Service Dogs 101: All You Need To Know About These Pups

Many dog owners would say that their canine companions are their best friends, but for individuals with specific neurological, mental health, physical needs, their dogs are more than that. Their service dogs are invaluable partners in day-to-day life.

As service dogs are slowly becoming more commonplace, problems resulting from a lack of understanding about service dogs, working functions and access to public facilities have also risen. To better understand these professional dogs, we’ll dive into what they do and what you should do if you come across these pups.

What Is A Service Dog?

Simply put, a service dog helps a person with a disability lead a more independent life. They have gone through special training to alleviate and manage symptoms of their owner’s illness or disorder, negating its adverse effects whilst keeping the latter calm until help arrives.

Whilst it’s best for these dogs to undergo professional service dog training programs, they don’t necessarily need to so long as the handler’s needs are met. This means you can train your own service dogs, even those brought home from shelters with pet adoption services! So long as the service dog candidate has a calm disposition, is alert but not reactive, possesses a propensity to learn, retain information, socialise and reliable, then you’ll have the foundation you need to train a service dog.

Types Of Service Dogs

Depending on their owner’s disability, the training and performance will differ. Have a look at some of the common types:

– Guide Dogs: Assistance dogs who lead visually impaired and blind individuals are among the most commonly known types of service dogs. These pups will guide their handlers to better navigate through spaces. Their roles are especially important in public spaces where variables can easily cause unforeseen circumstances, accidents and the like.

Seizure Alert And Response Dogs: As the name suggests, seizure alert dogs are dogs that react before their owner has a seizure. The ability to detect oncoming seizures through scent allows them to bring attention to the attack. This allows the handler to make preparations for the seizure or find somebody to assist.

On the other hand, seizure response dogs assist an individual suffering from an epileptic seizure. These dogs are trained to bark or press an alarm system for help, notifying others of the situation. To ensure their owner doesn’t cause injury to themselves, these dogs are also trained to get them out of an unsafe place and may even bring medicine.

– Mobility Assistance Dogs: A mobility assistance dog can perform a wide range of tasks for people with limited mobility. They are trained to bring and retrieve objects, press any hard-to-reach buttons and even pull a wheelchair!

– Psychiatric Service Dogs: Those that suffer from issues such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder often feel hypervigilant about their safety and may succumb to destructive habits to cope. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to make them feel safer, whether it is to be physically present, giving them medication or act as a physical barrier, and more.

Service dogs are not simply pets. They have important jobs to perform and have a huge hand in the well-being of their owners. It’s important that individuals treat service dogs as professionals with a job to do, as opposed to any regular canine.

What Should You Do When You See A Service Dog?

Depending on the disability, a service dog can perform life-saving tasks. Whilst they may look adorable, they are often the only thing that is standing between their handler, and life or death. You wouldn’t want to get in the way of their job, so be sure to keep the following advice in mind.

1. Talk to the handler, not the service dog

The service dog and its owners work as a team. If you wish to approach and converse with them, be sure to approach the owner first and give the dog space. You’ll want to give the dog space to concentrate and focus on her job.

2. Do not touch the dog before asking for permission

Like most dogs, service dogs love pats and scratches. But doing so whilst they’re on their job may just distract them and prevent them from caring for their handler. There could also be instances where the dog might be assisting their owner, and you might just interrupt the process by touching the service dog.

3. Do not offer food to the dog

Not only does it serve as a form of distraction, but offering food to service dogs might also disrupt their strict diet and eating schedule. This may result in them falling sick, and not being to properly care for their owners. Worse, you may even trigger their allergies unknowingly. In such cases, on top of the stress of sending the dog to the nearest 24-hour vet clinic, you’ll also put the handler in severe distress.

4. Keep your dog away from a service dog

When service dogs are doing their job, the last thing they’d want is to be distracted by another dog trying to get their attention to come and play. If you see a service dog walking towards you, either scoop your dog up in your arms or keep them on a short leash.

Service dogs are more than pets, and more than mere companions. They play an essential and integral part in individuals with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities. So let’s practise proper etiquette to let them do their job in peace!