What Do Service Dogs Do?

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Service Dog

Service dogs accompany their owners into public places much alike to medical devices assisting their disabled handlers. Service dogs are most commonly known for their guide work for the blind but can also help with various other disabilities!

What is a Service Dog?

The U.S. federal law recognizes a service dog as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” To be considered a task-trained service dog, a dog must have the training to take a specific action when needed for their disabled handler. A depressed person may use a dog to retrieve medication, or someone with epilepsy could train their dog to support their head during a seizure, creating a barrier between the handler’s head and the floor. Owning a service dog gives the handler greater enjoyment in life and the ability to be more independent.

What Can Service Dogs Help With?

Because there’s such a wide range of disabilities, there’s a wide range of service dog jobs. The type of job a dog is trained for will depend entirely on what the disabled handler struggles with, and one dog can even be trained to mitigate several different disabilities.

The most common issues service dogs are trained to mitigate are:

Diabetic Alert

Dogs trained to scent and alert their handlers to high or low blood sugar are diabetic alert dogs. These dogs complete frequent checks by smelling their handlers’ breath or overall body odor to detect changes in blood sugar. Often times they can alert before blood sugar levels become problematic.

Seizure Alert/Response

It remains a mystery precisely how dogs can sense a seizure before it’s occurred, but several service dogs have been successfully trained to alert their owners before a seizure. Some dogs who cannot detect a seizure beforehand will be trained in seizure response, allowing the dog to create a barrier between the owner and the floor breaking their fall, retrieving a phone, or getting help when necessary.

Cardiac Alert/Response

Some service dogs are trained to alert their handler of any cardiac increase or decrease, retrieve necessary medications or provide steady support while the handler braces during a cardiac episode keeping them from falling.

Mobility Assistance

The tasks associated with mobility often revolve around retrieving difficult-to-reach or dropped items, pushing handicapped buttons to open doors, or pulling a wheelchair.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

Seeing-eye dogs are trained to lead their blind handler around objects they can not see while also helping them identify different land markers such as stairs and curbs before walking over them.

Allergy Detection

Dogs trained to alert to an allergen will perform scent checks of any edible item and indicate whether the item is safe or contaminated. The specific allergen a dog is trained to alert to will correlate with the handler’s needs and can be anything; dairy, gluten, peanuts, etc.

Hearing Dogs

Trained to alert doorbells, fire alarms, alarm clocks, and just about anything a deaf person wouldn’t be able to hear. They can also be trained to guide their handler directly to the sound they are alerting to.

Psychiatric

Dogs that task for psychiatric disabilities such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are often confused with emotional support animals. Psychiatric service dogs are trained service animals that can be trained to turn on lights, lead their handler to an exit in times of panic, target pressure points to reduce heart rate and lower blood flow, retrieve medication, etc.

Can Any Breed Be a Service Dog?

Yes, any dog breed is eligible to become a service dog, excluding wolf-dog hybrid species. While there are breeds known for excelling in service work, such as the Labrador, Golden Retriever, and Poodle, someone can train their service dog and select any breed they’d like. For this reason, you may see a wide variety of service dog breeds in public, ranging from the largest Great Dane to the smallest Chihuahua.

There are cases where disabled individuals will opt for a non-conventional service dog breed. This often happens when the dog is needed for a very specific task that requires unique attributes of one breed or another. For example, someone in need of a diabetic alert dog who lives a sedentary lifestyle may search for a dog capable of alerting to high or low blood sugar and has extremely low exercise requirements. For this specific case, they may search for Maltipoo puppies for sale with the plan of wearing the dog in a sling once fully trained. This small dog could then alert to scents closer to the handler’s face and still fulfill the requirement of being a low activity dog who doesn’t need excessive space or exercise.

As you can see, service dogs do many things for many different types of people and disabilities. Their jobs can range drastically from one handler to another. So the next time you see a service dog in public, don’t assume the handler is blind or faking their disability. Some disabilities are invisible to the naked eye. At the end of the day, service dogs do more than their fair share of work!