Service dogs are trained working dogs that assist individuals with disabilities. Each dog receives specialized training based on the type of tasks expected of him, such as alerting a person to a seizure, guiding a blind person, opening doors or retrieving medications. Some types of service dogs include guide dogs, hearing dogs, medical alert dogs and psychiatric service dogs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows individuals with service dogs to take their animals into public areas and buildings.
Guide dogs assist blind handlers to move safely. They are trained in intelligent disobedience, a skill that allows the dogs to disobey unsafe commands, such as walking out into traffic. Guide dogs also stop to notify their handler of steps, curbs, obstacles in the walkway and overhanging objects, such as trees.
Guide dogs are not trained to learn specific routes and destinations.
Hearing dogs assist deaf individuals by alerting them to sounds, such as a knock at the door, timer or a ringing phone. Additional training is provided as necessary to meet the individual's needs. For example, they can learn to alert to a baby crying if the handler has a child. They alert by physically touching their handler and taking them to the sound.
Hearing dogs do not generally alert to sirens or other sounds in public.
Medical Alert Dogs
Medical alert dogs alert their handler to a medical emergency and seek help if necessary. These dogs are trained to alert for a specific condition such as seizures or blood sugar changes in diabetics. Medical alert dogs may be trained to retrieve insulin or other medications. In addition, they learn to call for help by pressing a button that sounds an alarm.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Service dogs can provide assistance to individuals with psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder or panic disorder. These dogs perform a variety of tasks for their handler including:
- Retrieving medications
- Calling emergency services using a K-9 rescue phone
- Opening the door to emergency responders
- Alerting to remind their handler to take medications
- Disrupting emotional overload or repetitive behavior by repetitively nudging or licking their handler
- Circling their handler to keep crowds at a distance
- Turning on lights when their handler is fearful or anxious
Specific training and duties varies by disorder and needs of the handler.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
Mobility assistance dogs help individuals in wheelchairs or with conditions such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or balance problems. Tasks include pushing buttons for elevators or to open public doors, turning on lights, retrieving items, pulling the wheelchair short distances and opening cabinets.