All About Service Dogs

Man’s best friend. If you own a dog, you know that this is much more than a cliché; it’s a fact that your pooch proves again and again. But sometimes, the relationship between man and dog extends beyond friendship. Service dogs empower people with physical, emotional, and mental disabilities live fuller, more independent, and happier lives. These are truly incredible canines.

While many people associate service dogs with guide dogs, the fact is that there are a lot of jobs for these hard-working animals:

Guide Dogs. These are, as mentioned, the most commonly known service dogs. They are trained to help visually impaired and blind people navigate obstacles and achieve a level of independence that may be otherwise impossible.

Hearing Dogs. Like guide dogs, hearing dogs are trained to help their humans overcome challenges associated with hearing impairment. They can alert their partners to smoke/fire alarms, crying babies, doorbells, alarm clocks, and other sounds by making physical contact and leading them to the source.

Seizure Dogs. Seizures can be life-threatening. These specially-trained dogs provide immediate assistance. Their responsibilities can include breaking the fall of someone suffering a seizure, lying next to them to prevent injury, alerting family members or others to get help, or even activate a pre-programmed alarm device.

Medical Service Dogs.  People with medical conditions, such as diabetes or even allergies, can count on their service dogs to keep them safe. For instance, when insulin levels drop, people secrete an undetectable scent. Undetectable to other people, not to their service dogs who can pick it up and alert their partners. Other dogs are trained to detect allergens (such as peanuts) which can be dangerous or deadly to their humans.

Autism Assistance Dogs. While they can help with physical tasks, these service dogs are trained to help people with autism cope with emotionally-charged and anxiety-producing situations. They can help ease sensory overload and provide critical companionship for those with autism.

Mobility Assistance Dogs. Mobility assistance dogs help ensure that wheelchairs or other physical impairments don’t slow their partners down. They can retrieve dropped items, open doors, provide stability and support for walking, push elevator buttons, carry items in a backpack, open drawers and cabinets, turn on/off lights, and much more.

Mental/Emotional Health Service Dogs. These special dogs work to support their partners with mental or emotional challenges, including PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, dissociative identity disorder, and more. They help their partners cope with stressful situations in the home or out in public, manage symptoms, and deal with emotional overload. They keep their partners present, helping to fight flashbacks and/or orient themselves during panic attacks. Additionally, they remind their humans to take their medication, which can make a big difference in health and quality of life.

What Makes a Great Service Dog?

You may see lots of Golden retrievers and Labs doing their duty as service dogs. But other breeds are also true pros, including Samoyeds, German Shepherds, setter mixes, and Wolfhounds. While the breeds may vary, service dogs do share some special qualities:

  • They are neither dominate nor submissive.
  • They are confident and self-assured.
  • They are people-oriented.
  • They are not protective.
  • They are calm and not overly active.
  • They are accepting of strangers.
  • They are intelligent, trainable problem-solvers.

Service dogs need to undergo rigorous screenings for emotional and physical health, as well as intense training. Few make the cut, but those that do change lives for the better.