National Service Dog Month is observed during the month of September. This month helps raise awareness and show appreciation for the amazing work that service dogs do for people each day.1 In this article, you’ll learn about service dogs, the environments they are trained to work in, and products that can be of assistance to you while you wait for your new companion. Keep reading to find out more!
General Information About Service Dogs
What Is a Service Dog?
A service dog is a working animal that has been trained to perform everyday tasks to assist people with disabilities. According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) service dogs are trained to take a specific action, to assist a person with their disability.1 Service dogs are also referred to as assistance animals or helper animals depending on their job function.
Service Dog Breeds
There are several canine breeds that can be trained as service animals. While a service dog can be small or large, they must be big enough to effectively execute the tasks needed to assist their owner. Service dog breeding programs train different types of dogs to master specific tasks. For instance, breeds such as Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Bernese Mountain Dogs are ideal for individuals that require mobility assistance due to their height and strength. On the other hand, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are typically selected to work as guide dogs because of their calm demeanor. Regardless of the breed, these animals must be handler-focused, well-behaved, desensitized to distractions, and willing to perform tasks.
Service Dog Training
Most commonly, service dogs are trained by programs that specifically breed dogs to be used by individuals with disabilities. In general, service dogs are in training for the first 1-2 years of their lives. They are taught to effectively mitigate specific disabilities and then placed with an owner. A common misconception about service dogs is that they must be professionally trained. The ADA does not require professional training for service animals. Individuals with disabilities can train their dog to assist them without the help of a program. It is important to keep in mind that service dog candidates should meet certain criteria and know certain skills. An effective service dog should be calm and alert, willing to learn, and able to reliably complete repetitive tasks.
Check out the following video to watch how puppies train to work as service dogs!
Service vs Therapy Dogs
Therapy dogs are often referred to as ESAs (Emotional Support Animals). While these dogs provide many benefits including affection, comfort, and stress relief, they are not recognized by the ADA as service animals and do not receive special access to public facilities or other areas.
Settings that Service Dogs Work In
Service dogs perform a variety of job functions in different settings. Each type of service animal has their own unique characteristics and benefits. Below are common types of assistance dogs.2
Autism Service Dogs
Autism service dogs are often paired with autistic children to help enhance their quality of life. These dogs are specially trained to help people navigate social settings. Many people on the autism spectrum have trouble reading social cues and socializing. Autism service dogs act as icebreakers and help people with autism feel more comfortable. These dogs commonly accompany their handlers to medical appointments, school, social activities, and more.
Guide dogs are one of the most recognizable types of service dog. They are paired with blind or visually impaired individuals to help them navigate independently. Generally, you will see this type of service animal wearing a special harness that is designed for their owner to hold while walking. Guide dogs are trained in selective disobedience.2 They obey commands; however, they still make choices based on their assessment of a situation, such as not stepping out onto the road if there is oncoming traffic.
Hearing dogs are trained to help individuals that are deaf or hearing-impaired. These service dogs are trained to alert their owner and lead them towards a noise when given a cue. Types of cues that hearing dogs are trained to recognize include their handler’s name, fire and smoke alarms, door knocking, baby crying, alarms, and more. Hearing dogs help increase their owner’s awareness.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
Many individuals with disabilities rely on mobility assistance dogs to help them perform everyday tasks. These dogs can help people retrieve objects, open and close doors, turn on lights, and even brace their owner if they have balance issues. Mobility assistance dogs are commonly paired with people in wheelchairs.
Can I Get a Service Dog?
There are many types of disabilities that can qualify someone for a service dog. An assistance animal can be life-changing for a person suffering from a disability. Not only do these animals provide constant companionship, but they also help their handlers gain independence and feel a sense of security both at home and in public settings. It is important to do your research to determine if you are eligible for a service dog. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) describes an “individual with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of the impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”3 While not every disability qualifies for a service animal, there are resources available that can help you determine if you should apply. Find a guide dog provider near you by talking to your physician or begin browsing these sites:
International Guide Dog Federation:
Assistance Dogs International:
Guide Dogs for the Blind:
Below is a list of physical disabilities that qualify for service animals. Please note that service dog candidates are not limited to the conditions on this list:3
Depression and Depressive Disorders
Anxiety Disorders and Phobias
Obsessive Compulsive Disorders
There are several types of disabilities that qualify individuals for a service dog. Many of these disabilities make everyday tasks such as dressing, eating, walking, and reaching much more difficult. Fortunately, Performance Health carries an unmatched assortment of products to help you feel good, perform better, and live your best while you wait for your new companion!
1. Sammons Preston Deluxe Dressing Stick
The Sammons Preston Deluxe Dressing Stick is designed to reduce bending, twisting, and reaching while dressing, and can assist anyone with restrictive movement. Use the dressing aid to pull fabric, belt loops, shoestrings, and more. The Deluxe Dressing Stick is an essential dressing aid for daily tasks, ultimately helping users regain their dressing independence.
1. Karetnick, J. (2019, October 17). Service Dogs 101: Everything You Need to Know About Service Dogs. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/38MOD8n
2. What Are the Different Types of Service Dogs? (2021, May 13). Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3zTM00x
3. What Disabilities Qualify for a Service Dog? (2021, April 20). Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2X8RypP
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