Large Print Reviews
Service Dogs - Assistants to Those in Need
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?
- The main requirements that a dog must meet in order to qualify as a therapy dog is that they must have a calm, friendly disposition and they must be tolerant of a lot of petting from a variety of people.
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:
- Some organizations only train purebred Labrador or Golden Retrievers as service dogs. These dogs are intelligent, easily trained, and about the right height for someone in a wheelchair to reach.
- However, any intelligent dog with a suitable disposition can be trained. Many groups, such as Assistance Dogs of America have made a point of using only 'throwaway' dogs. Not only does this enable them to rescue dogs from shelters that might otherwise have been destroyed, but it also provides them with a wider range of choices. Offering them a better chance of finding a dog that matches the specific needs of the client.
- Like all assistance dogs, service dogs are selected from those dogs that have a calm, nonaggressive temperament. They must be loyal, but not overly protective. Overprotectiveness can have tragic results in an emergency, if the dog will not allow a paramedic, or other emergency personnel, to approach their partner.
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.
- Service dogs usually undergo at least three months of training.
- Service dogs require formal training from a dog trainer who has received special instruction in this area.
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.
Back to top
Questions or Comments? Send an email to:
Copyright © Large Print Reviews 2003 - All Rights Reserved