What are service dogs and how can they help people with anxiety, autism, ADHD, and other disabilities? Find out below everything you need to know about service dogs and how you can train them.
What is a service dog?
A service dog is a dog specifically trained to help persons with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs perform specialized tasks for individuals with physical, sensory, psychological, intellectual, or mental disabilities. For example, a service dog can be trained to help remind a person with depression to take their medication or alert a person with diabetes when their blood sugar levels are high or low. Service dogs can also be trained to detect early signs of seizure in an epileptic person, warn their owners, and help them remain safe during the seizure.
Since service dogs act as personal health guides more than as friendly companions, ADA states that service dogs have full access rights. This means that people with disabilities who have service dogs are allowed to bring their dogs to public places like restaurants, boutiques, libraries, and public transportation.
Difference between service and therapy dogs
Therapy or emotional support dogs are different from service dogs. The difference lies in the level of training given to each animal. Technically speaking, therapy dogs only provide comfort and emotional support to a person, whereas service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks. Under ADA, therapy dogs are not qualified as service dogs and do not have the same full access rights. However, some states and municipalities in the US have laws allowing therapy dogs to enter public spaces. Check with your state or local government to find out more about these regulations.
Service dog breeds
The type of dog breed for a service dog differs according to the task at hand. For example, small dogs like Pomeranians are not physically equipped enough to assist a person with physical disabilities. At the same time, the size of the dog is also highly considered since service dogs are always needed by their owners in public spaces. The dogs have to be comfortable and can move freely without difficulty.
Allergy detection dogs
It has been established that dogs have a greater sense of smell than humans, and this is why they make great allergy detection service dogs. These types of service dogs are trained to detect the odor of allergens so they can alert their owners of the potential health risk. Most people have very sensitive food allergies to a point that some go into anaphylactic shock once exposed. This is particularly true for most young kids with severe allergies, hence why allergy detection service dogs are commonly paired with young children.
Autism Service Dogs
Similar to allergy detection dogs, autism service dogs are also commonly paired with children with autism. An autism service dog’s role is to provide comfort during social gatherings in case people on the autism spectrum have a hard time connecting or reading social cues. The dogs are also trained to keep children with autism from running off— the dogs can easily track them if that ever happens.
ADHD Service Dogs
Since individuals diagnosed with ADHD or ADD have difficulty staying organized and focused, adopting a service dog can help alleviate those troubles. Caring for a dog requires tedious tasks and schedules that must be followed to ensure your pet’s happiness and health. Once people with ADHD start to adapt these said routines, it will help with their concentration.
The service dogs can also help with the hyperactivity by simply playing with them until one tires out.
Diabetic Alert Dogs
Diabetic alert dogs are trained to alert their owners whenever their sugar levels are too high or low. According to Diabetic Alert Dogs of America, diabetic service dogs can detect hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia even before it starts to become dangerous. The dogs are able to do this because they are trained using their owner’s sweat. Somehow they can smell the danger in their owner’s scent.
Guide dogs are the most common type of service dog. These dogs give blind or lower-vision individuals help by acting like their owner’s eyes. What’s interesting about them though is that guide dogs are trained with ‘selective disobedience’. It means that they can disobey their owner’s request based on their own judgment (like choosing not to cross the street if they see cars coming).
As the name suggests, hearing dogs assist people who are deaf or have a hard time hearing. Dogs are trained to act on specific noise cues like fire alarms, knocking on doors, and doorbells.
Mobility assistance dogs
Mobility assistance dogs help with pushing wheelchairs, opening doors, pressing door or elevator buttons, and turning on appliances.
As mentioned above, therapy dogs are for giving comfort and emotional support to people with psychological or mental disabilities. They are also used with children to help them gain confidence, especially if the kids are having a hard time connecting with other kids.
Service dogs for anxiety
Additionally, service dogs can help people with debilitating anxieties by providing them with a sense of calm and also by alerting them to take medications when needed.
Where can you find service dogs
Service dogs are professionally trained by organizations or individuals who specialize in service dog training. You can find a service dog by enrolling your furry companion in classes. According to American Kennel Club, the average cost of training a service dog is around $25,000. However, professional dog trainers require exceptional standards for their trainees, which is why the drop-out rates for service dog candidates can be around 50 to 70 percent. That’s a high failing average!
Best Service Dogs
The best service dogs are active, calm, intelligent, friendly, and lovable.
Here are some dog breeds that make the best service dogs:
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Border Collies
- Great Danes
- Saint Bernards
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
How to train your own service dog
Service dogs are great especially if you are a person with a disability, however, the bad news is that training your dog professionally can be very expensive. The good news though is that ADA does not require service dogs to be professionally trained. This means that you can train your doggy companion on how to be the best service dog that works for you and your situation.
To train your dog, start with basic house training, then let your dog socialize so it can remain calm and focused even when they’re surrounded by unfamiliar people and places. You have to instill diligence in them and make sure they have razor-sharp focus and concentration when fulfilling their tasks.
To know more, AKC Canine Good Citizen can provide a more in-depth guide.
Dogs are not only for companionship, but they can also be a tool to help people with disabilities have an easier time. With proper and meticulous training, your furry pal can be of great help when it comes to difficult situations like needing mobility assistance, mental support, comfort, and medical help. Successful service dogs are known to be calm, patient, friendly, lovable, intelligent, and active.