Sunday, April 13, 2014

Service Dogs

If you have a disability or life-threatening disease, you may sometimes feel an overwhelming sense of powerlessness: over your body, your medical care, insurance, drugs and devices, and, of course, the cost of everything. Does your quality of life suffer from the stress of it all? Have you ever thought that a dog could make a difference in your life? Perhaps one of these:
  • serv·ice dog   /'sərvis/ dôg/
    A dog trained to perform one or more tasks to assist with an individual’s
    disability or life-threatening illness as defined by the Americans with 
    Disabilities Act. Service dogs are also known as assistance dogs.

This service dog trained long 
and hard before accompanying
her handler to school.
(C) Dee Bogetti, All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission
Kinds of service dogs
The world of service dogs is constantly changing. No longer just for for the blind, dogs are being trained for everything from life-threatening allergies (peanuts, mold) to assisting people with debilitating arthritis. Here are examples of other service dog jobs.

Diabetic alert dogs are trained to alert (tell) a diabetic, caregiver or family member when the diabetic’s blood sugar is going up or down.

Guide dogs lead blind or visually impaired people around obstacles, up and down stairs, across streets, etc.

Hearing dogs alert individuals with hearing loss to specific sounds like a ringing phone, a smoke detector, the doorbell, etc.

Mobility dogs are trained to help people with physical issues that affect mobility. For an individual who is wheelchair-bound, the mobility dog can pull the wheelchair, retrieve dropped items, turn light switches on and off, open and close doors, assist the handler in transferring to and from a wheelchair, etc. For people who can walk, mobility dogs help with stability and balance, stand steady (brace) to help a person rise from the floor (if they have fallen) or from a chair. They can also help with some of the same tasks as mobility dogs for people in wheelchairs, like retrieving, tugging off clothing, bringing a cane, dragging a laundry basket, etc. Mobility dogs can be trained for people with a wide range of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, etc.

Psychiatric service dogs (aka psych dogs) assist individuals with a wide range of psychiatric disorders with tasks like bracing for a person whose medication makes him dizzy, waking a person who is heavily medicated, clearing a room and/or turning on lights for a person with post-traumatic stress, blocking a person having a dissociative episode from a dangerous situation like walking into traffic, leading a disoriented handler to a specific person or place, etc.

This is a service dog training 
out in the world. This photo was
 taken in the elevator 
of a busy store.  Good dog!
(C) Dee Bogetti, All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission
PTSD dogs are service dogs for individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome, both military and civilian.

Seizure assist dogs are trained to provide comfort and a sense of safety to a person who is experiencing or has just experienced a seizure. A seizure assist dog may learn, after being on the job for a while, to recognize the signs that his person is about to have a seizure. When that happens, he can be taught to alert the individual to find a safe place to sit or lie down or to alert another person.

Therapy dogs are trained to interact with people in a variety of settings, providing comfort, and affection. Therapy dogs brighten the days of people in nursing homes, hospitals, etc. Therapy dogs assist with actual physical therapy, becoming an integral part of the treatment process and the therapy team. This kind of therapy can be provided in a variety of settings and can be for groups or individuals. Therapy dogs are also used in schools, the courts, and in the aftermath of disasters like 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. Therapy dogs are not service dogs.

* * *

The road to getting a service dog can be challenging. To increase your odds for success, know your options:

§ Apply to an organization that trains service dogs and provides them to their clients at no charge.

§ Apply to an organization that requires you to pay for your service dog, often through fund-raising.

§ Train your own service dog.

Where do you apply for a service dog? There are a few large, well known, and successful service dog organizations that have been around for years, like Guiding Eyes for the Blind and Canine Companions for Independence.

Beyond the well-established organizations, companies come and go, some placing good dogs, some not. Your best bet is to do a ton of research, ask a lot of questions, and talk to people with service dogs and to service dog trainers. There are also independent service dog trainers who are not affiliated with an organization.

A good place to start your research is Pet Partners, a reliable resource for information about service dogs.

If you are capable and determined with a ton of common sense and an innate understanding of animals, you might be able to train your own service dog. The process is daunting, extraordinarily time-consuming, and not always successful. But when it is … it’s magic.

This is the first in a series of posts about service dogs.

About the author:  Dee Bogetti is a service dog trainer/consultant and the author of Puppies chew shoes, don’t they? and Training your puppy to be a diabetic alert dog. Her third book, A guide to choosing and training your own service dog, will be available this spring. Click here if you would like to be notified when it is published.

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