What is a Service Dog?

Service Dogs working dogs trained to help a disabled person with daily tasks they cannot otherwise do on their own.

Service Dogs can be trained to complete tasks that help people with visible and invisible disabilities associated with many diagnoses. Paws trains dogs for people with poor balance, autism, deafness or impaired hearing, neurological disorders, physical mobility issues, seizure disorders, and much more. Paws also works with Leaderdog for the blind, an organization that trains dogs for people with blindness or impaired vision.

What do Service Dogs do?

Many disabled people have pets, but a Service Dog is different because of specific work they have been trained to complete.

Service animals are dogs that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples include guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling wheelchairs, protecting  people having seizures, reminding people to take prescribed medications, calming a people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, along with many other duties. Service animals are not pets. The work  a dog has been trained to provide is directly related to their person’s disability.

According to the ADA, dogs that only provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals.

Some states define service animals more broadly than the ADA does. Information about state-specific laws can be obtained at the attorney general’s office.

Simply having a disability does not qualify a pet to be a Service Dog.

What Does It Mean To Be Individually Trained?

Individual training is when a dog is specifically taught a behavior with rewards, praise, and corrections. Methods include using treats, clicker training, and praise. Natural dog behavior such as barking, licking or protecting and comforting an owner are not considered tasks under the ADA, even if the action helps the owner.

What Are Tasks?

Tasks, or work, are behaviors that a Service Dog performs, on command. This  helps a disabled person with things that they can not easily do for themselves on a daily basis.

Tasks include things such as fetching a medicine bottle, alerting the presence of life threatening allergens, and opening doors or drawers for someone who has physical mobility issues.

Providing companionship, guarding, protecting, or even tasks such as fetching the morning paper are examples that are not considered tasks for a dog.

A Service Dog must be able to complete at least two important tasks that are directly related a person's disability.

What breeds of dogs make good Service Dogs?

Most assistance dog programs use Golden Retrievers and Labradors because they have many characteristics that make for a good service dog, however, many other breeds have been successfully trained as service dogs. The needs of the person helps determine the ideal size of the dog. Usually, a dog is medium in size in order to complete tasks. Small dogs have a hard time picking up objects while large dogs are hard to put under a table or out of the way on a bus or a plane. A good service dog is not protective, is people orientated, not overly active, and is confident, not dominant or submissive. Service dogs should require simple grooming so it will not be a problem for their owner.

What breeds make good Hearing Dogs?

Many hearing dog programs have gotten their dogs from shelters and known breeders. As a result, many of the dogs used are mixed breeds, and they come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. The majority of Hearing Dog applicants request small to medium sized dogs, making most Hearing Dogs are Sheltie size or smaller. In addition to size, personality and temperament are important. Hearing Dogs must be energetic and ready to work in an instant when any sound occurs. They must be friendly and people oriented as well. Because of these requirements, certain breeds, such as Terrier mixes, are used along with various combinations of Poodles, Cockers, Llasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and Chihuahuas.

Project "Puppy Love" A Girl Scout Gold Award Project by Meghan Kelly