Slowly brushing aside the grogginess of midnight’s sleep, consciousness met with the hearing impaired elderly man, alerting him to the deadly peril he faced. Later that day, firefighters reported no working alarms in the Tuscany house; the fire, set innocently by children playing with sparklers, would have claimed his life without a second thought if it weren’t for the quick actions of his service dog, Halo.
What Can Service Dogs Do?
Highly intelligent and capable animals, dogs have been known to perform surprising feats of heroism for their owners, or breathtaking tricks few humans could hope to manage. It isn’t hard to imagine the basic tasks below being well within their capabilities!
Working animals sometimes more than pets, service dogs are the elite, highly educated animals who must endure rigorous training in order to provide human like services their owners can’t. Trained by only the most experienced handlers, service dogs must earn specific licensure after months of focused effort.
Essentially service dogs provide specific services their owners can no longer provide themselves in order to enhance their quality of life.
Service Dogs: Basic Tasks
- Answer the door by pulling a lever
- Retrieves desired items for owner, such as the mail, medicine bottles or anything else
- Alerts EMS with a particular set of barks
- Assists owners movement throughout house, upstairs, or anywhere else
- Support owner during loss of balance
- Carries medicine and other provisions for his owner in a specialized backpack
Service Dogs: Emergency Tasks
- Retrieves phone to contact 911 or relative
- Barks in specific way to signal emergency
- Interrupts or tags owner during psychotic occurrence/episode
- Alerts emergency responders when human is in distress
- Leads emergency responders to owner in distress
- Alerts owner in case of fire or burglary/invader
Psychiatric Service Dogs: Psychiatric Tasks
- Guide a disoriented handler either on medication or experiencing a disorienting event
- Provide assisted stimulation for anxiety attacks, panic attacks, etc.
- Identify hallucinations for those who suffer from such
- Search a room for hyper-vigilant sufferers of PTSD
- Interrupt and redirect , for people with OCD who may harm themselves
Service Dog Training
A service dog helps a person with a disability lead a more independent life, but it certainly isn’t easy getting there! Service dog training is a long, intricate process.
First off, the dog must be well socialized as a given; you can’t have a service dog prone to engagements with other dogs or people it may encounter. Next, the dog is trained to work with a specific given task directly related to a person’s disability. The service dog must be able to perform his/her given task on command without hesitance, as well as perform the skills needed for the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test, many service dogs bred specifically for their given task.
The ADI’s testing can only be administered by highly qualified ADI personnel, only candidates and ADI members having that permission. Permission is never granted to individual trainers nor unaffiliated companies.
- By no means is the testing easy, nor do all candidates pass.The ADI’s testing is very rigorous and specific, so much so there can be up to a 50-70% drop out rate.
The purpose of the test is to help ensure that a client has control over the assistance dog, that the assistance dog is stable, well-behaved, and unobtrusive to the public.
- Defined by the ADA as being primarily working dogs and not considered pets, dogs are currently the only species legally recognized as service animals, although miniature horses are permitted to assist a person with a disability.
Early in the ‘domesticated dog’ history, dogs were not bred as pets but rather for specific working tasks, and their personality/physical traits often reflected the desired task very well. When it comes to service dogs little has changed; some breeds retain traits more desirable than others for a given behavior or task.
Although service dogs range greatly in size, height and breed, the most common breeds for guide dogs and mobility assistance dogs are Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.
Service Dogs Vs. Therapy Dogs
People often confuse service dogs with therapy dogs, but the two play very different roles, and couldn’t be closer apart!
A service dog works with one individual, performing specific functions it was trained to perform in order to help that person cope with a disability, living out his/her lives. As you know, service dogs are highly trained, requiring extensive supervision and legal licensure. No American based restaurant, grocery store or even airline can legally refute service dogs; they are almost considered extensions of the handicapped individual. Service dogs are always on the job, and should not be distracted by the public; you shouldn’t pet a service dog while he is working.
Therapy dogs are exactly that- dogs meant to provide therapy and comfort to many individuals whether in a hospice situation or at the home. They bring cheer and comfort to hospice patients, nursing home residents, homeless families, etc. Though therapy dogs are well socialized and trained, the extent often pales in comparison to that of service dogs. Nor do therapy dogs enjoy the legalities service dogs do. That being said, feel free to pet a therapy dog!
Service Dog Cost
Due to the resources that went into their extensive training and abilities, service dogs can become quite expensive. Believe it or not, organization trained service dogs can cost up to $25,000, including two years of training in addition to food expenses as well as veterinary care! Since few disabled individuals can afford this, many organizations exist to offer aid.
Staff Writers. (November 14, 2016). Service Dog Training 101- Everything You Need to Know. American Kennel Club. Retrieved from http://www.akc.org/content/entertainment/articles/service-dog-training-101/
Public Access Test. Assistance Dogs International. Retrieved from https://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/standards/public-access-test/
(June 2, 2016). What Services do Service Dogs Provide? Service Dog Certifications. Retrieved from https://www.servicedogcertifications.org/services-service-dogs-provide/