Service Dogsby RNE submissions on 04/03/18
By Joanna Mechlinski
Although some people may still equate service dogs with people who are blind or visually impaired, the truth is these animals’ skills have really evolved in recent years!
While many people use the terms “service dog” and “therapy dog” interchangeably, that is actually far from accurate.
A service dog’s purpose is to help a specific person with an illness or disability do things they cannot do for themselves. For instance, a diabetic may use a dog to scent changes in blood that signify impending low or high blood sugar. The dog can alert the person that an event is coming, or another person for help, as well as fetch medication or even call 911. The most common breeds trained to be service dogs are Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds
Similarly, a dog can be taught to do a wide variety of tasks depending on the person’s needs. There are dogs for seizure or severe allergy alerts, for brace/mobility support, for wheelchair assistance, for autism assistance, for psychiatric needs (such as PTSD, anxiety or dementia) and more. As there is no official list of service dog types, one could presumably be utilized for any purpose. These dogs can be trained to do anything from fetching or carrying items to performing tasks such as opening doors or turning on lights.
This type of animal is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning that the individual may bring the dog into public places where animals are not typically permitted, such as restaurants and stores.
In comparison, a therapy dog – also known as a comfort or emotional support dog - is not allowed everywhere a service dog is. This dog is not responsible for actual tasks. Rather, he or she serves as comfort to individuals undergoing stressful or traumatic situations. It’s common to see therapy dogs in schools, hospitals or nursing homes. This type of dog works with many people. Any dog may become a therapy dog.