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
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