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Service Dogs - Assistants to Those in Need

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Service Dogs - Assistants to Those in Need
By Rochelle Caviness - Updated December 7, 2003

Dogs that assist the disabled are divided into three categories, guide dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs. Service dogs are the newest entry into 'assistance' family of working dogs.

Most service dogs wear an identifying backpack that proclaims them as a working dog. As an assistance dog, they are covered under the American's With Disabilities Act and are granted the right to accompany their owners into any public building or onto any form of public transportation.

Service Dogs serve their human partners in a number of ways. For example, they can be trained to fetch and carry, open and close doors, flip switches, pick things up that fall on the floor, push buttons. They can be trained to push or pull a wheelchair or help a person turn over in bed. If it is within the power of a dog to accomplish a task, a dog has probably been trained to do it. Some service dogs, which are partnered with individuals that have seizures or epilepsy, are trained to alert others when their partner is having a seizure.

On the most part, service dogs work with individuals that have some manner of impaired mobility. These might be in a wheelchair, suffer from a debilitating illness, or have severe arthritis.

A subcategory of service dogs is that of therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are dogs whose main task is to be as loving and affectionate as possible. Some work by visiting hospitals, nursing homes and other places where patients might benefit from some doggie TLC. It has been found that the simple act of petting a dog can have a therapeutic value. The mere presence of a dog has been known to calm a disturbed individual. A friendly wag or sloppy kiss has been known to give a lonely person a reason to smile. Therapy dogs are also placed in permanent situations, either with a single individual or in a group facility such as a nursing home. How are service dogs chosen for training?

There are a number of criteria that are considered when selecting a dog to be trained as a service dog including temperament, size, and intelligence. The Training of a Service Dog:

The amount of time and type of training that a service dog will receive is dependent upon whom they are going to serve. Each service dogs goes through a specialized training program designed to meet the needs of its partner, both in terms of what it is trained to do and how those commands are given. If their intended partner cannot speak, they are trained solely with hand commands. Most formal, in school training for service dogs occur at facilities that train more than one type of assistance dogs. For example, Dogs for the Deaf trains service dogs, in addition to hearing dogs.

According to Assistance Dogs International, there is currently a two year waiting list for individuals wanting a service dog. The need for more service dogs is likely to increase as the abilities and benefits of these well-trained dogs become more widely known.


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