The important jobs of service dogs involve providing assistance to those who have seizures, mental illness, hearing impairments, visual difficulties, autism, diabetes, emotional problems and other disabilities. Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers are the most common dog breeds that work as service dogs. Often times, service dogs, also known as guide dogs, are bred in selective breeding programs or rescued from animal shelters. However, any dog breed is capable of becoming a service dog, as long as they meet requirements such as overall good health, calm temperament and completed the training by service dog organizations successfully.
The Life of a Service Dog
Service dogs usually work for up to eight to ten years and can have a number of owners, depending on the needs of each individual. Other times they may work for the same owner for their entire career. When service dogs are not working they are encouraged to act normally as typical dogs.
Service dogs are able to determine when they are working or when they are enjoying free time by if they are wearing their gear or not. This is something they learn during their intensive training.
Once a service dog reaches retirement they either remain with their owner as a companion pet or they are re-homed by the dog service program where they originally started from. Due to their high quality training and impressive behavior there is a long waiting list to adopt these special dogs at retirement age.
Where Service Dogs are Allowed to Enter
Dog handlers should make good decision on where they should bring their service dog. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA), states that businesses, local governments, and organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities. Dog handlers should avoid hazardous areas that can expose their dog to toxic chemicals or an unsafe environment.
Service Dog Etiquette
In general service dogs should be treated as a medical device while in public. The safety and wellbeing of the owner is dependent on the service dog’s ability to carry out their duty and focus.
While service dogs are trained to resist and avoid distraction, it is difficult to do if strangers are petting him or calling him over to see him. Proper etiquette when being confronted with the urge to pet an adorable service dog is to greet and ask the dog owners permission first. Usually service dogs are people friendly and will always adhere to their owner regarding permission to socialize.
Training Standards for Service Dogs
According to the ADI, Assistance Dogs International, the following are minimum standards for all assistance dogs to reach in order for them to perform the important jobs of service dogs:
- The service dog must respond correctly to basic obedience commands and skilled tasks on the first ask while being in a home and public environment.
- The service dog has to adhere to basic obedience hand signals and verbal commands such as sit, walk, stay, come and lie down.
- Service dogs need to meet all required minimum standards for Assistance Dogs in Public.
- At least three tasks have to be performed by the service dog to mitigate the potential owner’s disability.
Client Standards to Have a Service Dog
- The client or potential owner needs to be able to demonstrate that their dog can perform at least three tasks under their command.
- They must have an understanding of canine health and care.
- They must be knowledgeable of acceptable training techniques.
- They must be knowledgeable of appropriate public behavior and local access laws.
- Be capable of providing additional training for new skills if required.
What Identification does a Service Dog Have?
Service dogs should have a harness, backpack or cape that shows a laminated ID card that includes the dog and owners names and photograph. The harness, cape of backpack should also have wording on it that identifies the dog as a working service dog. This is to prevent any confusion when in public and it also makes it obvious to business owners that the service dog is there to do his job, not as a pet.
Providing a service dog with the proper identification also lessens the risk of the owner having to explain and prove that their dog is a service dog.
Service Dog Health Requirements
Before a trained service dog is able to start his job, he needs to meet specific health standards such as having up-to-date vaccinations, overall good health and be spayed or neutered. If a service dog has any special issues that need to be addressed while working, such as vitamin supplements being issued on a daily basis, the owner is usually notified in advance before the service dog is placed. This is to assure that the owner will be capable of taking care of the service dog’s basic needs.
Emotional Support Dogs
Emotional support dogs are a common term used in unison with service dogs. However, they are not the same and emotional support dogs do not fall under the regulations of the American with Disabilities Act.
Even though they are not considered or recognized as a service dog, they are still worth mentioning. Emotional support dogs provide the elderly, disabled and those with disabling emotional issues with companionship, affection, something to focus on, non-judgmental positive regard and protection. Although emotional support dogs provide their owner with a variety of benefits that have a positive impact on their emotional health, they are not trained like service dogs.
Emotional support dogs can work as long as they are well behaved, have basic obedience training and are house trained.
Often times emotional support dogs are personal pets of the owner. Usually doctors will determine and recommend to a patient to get an emotional support dog to help them live a better life and heal from their personal issues. Some of the health benefits that owners of an emotional support dog receive include:
- Reduced stress levels
- Increased socialization
- Spending more time outdoors
- Increased activity level
- Improved mental health
- Less feelings of loneliness
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower triglyceride
- Lower cholesterol.
Those who are interested in obtaining a service dog should first speak to their physician to confirm if it is a choice that is best suited for their specific situation. Once the doctor has approved your request, you will need to apply with one of the many service dog organizations in your area by filling out an application.
The organization will them guide you through the rest of their process until you are either approved or denied for a service dog.
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