Once used only as guide dogs for the blind, service dogs now assist not only sight-impaired owners, but individuals with impaired hearing, mobility issues, autism, seizures, and a wide variety of other disabilities, including psychiatric disorders. These working dogs provide invaluable assistance to their owners.
Assist Dogs Come in Many Breeds
Working service dogs range in size from massive Saint Bernards to tiny Teacup Terriers. Although some types of assistance require a larger dog’s weight and strength, temperament and intelligence count more than size in many cases. Mixed-breed and pure breed dogs alike can be good candidates for service dog training.
Service Dog Training
Many organizations and business, as well as individuals, specialize in training assistance dogs. Owners, often referred to as handlers, may train a service dog for their own use, but the majority of service dogs are professionally trained, then matched to an owner.
A dog selected for assistance training is usually less than 3 years of age and is seldom already owned by the individual who will use the dog after its training period. Sometimes referred to as A-Dogs, candidates for such training must possess friendly, confident personalities; have high intelligence, a desire to perform the tasks for which it is trained, and sufficient energy to work all day, every day.
Trained to Assist Special Needs Individuals
According to Dogs For The Deaf, a dog trained to assist someone who is hearing impaired alerts it’s owner/handler to such noises as a doorbell or telephone ringing, a teakettle boiling, a microwave or kitchen timer beeping, an alarm buzzing, and many other noises that require the owners attention, or ensure their safety.
Individuals with balance or mobility issues benefit from having a dog specially trained to assist them in tasks they cannot perform alone. From helping a Parkinson’s patient stay upright by becoming a counterweight when that person starts to fall to fetching a dropped item for a severely arthritic owner, service dogs help their owners cope with disabilities.
Children suffering from autism often respond to service dogs, and social therapy dogs can provide emotional support for individuals with psychiatric disorders.
More Service Dog Tasks
In addition to the tasks mentioned above, service dogs are often trained to perform such tasks as:
- Bringing a ringing phone or headset to their owner.
- Signalling when stairs or other obstacles are in their owners’ path.
- Turning lights on or off.
- Opening or closing a door, even unlocking locked doors.
- Making a 911 call via specially adapted equipment.
- Getting human assistance and leading rescuers to a stranded or injured owner.
- Pushing or pulling a wheelchair or wagon.
- Carrying packages or parcels.
- Alerting deaf parents when their babies are crying or their children are in danger.
- Assisting owners with dressing or grooming tasks.
- Alerting others when the owner has suffered a seizure.
- Countless other specific tasks to assist owners with a variety of physical, mental, and emotional needs.
Service Dogs Are Not Pets
While the bond between a service dog and its owner may become deep, others should remember the dog is a working animal and must be treated as such. Their job is to remain focused on their owner’s needs and safety, and any distraction could endanger that person. Service dogs, however lovable, should never be fed, petted, or talked to without their owner’s permission. They are highly skilled, on-duty, working dogs.