Service Dogs: A Guide To The Best Dogsters

While dogs act as lifelong companions for some of us, they are an indispensable part of the day-to-day life of several specially-abled people. Service or assistance dogs have, over the years, become more and more common and their services have been recognized by law too.

What Is A Service Dog?

Generally speaking, a service dog is one who’s trained to assist specially-abled people with their day-to-day functioning. However, they’re not the same as working dogs such as police dogs or search-and-rescue dogs. As per American with Disabilities Act (ADA), “service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”

The key points to note in this definition are:

  • Dogs – As per the definition by ADA, service dogs are mainly working dogs and aren’t considered pets. Moreover, emotional support dogs or therapy dogs aren’t considered to be service dogs either.
  • Work/Task – A work or task refers to any action that the dog is trained to take in order to assist the specially-abled person.
  • Disability – The term refers to any physical or mental impairment that limits an individual to perform daily activities.

Laws For Service Dogs

A service dog is permitted by law to enter any business premises, state and local government institutions, and non-profit organizations catering to the public. They also need to be under control, in the form of a leash or harness preferably, unless it comes in the way of their duties. As per the ADA, a specially-abled person can’t be questioned about their disability. Businesses or organizations are limited to only asking them whether their dog is a service dog required for assistance and what specific tasks they are trained to perform. Service dogs should also not be petted, given any food or attention while at work. Finally, no extra money can be charged to handlers for service dogs, neither can they be denied the right to enter a premise without their dogs. In case the dog becomes uncontrollable, the handler may be asked to leave the premises.

Types Of Service Dogs

There are three categories of assistance dogs:

Guide Dogs

These are dogs who assist visually-impaired or blind people to navigate properly. Some of the common breeds chosen as guide dogs are Labradors, Golden Retrievers or a hybrid of both.

Hearing Dogs

These dogs help hearing-impaired or deaf individuals to be alert of noises such as doorbells. Although Labradors and Golden Retrievers are the most common breeds chosen as hearing dogs, other breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Lhasa Apsos, and Shih Tzus too can be successfully trained for the job.

Service Dogs

These dogs assist with several different functions and can be classified into:

  • Mobility Assistance Dogs – Assist people with mobility issues
  • Diabetic Alert Dogs – Assist people with diabetes or blood sugar problems
  • Seizure Alert Dogs – Assist in alerting behavioral changes before a seizure
  • Seizure Response Dogs – Assist a person after a seizure, such as epilepsy, has occurred
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs – Assist people suffering from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Service Dogs Vs. Therapy Dogs

Service dogs shouldn’t be confused with therapy dogs since they perform completely different roles and have opposite traits.

  • Each service dog is trained to assist a single person with a disability. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, cater to many people at once like hospital patients, assisted living center residents, homeless families etc.
  • Service dogs need rigorous training that can extend to around two years. Therapy dogs are required to be trained in basic manners and obedience and should be in continuous training workshops.
  • Service dogs are trained to do specific tasks whereas therapy dogs are more socialized and perform several functions to assist groups of people.
  • Service dogs are trained not to be distracted and shouldn’t be petted at all. However, therapy dogs are friendly and meant to attend to a lot of people. Their job involves them to be petted and receive affection.

Training Service Dogs

The training process for a service dog is rigorous. A certified service dog needs to perform all necessary duties on command. Moreover, they should also be trained enough to perform the tasks required for the Assistance Dogs International (ADI) Public Access Test, a collection of tests meant to test a dog’s behavior in distractive environments.

Most dogs are bred specifically to work as service dogs by organizations who also train them and provide them to clients. The training can be quite arduous and not many dogs pass the final test, the dropout rate being close to 50-70%.

The popularity of owner-trained dogs has grown over the years. The frustrating procedure, expense, and reliability of obtaining a dog from an organization have motivated many specially-abled people to train their own service dogs. However, in the cases, getting professional help from a trainer is extremely important for the dog to provide reliable service. The ADI can help in finding the right trainer who is aware of possible regulations concerning service dogs. As per the ADA regulations, all service dogs should be house-trained and under control of the handler in public spaces.

Cost Of A Service Dog

Service dogs can be expensive, irrespective of where they come from. Service dogs that are trained and provided by organizations can cost around $25,000, which is inclusive of the cost of training, food and veterinary care for two years. There are several organizations that also offer financial aid for specially-abled people who can’t afford one. Owner-trained service dogs can cost as much, however, hiring a professional trainer is preferable for service reliability.

Can Your Dog Be A Service Dog?

Every dog is not fit to be a service dog. All service dogs need to possess a certain set of qualities to offer reliable service. These are:

  • Calm but friendly
  • Aware but not reactive
  • Not averse to touch, especially by strangers
  • Tendency to follow around
  • Ability to handle different situations and environments
  • Ability to learn quickly

To know more about service dogs and organizations that train and place them, you can check out the website of Assistance Dogs International.

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