Dogs aren’t only qualified to be adorable snugglers, they can also be put to work! There are a variety of service dogs, each given highly specific training to perform the duties needed to support their owners. We’ve also included emotional support dogs and therapy dogs in this roundup, although they are classified differently than service dogs.
What Is A Service Dog?
For many, dogs serve as our best friends. For others, dogs have a much larger responsibility. Service/assistance dogs are integral to helping their humans live their lives. Whether they act as their eyes, ears, or health alerts, these dogs are highly trained, real life heroes. People should not interact with service dogs while they are on-duty and wearing their vests, as this can distract them from their important work.
Different Types Of Service Dogs
Similar to service dogs, therapy dogs also receive special training. However, they are slightly different because therapy dogs are trained to help others, not their owners. Therapy dogs are selected due to their calm temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. They will commonly visit hospitals, schools, hospices, or nursing homes. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with a variety of people while they are on-duty, and petting and belly rubs are encouraged! Therapy dogs do not have the same legal rights as service dogs, and are not always allowed to accompany their handlers everywhere.
Emotional Support Dog
Emotional support animals (ESAs) refer to pets that provide emotional support and comfort to their owners on a daily basis. Dogs are very commonly used as ESAs. In order to qualify, ESAs must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional like a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. These animals are granted special housing and travel rights, but are not allowed in public places like malls or restaurants like service dogs are.
The most common type of assistance animals are guide dogs. They help their low-vision and blind owners move around. The majority of guide dogs are Labradors and Golden Retrievers. Labradoodles can also be used if the owner requires a hypoallergenic dog. You can spot a guide dog from the special harness they wear that has a handle for their owner to hold.
Hearing dogs assist those who are deaf or hard of hearing. They alert their owners of noises like smoke alarms or door bells. When they hear these types of sounds, they will paw their owners to get their attention, and then will lead them toward the source of the sound.
Mobility Assistance Dog
Since these dogs are able to open doors and retrieve items, they are very helpful for owners with mobility restrictions. These pups can even help their owner pay at a cash register by putting their paws up on the counter and giving their owner’s wallet to the cashier.
Diabetic Alert Dog
Due to their incredible sense of smell, a highly trained dog can sense when their owner is experiencing a supergylcemic episode (their blood sugar is too high or too low). These diabetic alert dogs will warn their owner to take action before medical attention is required.
Seizure Response Dog
These extraordinary dogs are trained to assist a person during and immediately after they have had an epileptic seizure. Seizure response dogs can find someone to help their owner, and can also stimulate their owner to help them "wake up" from a seizure. If their human has an episode in an unsafe place, like the middle of the street, these pups will physically move them to a safer area.
Psychiatric Service Dog
While having a mental illness is classified as an impairment rather than a disability, being unable to function due to a mental illness is a disability. That’s where psychiatric service dogs come in. They are trained to help humans suffering from severe depression, OCD, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental illnesses. Their training allows them to sense when their owner is bordering on a panic attack or has a flashback coming on. Then, these dogs assist by alleviating the cause, such as reminding their owner to take their medication, serving as a crowd buffer, or providing tactile stimulation.
How To Get Your Dog Certified As A Service Dog
Dogs of all breeds, ages, or sizes can become service dogs. However, certain requirements must be met to qualify and are listed below.
- A person is eligible for a service dog if they have a physical, emotional or mental disability.
- A service dog must be well mannered at all times.
- A service dog must be trained to perform specific tasks that aid in a disability.
- If it is not obvious what service the dog provides, the handler must be willing to answer two questions about their service dog. It can make things easier if service dogs are clearly identified with accessories.
Additionally, dogs should be in good health and have a good temperament in order to successfully become service dogs.
The U.S. does not have a minimum hourly training requirement, but experts recommend completing 120 hours over six months. Some sources recommend that 30+ of those training hours be spent in public to help train the dog to resist distractions and to help them keep calm if surprises come their way.
A public access test must also be passed before a dog can be certified. Elements of these tests often include:
- No aggressive behavior towards people and other animals.
- Stop sniffing behaviors unless released to do so.
- No solicitations for food or love while on duty.
- No over-excitement and hyperactivity in public.
- Able to tolerate novel sights and sounds in various public settings.
- No bad behavior or excessive barking.
- No relieving themselves in public without being given a specific command.
When entering public establishments with your service dog, it’s important that you share your dog’s status to avoid being denied reasonable accommodations. In the U.S., service dog certifications and service dog IDs are not a requirement. Staff at a public establishment cannot require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service dog, as a condition for entry.
Whether you require a service dog or not, there are immeasurable health benefits to owning a dog. Dogs help us in so many ways, and your good boy or good girl deserves a tasty treat for all the positivity they bring into your life.