Writing about service dogs, they can be described as life changing animals. The changes in the American with Disabilities Act revised the definitions of service animals to make only dogs to be recognized as such life changing animals. There are many benefits from using service dogs, where they can be inspiring, helpful, warming, but their main purpose remain the same – to serve. With many definitions available on service dogs this paper will try to explain and clarify the topic of service dogs, their usages, training, types, benefits and legal aspects.
The main usage for service dogs is assisting people with disabilities. There might be confusion in defining service dogs, where many people perceive them to be guide dogs for the blind. The truth is that service dogs are an inclusive definition for the types of help the dog can perform. Blindness is only one type of disability, while others include physical, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability (Service Dog Central “How Was the Definition of “Service Animal” Changed July 23, 2010?”). There are many types of assistance service dogs can provide for the aforementioned types of disabilities, which might include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Retrieving items such as dropped keys, phones, a wallet, and others (Amazing Tails).
- Providing movement assistance, either when walking, through providing stability and guiding, or when moving in a wheelchair, for example, through providing pulling momentum (Amazing Tails).
- Providing house entrance assistance, for example, switching the lights and opening doors.
- Sensing medical issues and alerting the owner to take action and ask for help.
- Responding to alert noises such as breaking glass, smoke detectors, etc.
There are many other usages for service dogs where most of such usages revolve around helping the owner to manage his/her everyday task without asking external assistance. The everyday task might differ as well, based on the types of handicaps in question, including:
- Sensory – People with visual and/or hearing impairments (Rockwood).
- Physical – people with movement and mobility problems, such as those in wheelchairs (Rockwood).
- Neurological and psychiatric –people and children with disorders, such as autism, ADHD, and others. Seizure can be also considered among the disorders, which patients might require the assistance of service dogs (Morgan).
Many of the mentioned handicaps require specific types of dogs, all of which share one common condition they all should be trained by professional to perform their task well. Training is essential for service dogs and, therefore should be performed by professionals. Most training is performed by professional agencies. As in the example of Amazing Tails, a Delaware non-profit corporation specialized in training of Service Dogs, the dogs used are mostly rescued from local shelters and rescues (Amazing Tails). At the same time, agencies might train dogs owned by the clients themselves, in case the dog meet special requirements. Training is performed through different stages which are completed usually in six months. The stages include:
- Teaching basic commands, where the dog learns obedience through voice and signal.
- Training the dog to feel comfortable in public.
- Training the specific skills requested by the client.
The skills requested vary because of the different needs of the client. After the training is completed the client should learn how to work with the dog during a period where bonds should be established between the two. Such period usually lasts for 10-14 days (Amazing Tails). There are different goals put by the agencies that train service dogs, although most of them share similar characteristics. Some of the characteristics can be seen from the minimum standards put by Delta Society, a non-profit animal organization in the United States (Delta Society “About Us”). Such standards mean that there are certain aspects the dog should be able to perform by the end of the training, such as:
- The ability to maintain controlled position.
- Performing required behavior without injury or interference to the handler.
- A frequency of correct Responses ensures the safety of the handler.
- The ability to respond to command and cues.
- Performing the requested behavior in a reasonable amount of time (Delta Society “Minimum Standards for Service Dogs”).
As stated at the beginning of the paper, service dogs are a general terms under which there are many types of working dogs. With different types of dogs differs the specific tasks taught during training. Generally, service dogs can be divided into the following categories and types:
- Autism service dogs – such service dogs help people with autism to obtain confidence and independence to perform daily tasks. Other tasks are similar to those performed for blind and deaf people (Service Dog Central “Types of Working Dogs”).
- Hearing dogs – such dogs help the handler to react to environmental sounds, ring bells, alarms, emergency cars, and others (Service Dog Central “Types of Working Dogs”).
- Mobility dogs – such dogs help people with physical impairment in their movement and improve their mobility
- Psychiatric service dogs – generally, such dogs are trained to mitigate the person’s disability.
- Seizure alert/response dogs – such dogs are trained to perform tasks before or during seizures, such as operating a phone, blocking the person from falling off the stairs, and sometimes even detecting a seizure before it happens (Service Dog Central “Types of Working Dogs”).
The law protects the right of a person to with certain disabilities to have a service dog with him/her. Such rights include allowing the person to bring the animal into facilities where animals are not allowed. Such rights and accommodations are mainly governed through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Morgan).
Therefore, it can be stated that there are many benefits for having service dogs. The most apparent benefit is in making disabled feel equal among others in terms of the tasks they can perform. Although such tasks can be simple, such as turning the light on and off, the ability to do so without asking for external help can be highly valued. At the same time, benefits might include the help provided by dogs in terms of physical and psychological health. The benefits of service dogs can be also considered when compared with the costs of having human caregivers. The costs of having a service dog are much less.
It can be concluded that there are many benefits service dogs. Such benefits become apparent the most inside families that have people with disabilities. The range of tasks doing which dogs can be trained makes them perfect assistant for people with different disabilities. At the same time, the unique characteristics of dogs led to that only they can be identified as service animals in the United States.
Amazing Tails. “What Is a Service Dog?”. 2010. Amazing Tails, LLC, Inc. Web.
Delta Society. “About Us”. 2010. Delta Society. Web.
Delta Society. “Minimum Standards for Service Dogs”. 2002. Delta Society. Web.
Rockwood, Leigh. Dogs Are Smart! 2010. Super smart animals. Web.
Service Dog Central. “How Was the Definition of “Service Animal” Changed July 23, 2010?”. 2010. Service Dog Central. Web.
Service Dog Central. “Types of Working Dogs”. 2010. Service Dog Central. Web.