Service Dogs Are Amazing!
A dog can be trained to mitigate many types of disabilities, allowing people who are disabled to fully access and enjoy their communities. A service dog can be any breed, mix of breeds, any size, color, and coat type. The important thing is to assess, train, use the appropriate dog to perform the needed tasks. One would not use a Rat Terrier, Papillion or Chihuahua to pull a wheelchair – however, these breeds can be trained to alert or respond to medical emergencies or for hearing dogs. An Irish Wolfhound might not be the best choice for removing a handler from a swimming pool, lake or ocean. However, an Irish Wolfhound might be excellent for mobility and balance support for a very tall person.
Service dogs are also known as assistance dogs, helper dogs, support dogs, handy dogs, mobility dogs, allergy dogs, guide dogs, hearing dogs, alert/response dogs, and psychiatric service dogs. As many and as diverse are people’s disabilities can be, a Service Dog can be trained to mitigate them. Service dogs are used throughout the world to help people with disabilities live daily life independently. A person must have a disability to use a service dog.
Examples of disabilities service dogs are trained to mitigate include: blindness, low vision, mobility, deafness, psychiatric, cardiac, neurological, pulmonary, Alzheimer’s and dementia, autism spectrum, allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, and psychiatric disorders. Service dogs include guide dogs, autism dogs, psychiatric service dogs, allergen detection dogs, diabetic alert/response dogs, hearing dogs.
The types of tasks these amazing dogs are trained to do can be quite simple or very complex. These tasks include: pausing on stairs and curbs to prevent the handler from falls and injuries; assisting with physical and occupational therapy treatment goals; fetching medical equipment and medications on command; finding and leading a person to exits, safe places and restrooms in stores; opening doors; turning lights on and off; opening cupboards; finding and bringing the handler a cell phone or medical supplies; putting laundry in and out of washers and dryers; help with routine household chores; positioning a person that has had a seizure to prevent aspiration; helping a person dress and undress; responding to medical emergencies such as cardiac – pulmonary – seizure – diabetes, reminding the handler to take medications.
What is a Service Dog?
A service dog is a dog that is trained to perform tasks that mitigate a person’s disability. There are federal laws that provide people with disabilities the right to be accompanied by their task trained, house trained, non-aggressive service dog in any public place.
Places include grocery stores; theaters; parks; hospitals; clinics; motels; schools; businesses; amusement parks and public transportation services. These laws also provide people with disabilities the right to be accompanied by their task trained service dog in rental housing: either apartment buildings or homes, and to be accompanied by their service dog at their job.
There are no Federal laws regulating gear, equipment, colors, or patches worn by service dogs. There are no Federal laws specifying the exact training required of a service dog (except to be house trained, be able to perform 1 task, and being under the control of handler), nor are there any federal laws specifying who is authorized to train service dogs.
Training A Service Dog
Training a service dog takes approximately 1 to 2 years. During that time a service dog candidate receives full obedience training both on and off lead, temperament testing, hips and shoulders evaluation, veterinary assessment and vaccinations. During the second year (or last part of training) a service dog receives training to perform tasks that will mitigate a person’s disability. The types of tasks depend on each person’s unique needs based on their disabilities, and the size of the service dog.
The costs of obtaining and training a service dog vary widely from $5,000 to $50,000 depending on the breed, number of and complexity of tasks taught and an organization’s costs to produce a trained and reliable service dog. A service dog’s training never really ends, and is continued and maintained daily by the handler throughout its life. Only about 5-10 in 100 dogs are able to be trained to work as a service dog.
Examples of tasks are: fetching and retrieving items; laying under tables quietly for hours; pulling wheel chairs or carts; locating items; scent work; using equipment to call emergency first responders; working in a variety of places such as clinics, schools, businesses, buses, taxis. A service dog must be prepared to go with and work for its handler anyplace that the handler chooses to be.
A service dog usually begins their career at about 1-1/2 to 2 years old. Their career usually ends at approximately 8 or 9 years of age. Some service dogs can work longer based on their breed and the types of tasks they must perform. Some service dogs can only work until about six years old based on their breed and the type of tasks they must perform.
Only dogs can be service dogs according to federal law. The only other animal that may be considered a service animal under federal law, and only in special circumstances, is a miniature horse. Miniature horses are primarily used for pulling, mobility, and guiding the blind. No exotic or farm animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians can be considered service animals.