Posts Tagged ‘service dog’

There’s no doubt that modern treatments have come a long way in improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. Technology also offers new gadgets to help make daily life a little less challenging for disabled individuals. With all these advances, however, nothing compares to the help of a service dog. To understand what a service dog is and what disabilities qualify you for a service dog, read on below.

What is a Service Dog?

Service dogs receive special training to perform particular tasks tailored to the needs of their owner. Unlike pets, the primary reason for the animal’s presence is to accomplish daily tasks for a person with a disability. Because service dogs are so vital to an individual’s well-being and functioning, their presence is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Service dogs are not only exceptionally well-trained, but they are also selected for their intelligence and temperament. As federal law allows service dogs to follow their owners into areas not usually allowed by pets, service dogs are trained to behave and be safe in public. For someone with a disability, getting a service dog can be life-changing. Some people with a disability can experience more freedom and independence thanks to their service dogs. 

Qualified Disabilities for a Service Dog

If you’re curious about getting a service dog for yourself or someone you love, your first step would be to understand if your disability qualifies you for a service dog.

How is a Disability Defined? 

According to the ADA, a disability is defined as: 

“Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine.”

Interestingly, the ADA definition of a disability is both vague and specific at the same time for a reason. It attempts to encompass all the possible disabilities a person may have without creating a broad definition to include everyone. People who have disabilities require specific accommodations. The ADA’s definition of a disability means that a person can be considered disabled for both mental or physical problems. 

Having a disability is the first part of being qualified for a service dog. The second is whether a service dog can meet the needs of a disability. 

A wide range of disabilities qualifies for a service dog to help their owner improve their quality of life. Service Dogs and Disabilities

Not every disability qualifies a person for a service dog. A physician can assess a person’s needs and make an individual assessment as to whether a service dog is beneficial in their situation. Here are a few examples of disabilities that may qualify: 


Service dogs can help people with mobility issues by obtaining daily items that they would not get for themselves. For example, these dogs can hand over objects on the floor or help owners slip on their shoes. 


Service dogs can help children with autism remain safe, provide guidance, and encourage tactile stimulations. These dogs also monitor boundaries for a child and can alert others of a child is harming themselves. 


Service dogs can guide visually impaired individuals through streets and crowded areas, navigating them through situations that would otherwise be dangerous. These dogs can also alert their owners to safety issues and remove fall hazards from their path. 


Service dogs can detect low blood sugar in people with diabetes and inform their owners to take precautions. These dogs can also call 911 in emergencies and obtain life-saving medication during hypoglycemic events. 


Service dogs can help to prevent or assist in situations where seizures occur. These dogs can alert owners of impending seizures and place pressure on body parts for safety when seizures happen. 

Psychiatric Disorders

Psychiatric service dogs can help obtain medication for people with psychiatric disorders, discourage self-injurious behavior, and deter their owners from situations that may trigger a crisis response. 

Other Disabilities That Can Benefit From Service Dogs  Asthma Cerebral Palsy Chronic back/neck problems Chronic Fatigue  Fibromyalgia Hearing Impairments Heart Problems Multiple Sclerosis Narcolepsy Paralysis Stroke

If you don’t see your disorder on this list, talk to your licensed therapist if a service dog may benefit you. There are many other disabilities that can qualify for a service dog, depending on the individual’s needs. 

A service dog can assist individuals with a qualifying disability in all public areas. Do You Qualify for a Service Dog? 

Because service dogs perform such an essential duty, they can follow their owners into all public areas. This allows them to perform their tasks whenever their owners need them. A service dog must be well-behaved and safe with the public at all times. These responsibilities are why service dogs go through such a rigorous selection and training process. To qualify for one of these special dogs depends on your disability, individual status, and physician. Evaluate your daily needs and start a conversation with your practitioner about how a service dog can improve your quality of life. 

It’s tempting to pet a service dog. After all, these dogs are well-behaved, adorable, and very approachable. What harm could it do? It’s just a pat on their soft furry head and maybe a treat. So, is it okay to pet a service dog? The short answer is “NO.”

It’s never a good idea to pet dogs you aren’t familiar with, as a general rule. You never know what kind of temperament or background a dog could have. Always approach a dog and its owner slowly and ask the owner first if their dog can be pet. 

More importantly, service dogs are different from other dogs. If you see a dog with a vest, harness, or cape, it may be a service dog. They are specially trained to provide a task that a person with a disability cannot accomplish on their own. Focused and disciplined, service dogs are always alert and vigilant, ready to do their jobs. Distraction can be costly and, in some cases, even life-threatening to their handlers. 

Distracting a Service Dog

Service dogs spend months, sometimes years, in training to perform their tasks. All that time invested in the dog is for a fundamental purpose. Although it’s not typically apparent what a service dog’s purpose is, here are some examples of tasks they might perform: 

Autism Assistance

Dogs who assist children with autism keep these kids safe, provide tactile stimulation, or encourage them to interact with their surroundings. These dogs also establish boundaries for autistic children, preventing them from straying away or running. 

Seizure Alert/Response

Service dogs for people who suffer from seizures help detect, prevent, or assist when seizures occur. They may provide pressure on specific body parts, obtain medications, or call for help. These dogs may even alert their owners or others if a seizure is about to occur.

Diabetic Alert

Service dogs trained for people with diabetes can perform many life-saving tasks. They can call 911 in emergencies and detect if a person’s blood sugar is low. Diabetic service dogs can also obtain medication if their owner suffers from hypoglycemia.

Medical Alert

Dogs trained to be medical alert service dogs can detect when physiologic changes occur, such as blood pressure, heart rate, or hormonal differences that can affect a person’s safety. These dogs let their handler know if such changes occur and can call 911 or get assistance if necessary. 

Psychiatric Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs can help obtain medication, prevent self-injury, or remove their handler for situations that can trigger a crisis response. These dogs can also detect the start of anxiety or agitation and alert their handler to initiate positive coping skills. 

Knowing how essential and vital their services are, it’s easy to understand why a service dog shouldn’t be distracted.

The tasks above are a few of the functions that a service dog may have to perform. A service dog, when out in public, is on the job. Just like a pilot or a surgeon shouldn’t be distracted, a service dog must remain focused on the job. Their handler’s life may depend on it. 

Don’t Look a Service Dog in the Eyes

Although it may seem minor, making eye contact with a service dog can also distract them. For dogs, eye contact has different meanings than it does for humans. And because they can’t verbalize their thoughts as humans can, eye contact can be a form of communication. Eye contact with a service dog is like starting a conversation with a bus driver, right in the middle of making a turn. 

Do not approach or interact with a service dog. Any distraction may put the handler’s life in jeopardy. Your Scent Can Affect a Service Dog’s Job

We may not be able to detect the scents on our hands, but dogs do. Our scent can affect a service dog’s task by preventing them from smelling the scent they’re trained to detect. A dog’s highly sensitive sense of smell can pick up all kinds of odors, even our hands’ temporary touch on their fur. Petting a dog who relies on their nose to detect blood sugar levels or hormones can be dangerous for the disabled person that needs the dog to be in top working condition. 

It May Not Be a Service Dog

Despite attempts to curb illegitimate service dogs, there continues to be a number of non-legitimate “service” dogs. You may think that a dog wearing a vest is a well-behaved service dog, but it may turn out that the dog is not well trained. You never want to be in a position where you could get bit or hurt. 

Respecting a Service Dog’s and their Handler’s Space

The handlers of service dogs also deserve their own space and privacy and to keep their disability status to themselves. Asking what kind of disability they have is not only invasive but may be against the law. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) protects service dog owners’ privacy and service dogs’ use. 

Cuteness aside, service dogs are not pets. They’re a vital part of a person’s treatment intervention for their disability. Without their assistance, a person with a disability gets placed in a dangerous situation. Service dogs are cute, but they are professionals and should be treated as such. Give service dogs the space to do their jobs because someone’s well being depends on them. 

When looking for a service dog, some people will gravitate towards a specific breed or seek out an organization that specializes in training service dogs. So what about dogs that were found as a stray, were abandoned, or surrendered? Are these so-called rescue dogs able to become service dogs? The simple answer is: yes! 

As defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) service dogs don’t need to be a particular breed, obtained from a specific breeder, or found at a training site. Rescue dogs can be just as talented to become service dogs, given that they have the temperament needed to serve their handlers. If they have the ability to be trained and learn the specific tasks needed by their handler, they can earn the title of a service dog.

Show everyone that the rights of your Service Dog should be respected. Get your Service Dog registered below.

What temperament does a rescue dog need to become a service dog?

All service dogs need to have a certain temperament in order to serve their owners. This typically includes:

Have a calm demeanor Be eager to please Possess a strong ability to learn

Service dogs must have no history of aggression, be patient during training, and exhibit no signs of distress. They need to remain under control while out in public, ignore distractions, and continue to follow all directions until their handler tells them otherwise. If a rescue dog displays these specific traits, it may excel in training to become a service dog.

Once training begins and the rescue dog appears stressed or anxious, isn’t able to perform certain tasks, or doesn’t appear to be enjoying its work, it may not be a good fit for service work.

Any dog trained to be a service dog should thoroughly enjoy the job and performing the tasks needed.

Rescue dogs that have a history of abuse or neglect may struggle with training but still may have the ability to learn with extra time and patience.  

What commands do they need to learn?

The tasks that a service dog should learn depends on the handler’s needs. Each disability has different demands, so the service dog’s training has to cater to these requirements. For example, a person with a physical disability may need assistance opening the refrigerator, while a person with a mental illness may need their dog to fetch their medication. Example tasks that handlers may teach their dogs are:

Opening doors Grabbing items for their handler  Guiding their handler through their house and out in public  Detecting an oncoming medical episode Fetching the mail Sensing a panic attack Providing pressure treatment for anxiety  Carrying items up and down the stairs

This is just the beginning of what a service dog can do to assist their handler. Each handler has different needs, which means that no two service dogs will need to meet the same requirements. A handler should be aware of what their dog can do to assist them and implement their training accordingly. 

Train your rescue dog to become the service dog you need. Where to train a service dog?

In order to properly train a service dog, a handler can hire a trainer or train the dog on their own. If a handler decides to use a trainer, they can find a local trainer that specializes in service dog training. Sometimes, these trainers will take the dog for a period of time to teach them everything they need to know, and then return them to their handler upon the completion of their training. Other times, these trainers will work directly with the handler and their dog.

If a handler opts to train the dog on their own, there are many resources that can be used. A simple Google search will find basic training techniques, commonly taught tasks, and effective training methods. Some handlers use YouTube videos to assist with training, while others use books and online articles. For those who use the latter, examples of training books are:

“Training Your Own Full Potential Service Dog” by Lelah Sullivan  “Training Your Own Service Dog and Psychiatric Service Dog Bundle” by Max Matthews “The Ultimate Service Dog Training Manual” by Keagen J. Grace “A Dog Training Manual For People with Disabilities” by Stewart Nordensson

All of the aforementioned books provide valuable tips and advice for training a rescue dog to become a service dog. Whether you choose to train your dog on your own or use a trainer, remember that this type of training will take time, effort, and a lot of patience. However, the effort will pay off once you see your dog providing the tasks you need to help make your daily life just a little bit easier.