A service dog is any canine that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks which benefit an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed by service dogs often include things like pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button, among others. Service dogs are trained on an individual basis to perform tasks that assist their handlers with disabilities. Here is a look at just a few different types of service dogs.
Guide Dogs or Mobility Dogs
Guide Dogs (also called mobility dogs), are service dogs that are trained to retrieve items, push buttons, or open doors for their handlers. These service dogs might help people with disabilities with balance, transferring from one place to another, or walking, among other tasks. A guide dog is a "mobility aid" that can enable people who are blind or have low vision to travel safely. Guide dogs can guide people around obstacles and through crowds, stop at curbs and stairs, and sometimes even be trained to find a limited number of objects that are within sight when given orders such as "Find the chair," "Find the door," or "Find the elevator." The guide dog user can also train (or "pattern") the dog to find frequently used landmarks, such as a bus stop pole or a mailbox.
Hearing Alert Dogs
A Hearing Alert Dog is a service dog that is trained to alert its hearing-impaired handler to sounds, which he or she cannot hear. Hearing Dogs are trained to alert people to household sounds that are necessary for everyday safety and independence. They are trained to make physical contact and lead their person to the source of the sound. Through sound awareness and companionship, these dogs provide greatly increased freedom. Hearing Alert Dogs can be trained to alert their handlers to sounds such as doorbells, oven alarms, fire alarms, and other sounds that require immediate attention.
Seizure Alert Dogs
Seizure Alert Dogs are sometimes referred to as, ‘Medical Alert Dogs” or “Seizure Response Dogs”. In the event a handler has a seizure, these working canines and are trained to respond to their handler’s state by either retrieving assistance, or remaining by the person’s side until help comes. Some seizure alert dogs can even alert their handlers to oncoming seizures.
Diabetes Alert Dogs
There are two different levels of service dogs for people with diabetes, medical response dogs and diabetic alert dogs. Medical response dogs for diabetes are trained to respond to signs that an owner may be experiencing low blood sugar levels, once they have become symptomatic. A diabetic alert dog, on the other hand, is trained to recognize changes in a person’s blood chemistry, which often allows the dog to alert the person or the caregivers to take action. Dogs are trained to react in different ways to an owner who is having a high or low blood sugar episode. Some examples are, holding a particular toy in their mouth as a signal, jumping on the owner, or touching the owner with it’s nose.
Autism Service Dogs
An autism service dog is a service dog trained to assist an autistic person to help them gain independence and the ability to perform activities of daily living similar to anyone else. For the most part, these dogs are trained to perform tasks similar to those of service dogs for other sensory processing disorders. Many autism service dogs are trained in guide work/obstacle avoidance (similar to a guide dog) to help the handler with visual stimuli, find specific locations to help with navigation, signal to sounds, and provide targeted deep pressure therapy.
Service Dogs- Final Thoughts
Although there exists no shortage of websites that sell official-looking ID cards and vests for “service dogs”, therapy dogs and emotional support animals, registering or certifying an animal on such a site provides the handler with no discernible value. As an owner/handler of a service dog, you are not legally required to register or certify your animal as a service dog and there is no official Service Dog registry in the United States.
In order to determine whether an animal is a bona fide service dog, the U.S. Department of Justice allows businesses to ask the following two questions:
- Is this a service dog required because of disability?
- What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?
In order to qualify as a “service animal” under federal law, the dog must be trained to perform specific tasks which assist an individual with his or her disability.
March 10, 2017