Service Dogs

dogService dogs are dogs that have been specially trained to assist owners with various disabilities. Although dogs have functioned as aides to the blind for many centuries, it is only in recent years that dogs have been trained to help the deaf or hearing-impaired, diabetics, individuals with mobility issues,and patients with epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and autism.

Types of Service Dogs

There are several types of service dogs. All must receive basic obedience training, but also have to be taught particular skills.

Assistance Dogs

These dogs are trained to provide physical assistance to their owners. They are carefully instructed in guiding the blind or deaf, helping people with mobility issues, or detecting medical events (often even before they occur) that require immediate intervention, such as epileptic seizures, diabetic emergencies, and episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Emotional Support Dogs

These service dogs help to keep their owners feeling secure in situations that might otherwise incapacitate them, like being in crowds, keeping them stable and helping them lead more normal lives. In order to be certified as a service dog, the animal must be perform one or more specific tasks for its disabled owner, however, not simply be present as an object of comfort..

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs work with trained handlers who bring them into hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and psychiatric facilities where their patience and affection can be a revitalizing and healing force. These dogs are also brought into schools to provide children with special needs with reassurance and encouragement.

Dogs Used for Detection of Illness

In recent years, dogs are being used to detect some illnesses by smelling either the patient's breath or urine. A strong correlation has been found between patients pinpointed by dogs and patients who actually have the targeted diseases. Dogs have successfully diagnosed malignancies of the lung, colon and prostate gland, Further studies are ongoing.

Common Breeds Used as Service Dogs

While any breed of dog can be used as a service dog, the most common breeds used for assistance are Labradors retrievers, German shepherds and golden retrievers. Emotional support dogs and therapy dogs may be of almost any breed; smaller breeds are often used so they may climb happily into patients' laps. A few breeds, and some individual dogs, may be considered unsuited by temperament for service training.

Training Service Dogs

Before undergoing serious training as service dogs, puppies are housed in foster homes to become acclimated to people and housebroken. Once full-grown, service animals usually require about 18 to 24 months of professional training before they are fit for service. The training is rigorous. Not all dogs are tempermentally suited to become service dogs and some do not make the grade. Part of the instruction takes place with the owner so that the two become familiar with one another.

There are four areas in which service dogs must be trained.


Service dogs require stringent training. They must learn to relieve themselves on command. They must learn to remain in place for up to 4 hours. They must be taught not just to "heel" but to accommodate their owner's gait and to pull any necessary device, such as a wheelchair.


Proofing is the term used to indicate teaching the dog to ignore distractions. A service dog is a working animal, and must be taught to ignore stray bits of food, other animals and the overtures of friendly visitors.

Task Training

This training teaches the dog the particular necessary skills. A "seeing eye" dog must learn to obey directional signals and to judge its owner's height. A hearing-assistance dog must be trained to respond to appropriate sounds: doorbells, smoke detectors, voices of family members. Dogs working with diabetics or epileptics must be taught to perceive the very earliest danger signs in their owners. Some service dogs must be taught to retrieve objects or turn on necessary devices.

Intelligent Disobedience

All service dogs must also be trained to be disobedient when they perceive that their owner's command will lead to danger. Thus, a service dog will not obey a command to walk forward to fall onto the subway tracks or into the path of an approaching car.

Laws Pertaining to Service Dogs

Service dogs can be registered anywhere in the United States once they have successfully completed a training program. As long as they are registered, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, their owners are free to take them into any public place, even one where other animals are not permitted. This includes schools, places of business, government offices and public parks. Staff of such facilities are permitted to confirm that the dog is a service animal, but not to inquire about its owner specific disability.

Service dogs can fly anywhere in the United States for free. According to the Fair Housing Amendments Act, they are also permitted to live in any house or apartment, regardless of management's pet policy. Their registration is good for their lifetime. Supplies, grooming and veterinary care for service dogs is not taxed in the United States.

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