Service dogs are trained to help people suffering from a wide range of disabilities and ailments, including loss of vision and mental illness. While most people have heard of service dogs, you may be surprised to find out there are more than a dozen specializations for these special, four-legged furballs. Some of the different types of service dogs include diabetic alert dogs, severe allergy alert dogs, visual assistance dogs, medical alert dogs, seizure assistance dogs, and hearing dogs for the deaf.
The point is that service dogs are trained to perform tasks for a disabled person that they would otherwise have a hard time completing on their own. In order to be officially recognized as a service dog in the United States, the dog must undergo highly specialized training. In recent years we have seen many people abuse the title of Service Dog, purchasing fake certificates online that allow dogs to travel in the cabin on airlines and go into buildings they would otherwise be barred from.
As we figure out how to crack down on fake service dog certifications, it is important to remember what an invaluable service real service dogs offer to thousands of disabled individuals. Not only do these dogs lift spirits, but they help their owners go on with their routines and activities without any issues.
Signs of a Service Dog
It is no secret that service dogs are incredibly helpful to individuals with a wide range of disabilities, but how do you know a service dog when you see one?
For starters, good service dogs are usually mild-mannered and obedient. They get along with other people - including strangers - as well as others dogs. Because these dogs are trained to help with simple, everyday tasks, the dog must be alert, a good listener, and be able to pick up new tricks/tasks quickly. Service dogs are trained to cater to the needs of each specific client, allowing them to live a more independent, happier life.
Disability can make an individual feel isolated and even depressed, which is yet another benefit of service dogs. Dogs trained to help disabled people can assist with everyday tasks while offering companionship and helping the individual live a full and satisfied life. Training a dog to become a service animal requires hard work and commitment, but the reward is well worth it in the end.
History of Service Dogs
Dogs are remarkable species that have long been used by mankind for help and assistance. Today we have so many different types of service dogs, from ministry dogs and assistance dogs for disabled persons to classroom dogs and social dogs. But how long have we been using dogs in this capacity, you may be wondering?
We know that dogs have been used since the Roman Empire for military purposes, and in the 1700s, Europe relied on dogs to track down wounded soldiers and even carry time-sensitive messages to the front lines. Go back even further than that, there is evidence that prehistoric humans started taming wolves somewhere around 15,000 years ago. So while they may not have been officially trained as a 'service' dog by the Romans, it's safe to say dogs have been used in this way for as long as we can remember.
If we go back to the 1750s, we can find evidence of the earliest systematic training of guide dogs. During the 18th century in Paris, dogs were used to help the visually impaired. An Austrian by the name of Johann Wilhelm Klein founded the Institute for the Training of the Blind in Vienna, and subsequently published one of the first manuals for training guide dogs in 1819.
Historians note that the modern service dog movement can be credited to Germany following World War I. Thousands of soldiers were left blinded by mustard gas, and a doctor named Gerhard Stalling left his German shepherd with a visually impaired patient, only to find the dog had become protective of the wounded soldier in his absence. Fast forward to 1923 when the German Shepherd Dog Association established a Potsdam training center that produced more than 4,000 guide dogs in just seven years.
Since the 1920s, training centers have popped up all over the world, including from coast to coast in the United States. Today, there are numerous different certifications and training programs designed to provide dogs with the skills necessary to assist disabled individuals.
Science Behind Service Dogs
As we've discussed, service dogs must have certain personality traits and skills in order to perform the duties required of them. Scientifically speaking, the best service dogs are those who respond well to commands, are mild-mannered, do not react to outside distractions, and alert.
Today's service dogs don't just help with physical disabilities, but mental health disabilities, too. Often referred to as Emotional Support Animals (ESA), these dogs are specially trained to offer companionship, identify hallucinations, interrupt and redirect people with OCD, and provide stimulation for anxiety attacks.
Training Your Dog to Become a Service Animal
Most service dog training programs range from one to two years. Accredited programs will ensure your dog is trained to mitigate a specific disability, behave appropriately in public, and have a good foundation of obedience.
Because there are so many different specializations of service dogs and training programs out there, it is important to do your research and make sure the program you are looking at is a good fit for you and your pawsome partner. Some dogs make great basic service dogs, whereas others are better suited for companionship or to assist people with mental health disabilities.
Written by a Chihuahua lover Allie Wall
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/14/2018, edited: 04/06/2020