Close your eyes, and picture a service dog. What do you see? Is it a large dog, maybe a lab, wearing a vest, leading a person down the street? If your answer is yes, you are not alone. Most people would say the same thing. However, service dogs are not so one dimensional. Continue reading to find out about the many different types of service dogs and the number of tasks they can perform in order to help their handler
Guide dogs are probably the most commonly well-known known type of service dogs. They are dogs specially trained to assist those who are blind and visually impaired with every day navigational tasks that might be otherwise difficult to complete independently. The dogs help by responding to directional commands given by the handler, assisting in stopping at curves and/or steps, determining when it is safe to cross the street, and above all, avoiding obstacles for their human counterparts.
Hearing Alert Dogs
Hearing Alert dogs, as the name implies, are service dogs that assist individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Hearing Alert dogs are specifically trained to alert people to sounds that are commonly heard in and around the household by making physical contact with their handlers, leading them to where the sound originated. Common alerts may be to a ringing phone, a knock on the door, household appliance alarms, an emergency signal like a smoke alarm or even the sound of a crying baby. However, this type of service dog is also beneficial for public use, where a service dog will quickly become aware of its environment, hearing new things and alerting its handler to look at the situation.
Seizure Response/Seizure Alert Dogs
Seizure Response/Alert dogs are used by those with Epilepsy or other seizure disorders. Seizure response dogs are trained to complete tasks while their handler is having a seizure or after the seizure is over. Response dogs may create a clear airway for their handlers by rolling them over, gathering help from surrounding areas or via operating an electronic device, clearing vomit from the mouth to prevent choking, helping their handler locate to a different area, and helping them stand or regain balance control. Seizure alert dogs are those who can naturally predict seizures before they happen. You cannot train a seizure alert dog, however trained seizure response dogs often develop the ability to sense an imminent seizure and alert to it.
Mobility Service Dogs
Mobility Service Dogs help those with physical disabilities that struggle with mobility. For handlers that primarily use wheelchairs, these service dogs may help with a variety of daily living tasks, including: operating light switches, picking up items that may have been dropped, opening and closing doors, assisting with transfers, and helping with many other activities that might otherwise be difficult to complete whilst in a wheelchair. Mobility dogs are also beneficial to those who can walk, but have other difficulties involving mobility. In situations like this, mobility dogs may act as support system for balance, making sure their handler does not fall whilst they walk or stand, in addition to being trained to complete many of the same tasks as a wheelchair user’s mobility dog.
Service Dogs for those with Psychiatric Disabilities
For those who have psychiatric disorders, obediently trained service dogs help complete tasks, often taught to work in environments that present many distractions. Like many other types of service dogs, there is no standard set of skills taught because the disabilities’ symptoms are so varied from person to person. Due to this, these dogs are trained to cater to specific things their handlers need. Some of their tasks might include, but are not limited to: finding a specific person or place to help their handler get back to a functioning state, guiding a person back to a certain location when they’ve wondered off, search an area to ensure safety, redirect a person with OCD who is engaging in a compulsion, alert a sedated person of emergency or other important sounds, identify if their handler is hallucinating, and bringing medication in an event where a handler would not be able to get it on their own. Often confused with therapy and emotional support animals (which are not service dogs according to the ADA), it is extremely important to recognize that these animals complete tasks and are not used primarily for comfort.
Diabetic Alert Dog
Relatively new to the world of service dogs, Diabetic Alert Dogs are used by those with both types of diabetes. These dogs are trained to detect high and low blood sugar events before they become unsafe. The dogs are able to sense changes in blood sugar via the smell that low and high blood sugar give off that are distinct to themselves. After detecting the change in blood sugar, the dog will alert their handler to correct the problem. In addition to alerting, these dogs may also be trained to bring kits to their handlers or retrieve help in case of an emergency.
Autism Service Dogs
For those with Autism, service dogs are used to make the difficulties of sensory processing easier. Their duties might include alerting their handler of important sounds that they might not be able to focus on, guiding their handler from an overstimulating environment to a more calming one, redirect if they engage in repetitive behaviors known as “stimming” which may harm their handler, such a continuous head-banging, or provide a pressure against their handler using body weight, which can often be calming to handlers who are in an overstimulating environment or situation. These service dogs, in addition to their assistance with sensory processing problems, may be trained in other disciplines as well, like guiding or hearing, if their handler’s Autism presents these disabilities as well.
Dogs have been considered man’s best friend for centuries, but they’re so much more than just that when they are trained to be service dogs. These animals can be the difference between unsafe and safe, insecurity and confidence, and ultimately, dependence and independence for those with disabilities. With the many different types of service dogs and the various things they can learn to do, there are virtually no disabilities that cannot be managed easier with the acquisition of a service dog.