All About Service Dogs
Service dogs don’t just provide a service. They also help guide, lead, listen and love! Additionally, they provide freedom, independence, peace of mind and friendship for their owners. These loyal canines live to serve their handler by offering physical support and balance to them, retrieving dropped items, navigating crowds, alerting hard of hearing or deaf handlers to important or dangerous events, and more. Service and assistance dogs serve people with a variety of disabilities, including physical, mental and developmental disabilities. While it’s common knowledge that service dogs provide assistance and companionship, here are some interesting facts you may not know about these doggie heroes.
Service Dogs Can Be Any Breed, Color or Size
When people think of service dogs, the breeds that typically come to mind are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. However, there is nothing that says that other dogs can’t do the job too! As long as they have the right temperament, the physical ability to perform needed tasks, and good health, every dog can be a great service dog. For example, while a 30 pound dog might work well as a hearing assistance dog, they can’t physically do brace or support work. A good service dog is people-oriented, confident but not protective, not overly active, and not extremely dominant or extremely submissive.
Service Dogs Provide a Variety of ServicesWhile almost everyone knows what a seeing eye guide dog is, has heard of hearing dogs, or can tell that a dog wearing a harness who accompanies someone in a wheelchair is a service dog, they might not know what type of services the dog is performing. There are numerous varieties of service dogs, such as:
- Allergy Alert Dogs
- Seizure Alert Dogs
- Medical Alert Dogs
- Autism Assistance Dogs
- Psychiatric Service Dogs
- Diabetic Alert Dogs
- Visual Assistance Dogs
Service Dogs Perform Specialized TasksService dogs of all types have undergone specialized training to mitigate their handler’s disability. A service dog may have anywhere from three to ten different tasks or more! Some of the tasks they perform are:
- Turning lights on and off
- Opening and closing doors
- Retrieving dropped items
- Pulling a wheelchair up a slope
- Licking their owner to help stop seizures
- Waking someone suffering from PTSD from nightmares
- Bracing an unbalanced or unsteady handler
Service Dog TrainingIn order to be an efficient and helpful companion, service dogs go through extensive training. The training typically begins at birth and the first phase lasts until they are at least two years old. An experienced trainer works with them to socialize them and teach house training and potty training. It is important to teach dogs when and where it is appropriate to relieve themselves, such as an indoor potty. For handlers who aren’t mobile and need to have an indoor solution, Bark Potty is a great solution. After the first phase of training, service dogs go to an organization, like Guide Dogs for the Blind, that provides the second phase of training to graduate them as full-fledged service dogs. According to the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP), a service dog must have proper social behavior skills and impeccable manners that include:
- No snapping, biting, growling, snarling, barking, lunging or nipping at people or other animals.
- No begging for food or petting from individuals other than their person while on duty. Ignoring dropped food while working.
- Able to tolerate strange sights, sounds and odors in public settings.
- Working calmly on a leash.
- No urinating or defecating in public unless given a specific signal or command.
Proper Behavior Around Service DogsService dogs are naturally well-behaved in public situations, due to their extensive training, so when you meet one, you need to be on your best behavior, too. You don't want to interfere with their work or distract them while they're on the job. Here’s what to do and not do when you see a working canine assistant:
- Address the handler, not the service dog.
- Do not pet the service dog without asking for permission.
- Keep your dog away from all working dogs.
- Never offer food to a service dog.
- Don’t assume a napping dog is “off-duty”.
- Inform their handler if a working dog approaches you.
- Treat the handler with sensitivity and respect.
- Do not ask the handler questions about their disability or their dog’s service tasks.