At Your Service: The Top Benefits of Owning a Service Dog
About 500,000 service dogs are helping people in the United States today. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that service dogs have access to almost everywhere their human handler goes.
What are the benefits of service dogs? They allow people with disabilities to live independently.
Through companionship and extensive training, they learn to meet their handler’s needs. This allows handlers to can overcome life’s daily challenges.
What Conditions Benefit From a Service Dog?
Service dogs are now taught to provide amazing services for their handlers. We often say that dogs are a man’s/woman’s best friend. These dogs can do things that even your best friend can’t do for you.
Here are some of the conditions that service dogs assist with:
- Vision impairment
- Severe anxiety disorders, such as PTSD
- Seizure disorders
- Hearing loss
- Impaired mobility or paralysis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Bone and skeletal problems such as scoliosis and osteoporosis
Service dog trainers work with the handlers and their dog to teach the skills needed to meet the handler’s special needs.
Benefits of Service Dogs
The service dogs today perform so many unbelievable tasks. Companionship leads the list of roles they assume. Nothing compares to the unconditional love provided by a dog.
Now let’s look at the shocking number of tasks they perform to help their handler. Understand that each dog does not perform all these tasks, this is a cumulative list.
- Answer the door by pulling a lever
- Brings things to the owner, such as the mail, medicine bottles, and other needed items
- Barks to alert when someone else is present, such as a customer at work or someone at home
- Assists the handler move around, get up from a seat, or climb stairs
- Provide support if the handler has balance issues
- Carries items in a special backpack
- Alerts the handler when it is time to take medications
- Brings the phone to the handler to make calls or in an emergency
- Dials 911, suicide hotlines, relatives, or counselors on dog-friendly phones
- Barks into the phone to signal an emergency
- Alerts a support person or bystander if their handler is in trouble
- Alerts the owner to fire or other emergencies
- Detects and alerts the handler when their blood sugar is out of range
- Alerts their handler to elevated cortisol levels or blood pressure
- Alerts the handler and others when a seizure is imminent.
Specific Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks
While service dogs provide services for people with physical disabilities, they also provide tremendous benefits for those with psychiatric disorders.
- Interrupts situations that act as triggers for psychiatric responses
- Provides a barrier between the handler in crowds
- Covers the handler’s back if someone is approaching, especially in PTSD
- Distracts the handler if they are becoming stressed, freezing in fear, having a panic attack, or about to cause harm to themselves or others
- Guides disoriented handlers from the overwhelming situation to their home or alerts others as needed
- Provides tactile stimulation to specific body pressure points to help with anxiety attacks or other distress
- Identifies and disrupts hallucinations
- Will perform a perimeter search before the handler enters an unfamiliar place to provide a feeling of safety
- Interrupts and redirects for situations such as for a person with OCD who may cause self-harm
Psychiatric service dogs provide tremendous benefits to their handlers. The act of caring for their dog gives the handler purpose.
It also encourages them to interact with the outside world. Getting out of bed and feeding the dog can decrease depressive symptoms.
Emotional support animals provide emotional support. Their handlers report increased feelings of self-esteem associated with the increased independence and responsibility of caring for the dog.
Service Dog Training
Service dog training often takes 1 to 2 years. The dog must learn to assist with your disability. They must always behave appropriately in public. Dog obedience is a high priority.
Thus, the two main areas of service dog training involve public access behaviors and the work and tasks associated with specific disabilities.
7 Steps to Becoming a Service Dog Handler
Becoming a service dog handler involves several steps:
1. You must have a disability that a service dog can assist with.
2. Have your dog’s temperament-tested by a trainer and your veterinarian. This ensures that he/she will be suitable for service dog training.
If the dog has ever shown aggressive behavior toward humans or other animals, they are not acceptable candidates. If your dog is unsuitable, hire a professional trainer. They can help you choose an appropriate breed and help train you and your dog.
3. The dog must master basic obedience both at home and in public. It’s important to work on exposure to other people and animals. Keep a training log of your dog’s obedience and how the dog helps you with your disability.
4. Once your dog can pass the Canine Good Citizen test, buy a vest for your dog with the “in training” patches. Visit local parks, pets stores, and other dog-friendly stores or places. Continue to work on exposure and obedience.
5. Understand your state’s laws regarding public access rights for a service dog in training. Increase exposure to crowds, food, and more.
6. Plan on spending several months training to develop the relationship and skills needed to assist with your disability.
7. Take a Public Access Test. This should take place when your dog has learned to help you with your disability. Your dog must also behave correctly in public.
If possible, have someone videotape you and your dog performing the tasks. It’s best to get a trainer to certify that you and your dog have mastered the skills.
Where Can You Get a Service Dog?
Talk to your doctor or veterinarian in your community. You can also explore the internet for opportunities. One website has been in business since 1968 providing service dogs to those in need.
Their story will warm your heart.
They began when longtime clients had an autistic child. They asked for a service dog for their child.
This was also the time military members were returning from the Gulf War. They were exhibiting PTSD, anxiety, bipolar disorders, depression, and dissociative disorder.
People with disabilities who got service dogs showed benefits from the dog’s help with mental and physical problems. If you or someone you know would benefit from a service dog, visit this website for more information.
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