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Have you ever seen a service dog in public? It’s common to spot these dogs walking with their handlers; they wear a special vest explaining that they’re a working dog, not just a pet. But did you know that not all service dogs are alike?
There are several different types of service dogs and each one is trained to perform a specific function. Read on to learn about seven common types of service dogs and the services that each one performs.
Guide dogs help individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
The concept of guide dogs became popular after WWI, when Germany began using dogs to help German soldiers who had become blind during the war. The first guide dog school in the United States opened in 19296. Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers are often used as guide dogs.
These trained dogs perform tasks such as leading their handler down the street and navigating any obstacles in the way. This type of service dog is not just for humans – sometimes dogs who are blind have their own seeing-eye dogs, too!
Seizure alert and response dogs often help people who have epilepsy or non-epileptic seizures7.
Seizure alert dogs can detect when their handler is about to have a seizure – this is extremely helpful because it gives the person time to get to a safe place. While there’s some controversy around how dogs can accurately predict seizures, recent research has shown that dogs can detect seizures by smell.
Seizure response dogs perform a function that’s different, but just as helpful: They respond to their handler’s seizure and offer help. Some seizure response dogs might go get help. Others are trained to position themselves to break a fall.
Hearing dogs assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
These dogs can alert their owners to important sounds such as the doorbell ringing or a baby crying. Hearing dogs generally get their owners’ attention through physical touch, such as pawing at their leg, and may also lead their owners toward the sound8.
Retrievers, poodles, and cocker spaniels are common breeds used as hearing dogs. They’re put through extensive audio response training before being matched with a handler in need of their services.
Autism service dogs help support a child or adult who has autism (an umbrella term for several conditions that create challenges around communication and social skills). Autism support dogs can help a person with autism feel less stressed, aiding them in social engagement, emotional growth, and even sensory support (sensory issues often accompany autism).
If a child has a service dog, the parents will generally be given instructions on how to work with their child’s service dog as well. For example, if a child is feeling stressed or anxious, a parent might command the dog to lie across the child’s lap to provide comfort and support.
Psychiatric service dogs are meant to assist people who live with a mental disability (including conditions such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety). The tasks that a psychiatric service dog performs will vary based on its handler’s conditions and how those conditions affect daily life.
If someone lives with depression, their service dog might help retrieve medications or recognize the signs of a panic attack. A service dog for PTSD could provide helpful tactics such as making its handler feel safe in a large crowd9.
It’s also important to note that psychiatric service dogs are different from emotional support dogs (and different from therapy dogs, too). While emotional support dogs are very helpful in providing support for a range of similar conditions, emotional support dogs are not certified service dogs and do not have the same privileges as service dogs (such as being allowed in all businesses and stores)10.
Mobility assistance dogs perform tasks for people who use a wheelchair or have other mobility issues11. These dogs are typically big, strong breeds so they can brace or physically support their handler if needed.
They’re also trained to retrieve items for their handler. For example, when given a certain command or set of commands by his or her handler, a mobility assistance dog might go to the kitchen; open the fridge and take out a water bottle; and bring the object back to its owner. Mobility assistance dogs are expensive to train, but often restore independence to their handlers.
For someone with diabetes, low blood sugar and high blood sugar can both be extremely dangerous if not noticed and treated right away – this is how diabetic alert dogs can help. These trained dogs sense a change in their owner’s breath or sweat. Then they alert their owner so he or she can take appropriate measures to care for their blood sugar.
As you can see, there are several different types of service dogs with each one being trained to perform a specific function. Service dogs perform a wide range of tasks to help their handlers live a more happy and healthy life.
The month of September is Guide Dog and Service Dog Month. We are thankful this month and all year long for the dogs who provide safety and comfort for their human and the community they live in.
1PetFirst Healthcare, LLC (“PetFirst Pet Insurance” or “PetFirst”) is the program administrator authorized to offer and administer pet health insurance policies underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company, a Delaware insurance company, with its main office at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, or New Hampshire Insurance Company or The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, each with its main administrative office at 500 West Madison Street, Suite 3000 Chicago, IL 60661. For costs, complete details of coverage, and a listing of approved states, please contact PetFirst Healthcare, LLC.
2Like most insurance policies, insurance policies offered by PetFirst Healthcare, LLC contain certain exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force.
6 Oxford Academic: History of guide dog use by veterans, August 1 2010, Mark Ostermeier
7 Business Insider: How dogs can smell epileptic seizures before they happen, April 18 2019, David Anderson and Benji Jones
8 American Kennel Club: Canine companions perform important functions for hearing impaired people, April 1 2015, AKC Staff
9 Service Dog Certifications: Psychiatric service dog
10 Canine Journal: Service dog vs therapy dog vs emotional support dogs, July 10 2017, Kimberly Alt
11 American Kennel Club: Meet three amazing mobility service dogs and learn what they do, August 1 2019, Stephanie Dube Dwilson
12 American Kennel Club: What is a diabetic alert dog?, March 1 2018, Stephanie Gibeault