Service Dog Roles and Requirements

Article Highlight: What Are Psychiatric Service Dogs and How Do They Help?

Many individuals with disabilities, including mental health conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, can benefit from service animals. These trained canines, known as psychiatric… Keep reading »
Senior man holding dog in wheelchair

With the growing dialogue around service dogs, people are increasingly curious about what these canines do to help. Many wonder, what exactly are service dogs? Service dogs are canines who assist their handlers with daily tasks or in cases of emergency, or who help those living with a disability. There are several different types of service dogs who fulfill unique roles. If you're wondering whether you qualify for a service dog or are simply curious about them, there is a lot to learn about these life-saving dogs.

What Is a Service Dog?

Service dogs are working dogs who are specifically trained to help people. These dogs enable their handlers to live independently by assisting with day-to-day activities. Depending on the individual's disability or needs, a service dog may complete a wide range of tasks, including opening doors, interrupting panic attacks, retrieving items, guiding, providing balance, and alerting to low blood sugar, among hundreds of other duties.

Types of Service Dogs

There are several types of service and assistance dogs specially trained to assist their handlers. Some of these roles include:

  • Guide Dogs: Possibly the most well-known type of service dog, guide dogs are trained to guide individuals who are visually impaired. They help their handlers navigate the world safely.
  • Mobility Assistance Dogs: Dogs who assist individuals with physical disabilities to perform functions they cannot are referred to as mobility assistance dogs.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs: Service dogs that help individuals with mental disabilities, such as PTSD, anxiety, autism, ADHD, panic disorder, among other conditions, are considered psychiatric service dogs.
  • Hearing Service Dogs: Service dogs can assist handlers who are deaf or hard or hearing by alerting them to nearby sounds or noises. These include the approaching people or vehicles, the phone, doorbell, smoke alarm, and more.
  • Seizure Alert and Response Dogs: Individuals with epilepsy or other seizure disorders can benefit from trained dogs who respond to seizure activity. It's also possible for some dogs to anticipate a handler's seizure and alert them before it occurs.
  • Emotional Support Dogs: While emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they still fulfill an important role. These dogs provide their individuals with comfort, companionship, and therapeutic support.
  • Therapy Dogs: Similar to emotional support dogs, therapy dogs are not categorized as service dogs. Therapy animals are trained to provide therapy and comfort to people in facilities like school, hospitals, and nursing homes.

How to Get a Service Dog

If you feel that you qualify for a service dog for a mental or physical disability and would like to find one, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider. Gather all necessary documentation and information regarding what you're looking for in a service dog before beginning your search. And if you do not meet the eligibility, it's possible you could still qualify for an emotional support animal.

The process of acquiring a service dog can take long of time and cost quite a lot of money. Before you begin, it's important to know what tasks or skills you would like your dog to perform, the best size and breed of dog for you, and how you will register your assistance dog. There are several well-known service dog organizations you can apply through. However, many emphasize that wait times can last up to several years. An alternative is training your own service dog.

Training Service Dogs

Most individuals who go this route elect to work with a canine behaviorist or service dog certification program. If you have a dog that is already bonded to you and is familiar with your disability or needs, this can be a great solution. However, it's important to remember that not every dog will make a great service dog. These working canines should have the right temperament and must undergo rigorous training.

Laws Protecting Service Dogs

The Americans with Disabilities Act outlines service dog laws to protect both service dogs and their handlers. These rules provide details on where service dogs can accompany their handlers, what types of questions establishments are permitted to ask about the dog, and what type of identification these animals should display, if any.

Understanding the Role of Service Dogs

Service dogs are not like other pets. These trained canines have an important job: to assist their handlers. Never approach or distract a service dog while out in public without the handler's consent. Next time you see one of these heroic dogs, know that they are on the job.

Service Dog Roles and Requirements