27 Nov 2019

Most of us don’t realize there are close to 50 million people with disabilities in the United States.  For many of these individuals, it can be challenging to perform simple day to day tasks or even monitor their own health. Fortunately, people with disabilities can now gain more freedom with the assistance of service dogs.

A service animal is not a pet and is different from comfort animals, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal refers to dogs that are trained individually to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. Such disabilities range from sensory processing issues, physical disabilities, intellectual, psychiatric, and other mental disabilities.

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.

Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Only a handful of breeds, such as the German shepherd and golden retriever among a few others, have the innate behavioral disposition and intelligence to be service dogs. No matter the breed, these dogs need specialized and custom training from service dog trainers to ensure they can offer the necessary support to their handlers.

By law, service dogs are allowed access to almost any place their human handler goes. However, this privilege also comes with additional responsibility to the handler and service animal itself.

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.

Here are some traits of a great service dog.

Always has full focus on the handler

Service animals are crucial to the well-being of their handlers and are often regarded as working animals. Therefore, if the animal is easily distracted and unable to offer the support required, the handler may be at risk.

Unless performing a trained task, a service dog should always be mindful of the handler. When walking with a leash, the dog must not pull, lunge, circle, or lag behind unless performing a trained task where tension on the leash is necessary.

When the handler stops or is seated, the animal is required to stay by their side quietly without responding to any distractions. This requires plenty of in-depth training to become a successful service dog.

Obedience

The key to a successful relationship between a service dog and their handler is the animal’s responsiveness to directions, cues, and commands. Service dog trainers ensure that each service animal responds quickly to any commands.

This is important as it ensures the animal can be relied upon to provide the needed assistance as required. Additionally, obedience makes it easier to introduce them to unfamiliar places or situations.

Does not bark, grumble, growl, or make noise unless necessary

Service animals are trained to execute tasks and support their handler without barking or making unnecessary noise. However, there are exceptions: this is usually the case with diabetic service dogs and seizure response service dogs.

Ability to remain calm

By nature, animals can display aggressive behaviors when they are intimidated or uneasy. As a result, the people around can also become fearful and anxious, especially if they are not fond of animals.

A service dog must, at all times, retain composure without displaying signs of aggression so that it can be allowed to accompany its handler in public. With plenty of training from experienced service dog trainers at a young age, your service dog should have no problem remaining calm in new situations.

Rely on SDWR today

Service animals can significantly improve the quality of life of a person with a disability. To ensure they provide the best service, it is vital that specialized service dog trainers train them well. For more information or answer any questions you have don’t hesitate to reach out to SDWR.