There is a wide variety of service dogs these days, and they provide a variety of services and supports. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) publication on Service Animals states that only dogs are recognized as service animals. A service animal is one that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. Generally, entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.
Service dogs may seem cute and sweet, but it’s important to understand that they are not pets. They are working tools for people with disabilities. For many people, service dogs make it possible to return to the workforce or to school. They can also help retrieve dropped items, carry items, and help with undressing. Service dogs can open doors, drawers and cabinets. They can also provide emotional and spiritual support.
Hearing Dogs can respond to sounds such as a knock on the door, alarm clocks, and/or the child’s name by alerting the child to these sounds. Traditional Service Dogs, or Mobility Dogs help people who use wheelchairs, canes, crutches and walkers. They can pick up a dropped item, turn light switches on or off, and carry items. “Laptop Dogs” are a smaller version of the traditional service dog. They have the agility to jump up on counters, retrieve items, and then to jump with the item into the owner’s lap. Guide Dogs are trained to help people who are blind or have a visual impairment with obstacles, crossing the street, public transportation and more.
A Seizure Alert Dog is trained (or has learned) to respond to a seizure in someone who has epilepsy. A Seizure Response Dog responds to someone who is having a seizure. They may alert family members to the seizure. A Seizure Predicting Dog is one that appears to know when a seizure is going to occur. This dog may put its body in between the seizing individual and the floor to break the fall. Or, it may activate an alarm device. A seizure predicting dog is taught scent to alert the person before a seizure occurs.
Diabetic Alert Dogs are trained to alert people with diabetes before their blood sugar levels become dangerous. This dog is trained to react to the chemical change produced by blood sugar highs and lows.
Allergy Alert Dogs are a new kind of service dog. These dogs are being used to sniff out the source of an allergy, including things like peanut shell dust, preventing their handler from making contact with that threat. Allergy Alert Dogs can be trained to help by searching out a location, carrying medication and reminding their handler to take their medication.
There are other types of service dogs, too––including Social Dogs, Walker or Balance Dogs, Mental Health Service Dogs, Dogs for Psychiatric Disabilities, Autism or PTSD Assistance Dogs and more. Names and descriptions vary.
Service dogs can be very expensive. MADE (Making Assistance Dogs Easy), Dogs for Good, and Autism Service Dogs of America are just a few organizations that may provide assistance obtaining a service dog. There are others – just Google to locate organizations that provide service dogs and/or financial assistance to get one.
And while you’re here, be sure to search for service dog resources on our Find Services, Groups and Events page.