When thinking of a service dog, one might imagine a working animal like a sheepdog, military or police canine, but actually these are two very different critters. A service dog is defined as an assistance animal that is specially trained to help people who have disabilities. Again, one may first picture a guide dog for the blind, but these canines also assist those who are deaf and could benefit from the special abilities of these well-trained dogs.
Things You May Not Know About Service Dogs
#1 – NOT A PET & DON’T PET
The first misconception many people have about service dogs is that they are glorified pets, but according to Paul Bowskill, the general manager of Service Dogs America, a company that sells equipment for these animals, “Keep the word pet out of there, they are an extension of the person who has the disability.”
This is one of the reasons why you should never pet a service dog unless you ask their owner for permission since they are almost always on duty and working. In one case, a passerby was petting seventeen-year-old Hailey Ashmore’s service dog Flynn, and while the animal was distracted, Hailey suffered injuries from a seizure that Flynn was trained to detect.
#2 – ACCESSORIES ARE OPTIONAL
Although Bowskill sells things like harnesses and laminated cards that identify these dogs as service animals, he admits that the vests you often see them wearing aren’t necessary. However, Paul does recommend them highly, “Travel through O’Hare [airport] at 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. with a service dog that doesn’t have a vest on; it’s like going through a minefield.” Paul says, “They’ll still stop you, but it’s easier with a vest.”
#3 – RETRIEVERS ROCK THE ROLE
Although almost any type of dog or individual breed can be a service animal, retrievers were naturally born to perform this role. Dogs like Golden Retrievers and labradors are instinctively perfect for this type of work since they love to carry things in their mouth and bring things to their master. Conversely, for some suffering from psychological issues like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), small dogs or even cats can offer them relief.
#4 – TRAINING IS COSTLY & TIME CONSUMING
Getting an animal to perform a variety of tasks prepares them for a career as a service dog can take years and cost tens of thousands of dollars in some cases. Some types of training can begin with neuromuscular stimulation exercises when puppies are only two days old. These techniques are also used on police and military dogs that help prepare the animals to handle potentially stressful situations.
Besides retrieving items for their master, trainers can also put these service animals into social situations where they are taught to navigate through an office environment or take public transportation. All of these maneuvers take time and money. Of course, the benefit of having a service dog definitely outweighs the cost!
Service dogs enrich the lives of their people in so many ways that it’s hard to imagine a world without them. Just remember, when you see a service dog out and about, he’s performing a very important job and shouldn’t be distracted. Ooh and ahh over his cuteness from afar and let him focus on his duties.
Have you ever worked with a service dog? Share your thoughts and experiences below!