The Different Jobs of Highly Trained Service Dogs

September 24, 2012


By Linda Cole

Many people rely on service dogs to help them get through their day. Therapy dogs bring a smile to sick children in hospitals or an older person living in a nursing home. Our amazingly talented canine friends can assist people with disabilities, detect medical issues and make it possible for people with disabilities to live a normal life as best they can. Service dogs are in a class all their own. What are some of the different jobs service dogs do?

There’s a difference between therapy pets and service dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as one that has been trained to give assistance or perform a specific task to aid a person with either a mental or physical disability. A service dog is a working dog. The correct definition of a therapy pet is an animal that has been trained to give comfort and affection to people in nursing homes, hospitals, schools and retirement facilities, and to help disaster victims deal with stress. The therapy pet usually belongs to the person handling him/her.

A disabled person assisted by a service dog has access to businesses because the person’s rights are protected under the ADA. Therapy dogs are not under the protection of the ADA and their access can be limited or restricted. It’s important to point out, the ADA protects the rights of the disabled person, and not the rights of the dog.

Mobility assistance dogs help people who have physical impairments. These dogs are trained to help open/close doors, push buttons, and retrieve objects for their owner. They can give assistance to people who need help with balance and to walk. Larger dogs can be trained to pull a wheelchair with a specially made harness to prevent the dog from being harmed or injured.

Walker dogs are in the same category as mobility assistance dogs. They provide help for people who are recovering from a physical injury and need help walking. If a dog’s owner falls or loses their balance, the dog is trained to be a brace the person can lean against or use as a “crutch” to get back up. Walker dogs are important for people with Parkinson’s disease; they assist them with walking and helping them keep their balance.

Guide dogs have been around for many years, assisting people who have lost their vision or have impaired sight. They help people navigate their world at home and in public, which helps them live an independent life.

Hearing alert dogs alert their handler when the phone or doorbell rings, when there’s a knock on the door, and other important sounds.

Medical alert dogs/seizure alert dogs are trained to alert their owner before they experience a seizure. A seizure response dog gives assistance to their owner after a seizure by giving them physical help when needed or helping to wake them up if they are unconscious. They are also trained to find medical help. Medical alert dogs can detect an impending stroke, heart attack, epilepsy, diabetes and other medical conditions. There aren’t many organizations that train seizure alert dogs because their training is specific to what an individual person needs a dog to learn. These dogs are trained to detect a seizure before it happens and get their owner to safety.

Autism service dogs help a person with autism remain calm, and provide them with stability and focus so they can complete tasks. The dog helps an owner build confidence and allows them to have a more independent life. Autism dogs are trained to do simple tasks like alerting their owner to a knock on the door, aid them in getting out of their home during an emergency, and help with everyday activities. Parents with an autistic child are aided by a well trained dog that can alert them if their child needs help.

Service dogs for diabetics help those with diabetes by picking up small changes in their owner’s scent when their blood sugar level is low. The dog is trained to smell slight changes that indicate hypoglycemia, and is trained to alert the person to check their blood sugar level and take medication, if it’s needed. These dogs are also trained to alert medical personal when necessary.

Paramedical/Psychiatric service dogs are trained to help people suffering with mental disabilities, like post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). These dogs are trained to never leave their owner’s side. They help people who suffer from panic attacks, anxiety attacks, fear of going out in public and other mental challenges.

Service dogs are highly trained working dogs who perform a specific job for their owners. It’s their job to make sure their owner stays safe. Never approach a service dog unless you have permission, and never try to stop a service dog from doing what he/she has been trained to do.

Other working dogs that are considered service dogs include: police, fire, search and rescue, and U.S. Customs & Border Protection dogs.

Photo by Pete Markham

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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  1. melissa ackley says:

    Where in VA are mobility assisant centers for dogs?

  2. Holly Meserve says:

    I’m only 35 and have already have two minor heart attacks. I know know that I have a heart defect. How is it possible to have a dog trained to know if I am having another one or is it possible

  3. Martin J McCartan says:

    I am looking for a stroke alert dog that can also detect hipoclicymia. I am a disabled stroke survivor and diabetic. Had 2 strokes in the last year.whete can I get help in this.

  4. Richard Rogers says:

    I am assisting a friend with his recovery from a stroke. He has a 1 year old lab mix I would love to get him training so that my friend can keep him. We are both on a fixed income in sulphur Louisiana. Can you please help me?

  5. Bobbie says:

    Looking at cost of training my dog. He is bigger then I thought but probably a good thing. Broke ankle 20 years ago and since first fall I am careful. Looking to get him trained to help if I fall and stroke since I had a small one. And I also have anxiety. . And I did not notice where u r located. And of course cost? Since I am on a limited income.

  6. Pamela Parker says:

    I have had numerous TIAs…small strokes. Would like to be prepared for the BIG one. I work at a post office in Puerto Rico, but am from Maine. 62, female, non-smoker. I have a Springer Spaniel with quite a nose. Could she be trained for predicting strokes? Or should I get another dog? Money will be a consideration. Need advice.

  7. Mary Cashell says:

    Hi interested in finding out about service dogs. My sister had a stroke 14 years ago but is getting older and more disabled. She lives alone and has no one but myself to depend on. She needs someone to be with her for impending falls, seizures companionship and when suggested a dog she said she wouldn’t be able to let him out.Please send me info as to how to go about doing this and does it cost a lot of money of which she really doesn’t have much

  8. Gerry Schmidt says:

    My husband Frank had a major stroke 5 years ago.He is paralyzed on his left side and has severe vision impairment and has become pretty depressed. I feel that he has pretty much given up which is understandable. Frank is 76 years old and I am 75. Sometimes I think about a service dog for Frank but don’t know if it’s a good idea. He can’t drive, dress himself or or prepare a meal. I wonder if a service dog would help him/us.

  9. Bonnie and Stan Naifeh says:

    My husband, Stan, is a recovering stroke victim. Previous to the stroke he was injured in a motorcycle accident. We lost our companion pet 2 years ago. Family members have told me to check on a service
    dog. Stan has pretty good cognitive skills.
    He is recovering dysphagia from being intubated for almost 2 mos. I worry with blacking out and retrieving for him would be
    helpful to both of us. often, in need of kleenex, the cane. Answering the door..
    turning on the light. He has limited mobility from the stroke. It was a left parietal stroke
    after a choking episode caused him to black out and hit his head. After a TBI , it is best not to do that! Anyway, the bruise on the left side of this head manifested in to a stroke. He has come a long way. At first, they said
    he might hear but not understand what is being said. We have come a long way. At first I was advised to find a home for Stan. I
    loved him and could not think of it, re-hab
    has helped quit a bit. We go to church weekly, he goes to a gym with assistance. He can not drive. He does not use computer.
    He also has speech therapy twice a week.
    When at home is when he has a multitude of
    things requiring a watchful eye and a willingness to help with fetching, closeness to keep him from falling if he chokes.

  10. Angela Posner says:

    I am 33 yrs old and recently had a second stroke called a basilar stroke. I am a young mother and really am looking for a stroke alert dog. Can you help?

    1. Clark says:

      Need some help . I have a 21 year old daughter . That suffers from neural problems. Had a stroke at 18 . And is Suffering from TiA. And having a lot of problems with her left leg . And speech . She not always good about letting you Aware when she’s having a really bad day is she eligible for help with a Service dog . She don’t feel comfortable about going back to school because she’s afraid something will happen ?

  11. JOANN BROWN says:


  12. Angela kirk says:

    I am a stroke survivor and would like to know how to apply for a service dog.

    Thank you.

  13. Shanna Warnock says:

    I had a stroke 7 months ago and my left side is left not working. Would love more information on how to obtain a service dog cause I too am left home sometimes by myself and I’m only 36 and have a 2 year old.

  14. K. Harley says:

    My husband had a stroke and does not have mobility in his left arm. He walks with a brace on his left leg but is a fall risk. Some cognitive issues too. He is home all day.
    How do I go about applying for a service dog?

    1. Samantha says:



  15. My husband has had two strokes and had neck surgery and has fallen several times. He is home alone all day. I would like information on service dogs.

  16. Tracy Reed says:

    My sister n law had a stroke earlier this year and I’m looking into a service dog she has experienced seizures as well. She has no use of her left side. How do I apply for a dog?

  17. Donna Lesley Funk says:

    I had a stroke last year and I have disabilities my left arm and hand do not work the way they are supposed to I do not walk correctly I do fall sometimes how do I apply for a dog

  18. Sue says:

    My husband has multiple problems.
    Stroke victim
    Right leg amputee
    Renal problems, has had several stage 3 failures
    vascular dementia
    among other problems
    I would love to get him a Service Dog but, finances prevent me from doing this.
    Does anyone know of charitable programs that would be willing to work with me?

  19. Rhonda T says:

    How do I get a service animal for my husband. He has strokes/seizures. Someone can please help me.

  20. brittany says:

    I work at food lion in the deli department. Could I have a service dognthre with me despite working around food. How does that work.

  21. Finn says:

    There are just so many jobs these guys can do. We are so impressed with their skills!