Did you know that September is designated as National Service Dog Month? This month is a time to recognize and celebrate the pivotal role that service dogs play in the lives of their handlers. These faithful companions perform vital tasks and provide valuable support to help improve the quality of life for their human partner.
Although many of us may often think of a service dog in the role of a seeing-eye/guide dog, there are actually several different types of service dogs. They can help in a number of ways, from providing assistance to children and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, to supporting people with mobility, movement or stability issues. The sheer versatility of canines means they can be trained to help in a number of ways.
For over fifteen years, our service dog division (Highland Canine Service Dogs) has had the privilege of working with hundreds of families, training and delivering service dogs across the United States and beyond. In that time, we’ve seen first-hand some of the amazing benefits that service dogs can bring to their owners.
In this article, we’re going to look at different types of service dogs and discover the benefits they can provide.
Different types of service dogs
The remarkable capabilities of dogs means that they can be trained for a variety of tasks, covering a wide scope. Below are just a few examples:
- Autism service dogs
- Diabetic alert service dogs
- Mobility/stability service dogs
- Allergy alert service dogs
- PTSD service dogs
- Seizure service dogs
- Hearing service dogs
- Guide dogs
With constant advances in both science and our understanding of canine behavior, the types of service dogs that can be trained is likely to increase in the future.
Service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs)
In some quarters, there is still some confusion surrounding the differences between service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs). However, the definition of these dogs shows a clear difference between the two.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as a dog that is trained to perform tasks or carry out work for people with disabilities. Part of the legislation affords protection to those with service dogs, and allows service dogs to enter public areas which would otherwise be off-limits to dogs.
An emotional support animal is a different matter. Whilst an ESA undoubtedly offers support and comfort to their owner, and can help with depression and anxiety, they are not trained to perform specific tasks to help individuals with disabilities. For this reason, ESAs are not covered under the ADA legislation.
The benefits of service dogs
Service dogs provide numerous benefits for their handlers, including:
Improved social interaction
Service dogs play an important role in encouraging social interaction for their owner. For example, an older person with mobility issues may find the prospect of meeting friends in public to be a daunting one. When accompanied by a mobility service dog, however, they gain the capability to move around with greater ease.
Autism service dogs have also been shown to improve social interaction and interpersonal skills for children affected by autism, acting as a social bridge.
People who require service dogs are often some of the most vulnerable in society. As such, a service dog can often provide a measure of safety and security to help protect their handler in potentially dangerous situations.
Consider an individual who has little to no hearing ability. If they live alone, they may be unable to hear important warning sounds such as fire alarms, smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors. A hearing service dog can be trained to alert their owner when they hear the sound of these alarms.
Individuals who manage a disability are often reliant on others for help – whether that assistance comes from family members, carers, teachers, etc.. However, a service dog is a game-changer. The independence offered by a service dog can enable the handler to live their life without needing to rely as often on others.
As just one example, younger children who have the help of an autism service dog may not need to always be at their parents’ side. In turn, this increases the child’s confidence and independence.
Peace of mind for family members
For family members who do not live with a relative who has a disability, it can be stressful. There is typically an underlying sense of anxiety, particularly if the family member is vulnerable. Even for parents who live with children with disabilities, it can be hard to get a peaceful night’s rest if you are worried about their wellbeing.
A service dog can alleviate some of this anxiety and offer peace of mind. For individuals who may experience seizures, a service dog can alert other members of the household, and even help respond to the seizure itself. In another scenario, where an elderly relative may have lost their hearing, knowing that a service dog will wake up their handler in the event of an emergency can be reassuring for other members of the family who do not live in the same household.
In addition to improving quality of life by making daily tasks far easier, service dogs play a huge part in improving physical and mental health, too. A service dog can help someone who struggles with mobility to move around, which consequently has a positive influence on that person’s flexibility, muscle strength and range of movement.
Explaining the benefits of a service dog for a person’s mental wellbeing is almost deserving of a whole article itself. Due to the effect a service dog can have on confidence and independence, there will be obvious improvements which will improve an individual’s overall mental health.
Last – but by no means least – service dogs offer incredible companionship to their handlers. The bond between both parties is always strengthening, and particularly for younger children who may struggle with human-to-human interaction, the friendship with a service dog can become unbreakable.
As any family which owns a service dog will tell you – their service dog isn’t just there to perform tasks. They become a valued and beloved member of the family.
Whilst the month of September is National Service Dog Month, it is clear that service dogs make a huge difference all year round.
Our service dog division has helped so many families to benefit from a fully-trained service dog, and we look forward to working with many more families in the years to come.
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