Dogs give us friendship, companionship and protection. They join us on holidays, join us for a run or when we relax on the couch. But, did you know that our furry companions actually do much more than that? Dogs are amazing creatures, capable of so much more than many of us realize. They provide our society with service and assistance and help people in need. The so-called Service Dog is not just here to be our friend, they are here to help us when most needed.
A service dog is a type of assistance dog trained to help people with disabilities. They are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people who need help, like guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with stress disorders and assisting police and other law-enforcement. The relationship between a service dog and his or her handler is referred to as a team as they work together to achieve what, in many cases, is impossible for the handler to do alone. Service dogs are divided in categories according to the service they have to provide. The most common categories are: Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs.
Guide Dogs, also known as seeing eye dogs, assist blind and visually impaired people by avoiding obstacles, stopping at curbs and steps, and helping the handler through traffic. In this partnership, the human’s role is to provide directional commands, while the dog’s role is to insure the safety of the team even if this means disobeying an unsafe command.
Trained Hearing Dogs provide valuable services to deaf and hearing-impaired people in the same way as guide dogs for blind people. The dog’s role is to alert when important sounds occur such as a doorbell, alarm clock, oven buzzer, telephone, baby cry, name call or smoke alarm. Hearing Dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their deaf partners to the source of the sound.
A Service Dog can help with people with other disabilities than hearing and seeing. They can be trained to work with people who use power or manual wheelchairs, have balance issues, have various types of autism, or have psychiatric disabilities. The dogs help by getting objects that are out of the handler’s reach, by pulling wheelchairs, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate that help is needed, finding helping hands in case of an emergency, and many other individual tasks.
Therapy Dogs, also known as Emotional Support Dogs, are best known for bringing affection, comfort and happiness to people in confined living situations, whether they are in a hospital for a short stay, living in an assisted living home, retirement homes, disaster areas or hospices. Their main task is to bring joy to those who are ill or under poor conditions. Many people are able to connect with dogs and it is actually proven that the love that dogs provide often has a therapeutic effect on them. Studies even show that the presence of a dog can lead to a reduction in stress, a decrease in blood pressure and the lowering of anxiety levels. Additionally, the chances of recovery among dog owning heart patients are higher than among those without a dog. Therapy Dogs are generally very calm and well-behaved, so that they do not upset the people around them.
Top 5 Service Dogs
- Golden Retriever: Mainly used as Guide & Hearing Dogs and Physical Assistance Dogs
Labrador Retriever: Mainly used as Guide & Hearing Dogs, Search & Rescue Dogs and Physical Assistance Dogs
Border Collie: Mainly used as Search & Rescue Dogs and Seizure Alert Dogs
- German Shepherd: Mainly used as Police dogs, Military Dogs, Search & Rescue Dogs and Guide & Hearing Dogs
- Belgian Malinois: Mainly used as Police Dogs and Military Dogs
Service Dogs & pets
A service dog does differ from a “normal” pet as he or she is trained to perform specialized tasks at specific times. Just as we have to perform certain tasks when we are “on the job” the same goes for a service dog. In general, a service dog is not considered a pet and is required for daily life functions and activities. However, when a service dog is not “on the job”, they can then relax and behave more like the family pet – joining us on the couch or for a run. No matter what the purpose of our dogs is, they are loved!
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