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Service animals are a blessing for differently-abled people. Those who suffer from- autism, depression, anxiety, and many more disorders- are provided therapy by dogs. Even petting animals have also proved to be extremely beneficial in many pieces of research as the act increases the serotonin levels in humans and ensures well-being.

It is a proven fact that dogs provide multiple health benefits, and can increase fitness, lower stress, and enhance happiness. Service dogs acquire all of these abilities, combined with suitable training to perform specific tasks for individuals with certain disabilities. In the last decade, the use of service dogs has rapidly expanded.   

As service dogs have become more common, the lack of understanding of service dog training, working functions, and access to public facilities can cause inconvenience for the owners. 

 

Types of service dogs

Some known types of service dogs are-

  1. Guide dogs: these dogs are trained to guide visionary impaired people. They can find a way around the house and other public places. These dogs are trained to be the seeing eye for a blind person.

 

  1. Hearing assistance dog: these dogs are there to listen to cues like an alarm, doorbell, phone when they ring. These dogs help alert the person in various ways. They can also lead the person to the source of the noise.

 

  1. Mobility assistance dogs: they help people with routine mobility functions like turn on the light. These dogs also help retrieve things for the person.

 

  1. Diabetic alert dogs: such dogs can sniff out variations in insulation levels in a diabetic person’s body and alert the person. Olfactory senses are very high in these dogs. They can detect any secretion and alert on the underlying condition.

 

  1. Seizure alert dogs: the dog is trained to pick up small details and cues so that the person can beforehand move to a safe environment.

 

  1. Allergen alert dogs: such dogs are capable of sniffing out even particular allergens, for example, peanuts. They will be able to alert the person for allergens before eating or coming in contact with such substances. In this case, any highly processed foods with some traces of peanuts in it.

training programs

Service dog breeds

Service dogs are not breed-specific and can range from very small to very large. The dog chose must be of a size that can effectively execute the tasks in a hassle-free way and help to mitigate a disability. For example, a small dog, like a poodle, is not an appropriate choice to pull a wheelchair or be a mobility-assistance dog but could make an excellent hearing dog.

Giant Breeds like Great Danes, Saint Bernard, and Bernese Mountain possess the body structure and strength to provide mobility assistance. A Toy Poodle puppy can be scent trained early in life to prepare for the work of alerting on blood sugar variations, while a larger poodle like a Standard Poodle puppy may learn to activate light switches and carry objects to assist the owners. Labrador Retrievers are the most common breeds trained as guide dogs. Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are next in line.

 

Service dogs with autistic children

Children, in Autism, feel a disconnect from the surrounding and cannot seem to make an eye connect with others easily. Service dogs can work wonders in such cases by making a connection with the children. When autistic children are put through this therapy, they learn from the fun act of interaction with the dog. The lost senses start working gradually, and children enjoy the interaction. Service dogs also help to calm down children, when they are having a breakdown. A lot of licensed psychiatrists and physiotherapists are practicing with their therapy dogs.

Recruitment of a therapy dog

The therapy dogs must have certain characteristics that make them eligible to serve as service dogs like they should be outgoing, but very stable at the same time. The dog shall maintain a calm attitude in all situations without reacting to external stimuli. For retrieving objects, they have to be gentle enough to pick up the object without harming it and firm enough to not drop it midway.

There are multiple steps involved in selecting and training a dog to serve other people. If the parents and grandparents of the dog were selected for the therapy training, that’s a plus. Temperament testing of the dog in several situations is also critical. A lot of conditioning and socializing is required during the training period of a therapy dog.

Due to the nature of work, they should not work for more than 2 hours at once. Anything beyond this time frame will be too much work for the dog. Therapy dogs usually retire at the age of 7 or 8. The training of a therapy dog takes anywhere between 6 months to a year after public access training for a dog.

 

Training Your Service Dog

You can train your service dog too. The ADA has not mandated that the service dogs be professionally trained. Individuals with any kind of disabilities have the right to train a service dog themselves. They are not required to use a professional service dog trainer or training program to train their dog. A service dog candidate should fulfill some qualities like:

  • It must calm, especially in unfamiliar settings
  • The dog must be alert, but not reactive
  • It must have a willingness to please
  • The dog must be able to learn and retain information  
  • The dog has to be capable of being socialized to many different situations and environments
  • Must be reliable in performing repetitive tasks

 

Fake service dogs

In recent years, fake service dog cases have surfaced. Real service dogs are not breed-specific, and the owners do not always have a visible disability. The service dogs are not required to carry any kind-of badge or identifying paperwork; or any label. That makes spotting the fake service dogs exceptionally difficult. But, if the dog is showing any of the untrained-like behavior- like pulling on a leash or being aggressive, then it’s most likely an impostor.

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