arson dogs and handlers.
US Customs and Border Protection Dogs
Customs and Border Protection dogs are an integral part of the Department of Homeland Security. US Customs and Border Protection‘s main goal of the canine program is terrorist detection and apprehension. The secondary goal is to detect illegal substances and other contraband associated with terrorism and drug trafficking. A dog’s incredible sense of smell becomes an indispensable asset for the CBP.
For more information, visit the Transportation Security Administration: How canine programs contribute to Homeland Security.
US War Dogs states that dogs are used for their superior visual and olfactory senses and ability to go where a human cannot. They can also subdue or intimidate a foe easily, which makes them ideal as a companion during wartime. There are many types of duties a war dog may have.
Sentry dogs are trained to warn their handlers of dangerous or suspicious persons in the vicinity. They may give warnings by barking or growling. These types of war dogs are used to guard supply warehouses, airports, and war plants.
Scout and patrol dogs are trained to work in silence to assist in the detection of snipers and ambushes. These dogs can detect a silent presence up to 1,000 yards. They do not warn by barking. Instead, these dogs warn their handlers by becoming stiff, perking their ears up, and hold their tails rigid.
Other types of duties war dogs may have are as messengers and in casualties search and explosives detection.
To learn more, visit Bullets 2 Bandages: 23 facts you didn’t know about military dogs.
The Cerebral Palsy Website has a great article on types of service animals.
The Americans with Disabilities Act National Center offer a useful service animal fact sheet.
K9s For Warriors is a great resource for information. You can visit them on their official homepage.
Qualifying For and Finding a Service Dog
There are specific requirements and qualifications needed to apply for a service dog. The Service Dog Foundation has a list of requirements needed to obtain a service dog of any kind:
- The individual must 18 years or older
- Have a diagnosed physical disability, psychological disorder, debilitating chronic illness, or neurological disorder
- Live in a stable home environment
- Be physically and cognitively capable of participating in training
- Be able to independently command and handle a service dog
- Be able to meet the physical, emotional, and financial needs of a service dog
- Have no other dog in the home
For children, the requirements can be different, such as the eligibility age is 6-12 years old, they must be enrolled in an education and therapy program, have strong family support, and have a parent or guardian who is 18 years or older.
For more information, visit Paws With A Cause: Qualification information.
Traveling with a Service Dog
We all know traveling with an everyday pet can be quite challenging. However, for service dogs, there are a different set of rules. Mobility International USA states that your service dog is allowed to accompany you on any flight. The airline company must accept identification cards, tags, harnesses, and credible verbal assurance as evidence for your need of the service dog. The service dog is allowed to sit with you in any seat you are in but must not obstruct any exits or aisle ways. Even if your dog cannot sit with you, the airline is obligated to find you a seat where it’s possible to remain together.
As long as your dog does not pose a danger or health threat to other passengers, you are legally allowed to bring your service dog with you on the flight.
To learn more, visit:
- International Association of Assistance Dog Partners: Air travel with a service dog
- US Department of State: Pets and international travel
Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals
There is sufficient debate on what a service animal is versus an emotional support animal. The Independence Center clarifies the difference between the two types of dogs. A service dog must go through rigorous training to be a service dog and perform flawlessly in public. An emotional therapy dog does not go through such training, and its presence alone provides comfort.
Any breed of dog can be an emotional therapy dog, while service dogs must be specific breeds. Service dogs are also legally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, while emotional therapy dogs are not. However, you can bring emotional support dogs onto an aircraft and have a housing allowance like service dogs.
For more information, visit:
- American Psychological Association: Service dogs versus emotional therapy dogs
- Northwest ADA Center: Service animal comparison sheet
The American Kennel Club has general information available at Service, therapy, and work dogs.
The Friendship Circle also offers helpful information at Guide to service and emotional therapy dogs.
National Service Dog: Registering Your Service Dog