Research has proven that dogs help in giving benefits to our health. They do so by encouraging owners to have a healthier/fitter lifestyle, decreasing their stress levels, and therefore increasing happiness too. Yup, all dogs possess this power. But some special dogs do some extra unique stuff for special people too. In this article, get ready as we introduce you to service dogs and service dog training.
What Are Service Dogs?
If you are not yet familiar with service dogs, the name practically speaks for itself. At first glance, you may get the idea that service dogs… well… give service. And while that may be right to some extent, allow us to discuss the wonders of service dogs further.
Basically, service dogs are dogs that are much like other dogs—reliable, loyal, obedient, and outgoing! However, on top of these, they also have additional special abilities, such as being able to do very specific (maybe unusual for some) tasks for people with disabilities. You read that right; service dogs give service to disabled people. While that may be a piece of new information to you, the trend of getting service dogs has actually gone up during the last few years.
Service dogs help people with disabilities to lead a somewhat normal and relatively more independent life. Think of them as the extended hand/leg/body/eyes/ears of people who have impairments. Disabilities are not exclusive to physical impairments. Even mental disorders or mental illnesses are now defined as disabilities by law. Therefore, service dogs receive service dog training on how to respond to specific situations concerning the person they’re servicing.
There are different special dog training courses for different kinds of work to be provided. Commonly, the end goal is always to shape service dogs so that they can reliably assist people in their everyday activities. Below, we list only a few of the general tasks of service dogs.
- Service dogs open the door when someone is there.
- They retrieve things for their owners (medicine kits, newspapers, dropped items, etc.).
- Service dogs help their owners move around and get to places.
- They offer constant support for their owners in case they fall out of balance.
- Service dogs carry necessary stuff for their owners like medicine.
- They can get the phone in case of an emergency.
- Service dogs intervene when their owners experience a triggering event.
- They alert people when their owner is undergoing stress.
- Service dogs lead other people to their owners for help.
- Service dogs alert their owners should there be any danger (fire, theft, etc.).
- They guide their disoriented owners.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Service dogs can do even more sophisticated tasks depending on the disability of their owners. How awesome is that?
Types of Service Dogs for Service Dog Training
Luckily, there is no strict mandate on what dog breeds are allowed to become service dogs. This means your personal dog can undergo service dog training if you prefer. There are, however, common breeds that are seen fit for the job. They include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Standard Poodle, and even Pomeranians. So, if you think only large “guard” dogs are eligible, you are wrong.
Actually, service dogs can either be really small or massive dogs so long as they can execute required tasks. Of course, if a person with a disability needs his/her wheelchair to be pushed, a bigger service dog may be more appropriate. On the other hand, if the task is only to aid a hearing-impaired person, smaller service dogs will be a great choice too.
Service dogs aren’t categorized based on their breed but more on what service they give. We listed down the most common types of service dogs, complete with what they do and who they serve.
Guide dogs are the most common type of service dogs. These are service dogs who guide people who are either completely blind or are visually impaired. Dog breeds like the Golden Retriever or the Labrador Retriever are one of the best choices for this type of service. However, as we have mentioned, your poodle can also have service dog training.
Interestingly, guide dogs are not new. In fact, evidence of guide dogs dates back to the Roman empire. That just means that even then, people have already appreciated how reliable dogs are. You will often see guide dogs wear a special harness around their body with a leash or a handle attached to it. This is how their owners get a hold of them, which in turn allows them to guide their owners. Typically, guide dogs are not required to wear a vest.
Also common are hearing dogs for people with hearing disabilities. Their main task is primarily to alert their owners to important sounds—alarms, approaching/beeping vehicles, water heater, crying babies, doorbells, and more. When hearing dogs pick up the sound, they will go and touch their owners to lead them to where the sound is.
Aside from Retrievers, other breeds like Poodles and even Cocker Spaniels are excellent choices for this. These breeds, once accomplished with service dog training, are highly efficient to become hearing dogs.
Aside from its size, the dog’s temperament and natural personality also play a part in selecting what type of service they’re best for. For this, some other breeds like Terrier Mixes, Chihuahuas, or Cockers are ideal to receive special dog training too.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
These types of service dogs have a more extensive array of things they can perform. Because they help people who cannot move or has minimal mobility, they are in charge of most of the legwork throughout the day. Tasks can include, but are not limited to the following:
- Bringing things for their owners
- Pushing the doors open/pressing buttons on automatic ones
- Help in pushing/pulling a wheelchair if needed
- Answer or retrieve the phone
- Turning the lights on and off
- Carrying bags or other objects
- Offer support when getting dressed/undressed
- Help in walking up and down the stairs
The responsibilities of a mobility assistance service dog are endless. This means that the service dog training is accordingly long and complex, as well. Overall, their goal is to give stability and balance to their owners at all times.
Allergy Detection Dogs
While allergies may be less severe than other types of disabilities, they are still dangerous and fatal. They become so when they are not given immediate and proper attention or when harmful allergens are not detected ahead of time.
This is where service dogs come in. Dogs with proper service dog training for allergy detection are trained to detect odors of allergens like gluten, peanut, and milk. Often, these service dogs are paired up with kids because they are at higher risk of accidentally having an allergy attack. Having a service dog not only allows parents to feel safer but also allows kids to be more independent.
However, service dog training for this still needs some more refinement. Some have reported that these dogs are not as effective in detecting allergens, while some swear by the effectivity of having allergy-detecting service dogs. Regardless, the idea of an allergy-detecting dog is undoubtedly beneficial. They only need a better service dog training.
Diabetes Alert Dogs
Diabetes can render those affected to be at risk of sudden sugar level changes. The effects may be fatal, which is why diabetes alert dogs are also popular nowadays.
When there is a change in blood sugar levels, dogs smell the chemical change and alert their owners accordingly. The chemical change and the scent that accompanies it are almost impossible to pick up by humans. But dogs have incredible sense of smell, so they can pick this up quickly before the level change becomes dangerous.
When they alert their owner, the owner immediately knows to test his/her blood. Shortly after, they’re also able to either inject insulin or ingest glucose before reaching a dangerous blood level. If the owner is not able to do so himself, service dog training for diabetes alert dogs also includes alerting other people in the household or turning on an alarm.
These are only some of the most common types. Still, there are several other types of service dogs, depending on your needs or disability.
Are You Eligible to Get a Service Dog?
Truth be told, it can be quite a challenge to give a direct answer. Nowadays, “disability” can differ in meaning and scope for several laws and people. Generally, however, we recommend discussing getting a service dog with your doctor to know if it’s feasible.
Fortunately, qualifying for a service dog is very achievable once you find yourself eligible. Take a look below for the usual requirements:
- Must be at least 12 years old, unless a child with autism is the one in need of service dog
- Be diagnosed with a physical impairment or mental disorders like PTSD
- Live in a reasonably stable environment
- Be physically and mentally able to participate in special dog training
- Have the ability to handle and give the command to a service dog
- Must be able to provide the service dog proper physical, emotional, and financial necessities
The difficulty of finding a service dog varies depending on where you live. Generally, however, there are service dog organizations scattered throughout the United States to guide you. These service dog training organizations train dogs to do specific skills that some people with disabilities may require. Included in the service dog training is how to learn public access skills and having control over several possible situations.
Service Dog Training
Service dog training can be quite challenging, which is why the rate for dropout candidates are also high. Add to this the fact that the cost can be quite hefty for some people who may not have an extra budget for it.
Fortunately, have the option to train your own dog at home. This is especially useful for people who already have dogs that they want to train to become a service dog. Not only will it cost you less money, but it will also allow you to bond with your dog and feel safer having your dog as your personal bodyguard.
First things first, we recommend that you perform a character test so that you know your dog will be a great candidate for service dog training. Personal service dog training will require you to master the basics with your dog. These may include basic commands such as sit, stay, and still. Further, it’s also best if you have already house-trained (like potty training, etc.) your dog effectively. It’s also a best practice to allow your dog to socialize in different environments and eliminate distractions.
Of course, aside from the basics, your service dog training should also involve lessons on how to do specific tasks to aid a person with a disability. As you have read, the tasks are of varying degrees of complexity depending on the disability.
First, align what your disability is to the tasks you need your dog to do for you. Afterward, plan your lessons accordingly. It may be challenging to come up with your own service dog training plan. The Internet and your local service dog training professional come in handy here.
To guide you, the following are the three phases generally set both for at-home or professional service dog training:
- Heeling. This can pose quite a bit of difficulty when you teach it to dogs. It is different from commanding them to “sit” or “come.” Instead, it’s the focus is the dog maintaining its position to you however you move.
- Proofing. This can be time-consuming and is the phase where you train your dog to tune out any distractions. Doing so will help them to be always alert and on command.
- Tasking. This last phase is also the most difficult. This phase involves your dog learning the specific tasks they will do.
Professional Service Dog Training
While training your dog at home may be an ideal option for bonding with your dog and saving money, it may not be as easy as you think. Service dog training courses are highly stringent to fully equip service dogs with the appropriate skills. Similarly, having a physical disability in itself is already hard, and having a reliable service dog is definitely crucial. With that, some may believe that hiring a professional service dog trainer or enrolling in professional service dog training classes is the way to go.
If you don’t have the budget, there are a lot of non-profit organizations that offer both service dogs and service dog training. These organizations either offer a much lower cost or give free training altogether. While enticing, your first must meet their requirements before they add you to the long waiting list.
Admittedly, the cost of hiring a professional service dog trainer can be expensive. It will mostly depend on the kind of training the dog will need. Of course, the benefit of this is that an experienced service dog trainer can teach your dog a lot of stuff. Because of that, the sessions and the training period are quite quick, so you might be able to save money for the long-term despite a high upfront cost.
Professional service dog training can be private or in groups, which we will discuss below.
Private Service Dog Training
As we said, opting for a professional trainer with experience can give high-quality training in a shorter period. Still, the length of training your dog will depend on a lot of other factors. These factors may be your dog’s learning ability, any previous training your dog has received, and the amount of time that went into teaching him each skill.
Indeed, one main advantage of a private service dog training is how convenient it is. The daily regimen can happen in your own home, which will save you from having to go to dog classes. Consequently, the convenience and quality of training come with a higher price tag. Personal service dog training sessions can cost up to $150–$250 per hour. For cost-efficiency, we highly suggest you teach your dog the basic training/commands first before getting a professional trainer. With that, you won’t have to pay extra for foundation skills, and the trainer can get into the more complex tasks already.
Although the high cost for service dog training may be a drawback, this option is still highly efficient. Professional trainers are equipped to handle different dogs. They are also able to create custom training plans depending on what each dog would need. Additionally, because it is a one-on-one session, you can be more involved by telling the trainer the specific tasks you want your dog to learn.
Group Service Dog Training
If the cost of a personal trainer outweighs all the pros, you, fortunately, have a cheaper option. Group service dog training is simply courses done with a group of about ten dogs. This training has a wide variety of courses from basic manners to advanced manners and assistance skills, among others.
Unlike personal service dog training, the cost of group service dog training is usually on a per-session basis rather than by the hour. Typically, the cost varies per area but plays around $150/lesson. If you decide to pay yearly, the cost can total to $3600 to $40,200.
This option has its pros, the main one being that it may be an optimal option for your dog. Since the courses focus on a lot of skills, you can choose where you want your dog to learn more. However, it may also prove to be inconvenient, as you will have to bring your dog to class every day. Another problem for a lot of owners is the amount and quality of attention their pups will get. A group service dog training can include around five to ten dogs. Yours may not receive full attention if your dog is relatively timider than the others.
What Does the Law Say About Service Dogs?
Every owner must know the law by heart regardless of where you got your service dog or how you trained it. To guide you, here are some of the most critical points you need to remember:
- By law, you are not really required to present paperwork about your service dog. However, you must be able to answer questions you would most likely be asked: (1) What is your disability, and is your dog required because of this disability? (2) What specific skills does your dog perform to help you in your disability? For those with emotional support dogs, you may be more challenged as these services are not defined by law.
- Of course, your service dog should be trained appropriately. Your dog should alert you or do things for you that will not cause inconvenience in public. Bad behaviors include constantly barking in public or jumping at you or other people. Service dog training will ensure your dogs behave appropriately even when they need to alert you.
- Your dog should be harnessed, leashed, or tethered. If you can prove that using either would not let your dog do its task, then you can do away with these training collars. Even so, your dog must be under your complete control and should only be out of leash when doing a task.
- Aggression is not a welcome trait for service dogs. It’s a given that your dogs will protect or alarm you when some situations arise. But if they do so by barking at other people, then this is a sign of aggression. Dogs like this would not be allowed to be public service dogs. The law will recommend you choose another dog/breed that is better suited to become a service dog.
- Be hands-on with your personal service dog trainer/service dog training program. Be smart enough to check if their program considers legally trained skills. It would be a shame to spend hundreds of bucks into a service dog training only to find out they still lack legally trained skills.
- If you choose to train your dog personally, do choose a dog breed whose chances of success are high. If you have an existing dog you’d like to train, you can go for consultations to determine how eligible your dog is to become a service dog. This will depend on what your disability is, as it may require a different type of service dog.
Benefits of Service Dogs
Service dogs are more than just pets or companions. They are like an extension of their owner/handler’s body. There is zero doubt that dogs do contribute to the health and well-being of people, especially people with disabilities. Service dogs play a crucial part in helping their owners to function somewhat independently, thus effectively making life a lot easier for them. Let’s take a further look at the benefits of service dogs.
1. Service dogs help relieve anxiety.
Although emotional support dogs are not as recognized as the other types, this is still not to be dismissed. There are a lot of patients suffering from mental disorders like anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), disruptive behavioral disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as veterans. As simple as it is, just touching dogs releases hormones like endorphins and dopamine, both making us happier.
2. They encourage communication.
If you may not know it yet, dogs have a fantastic way of building a connection with people. They do so by putting people at ease. Dogs sense our gestures and our vocalization, which is why dogs help people who often find it hard to communicate. Sometimes, people just want to be listened to and not criticized, and that’s exactly what dogs do.
3. They help around the household.
Service dogs are trained to do multiple tasks inside the home. They can turn on/off the lights, open the door, retrieve items, or help their owners to the stairs. This is a life-changing help, especially for people who suffer from mobility impairment. It’s like having another person to help you in the house, only in the form of a cute and cuddly dog.
4. They allow independence.
Without service dogs, people with disabilities will always need to be around another person or a personal caregiver. Having so will just lower their morale, as they may feel like they are utterly dependent on another person to do everyday tasks.
Although a service dog has a similar responsibility, they differ in such a way that the owner still has some kind of control and autonomy. Having this kind of independence will be beneficial for them in the long run, giving them more motivation to stay healthy.
Having a disability might make you isolate yourself from other people. This tendency comes with the feeling that you are “different” or might be because you feel angry about your situation. You may not want other people to pity you or treat you differently.
All these feelings are valid, but it’s worth noting that service dogs will not treat you like that. For them, you are a precious human to be protected at all costs.
Dogs are incredible not only at being personal companions but also at creating connections between humans and humans. Simply walking with your service dog outside will already give you a higher chance of finding meaningful relationships and social support.
There are many heroes with two legs, but we think some have four. Service dogs are brave creatures, and they certainly make many people’s lives happier and more comfortable, something that we at The Furry Companion firmly ground ourselves in.
Just as they dedicate their lives to serve us, so must we repay them by giving them our love. The amount of dedication they put into helping us is admirable, which is why we must always remember not to abuse them. With that, we hope that this guide has helped you navigate your way through the basics of service dog training. If you’re planning to get one, be ready for a rollercoaster ride. Good luck!
Kim Reosora is a Communication Arts graduate who always had a passion for writing… and for animals! Since childhood, she has taken a particular liking towards cats. She used to take in abandoned kittens under her care. In fact, she initially wanted to pursue Veterinary Medicine to help out our furry companions. In a few years, she swears to finally be the cat mom of her dreams. Now, she loves the fact that she is able to write about one of the many things that she loves.