The capabilities of service dogs never ceases to amaze! These highly-skilled service dogs make an immeasurable difference to the quality of life for their handler, helping them with a variety of tasks to improve day-to-day living.
As a service dog trainer and handler, I have been fortunate to come into contact with a wide variety of service dogs over the years. Typically, when the general population thinks of service dogs, a guide dog for a blind or sight-impaired individual may spring to mind. However, that is just one type of service dog – there are several others who are trained to perform specific tasks that can help people who suffer with mobility issues, seizures, severe trauma, autism, and other elements that may affect an individual’s life.
In this article, we are going to provide an overview of the most common types of service dogs, and the types of service dog tasks these incredible companions can be trained to perform.
Who they help: A guide dog (or seeing-eye dog) is used to assist blind or low-vision individuals.
How they help: These service dogs help their handler to navigate the world safely, protecting them from dangers such as obstacles or passing traffic. They can help their partner to live a life of independence and increase their confidence.
The type of tasks they are trained for: A guide dog typically maintains a steady walking pace at the side of their handler. They will ignore distractions such as other dogs or people. When their partner reaches a staircase, crosswalk or another potentially dangerous situation, the guide dog will stop and await further instruction. In addition, guide dogs are trained with ‘selective disobedience’, which means they will ignore any command that could put their partner in danger.
Autism Service Dogs
Who they help: An autism service dog helps adults and children who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
How they help: Research has shown that autism service dogs can help individuals diagnosed with ASD to increase positive social interactions, improve confidence, and get better sleep.
The type of tasks they are trained for: An autism service dog can be trained to perform a number of tasks. Usually, they will be trained to provide a calming presence to their child/adult partner by providing tactile stimulation or deep pressure therapy. They can also be trained for tethering or search and rescue trailing, providing peace of mind for concerned parents.
Mobility Service Dogs
Who they help: A mobility service dog helps an individual who needs help with moving around in their day-to-day life – such an older person, or a person who may have sustained injuries which prevent them from doing everyday tasks.
How they help: These dogs are able to support their handler by improving their range of movement, which has obvious physical benefits. They can also provide increased independence and confidence for the handler in public settings.
The type of tasks they are trained for: A mobility assistance dog can be trained to offer balance, or act as a brace, when an individual needs to move around from one place to another. They can also be trained to pick up hard-to-reach items which may have been dropped on the floor, open and close doors, and flip lightswitches.
PTSD Service Dogs
Who they help: A Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) service dog supports individuals who have experienced severe trauma or distress in their lives, and have been diagnosed with PTSD.
How they help: PTSD Service Dogs provide several benefits for their partners. They offer reassurance, companionship and comfort, but they also perform tasks that make life far easier for an individual diagnosed with PTSD.
The type of tasks they are trained for: To calm an individual who may be having a panic attack or nightmare, a PTSD service dog can offer tactile stimulation (with their paws or nose) or deep pressure therapy to redirect their partner’s attention. They can also be trained to retrieve medication, or locate important objects such as car keys or a wallet.
Diabetic Service Dogs
Who they help: A diabetic service dog helps people who need to regulate their blood sugar levels due to diabetes.
How they help: Dogs are very attuned to changes in behavior and scent of those around them. When an individual experiences hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), they may not experience the typical symptoms (dizziness, sweating, shaking, etc.) immediately. A diabetic service dog can alert an owner that their blood sugar level is straying from safety, and acts a safeguard for those who experience episodes of high blood sugar or low blood sugar.
The type of tasks they are trained for: Diabetic service dogs can be trained to alert their owner in advance of the onset of high/low blood sugar symptoms, which gives the handler time to take action. This is typically trained with an ‘alert’ command, such as pawing at the owner to notify them. A second type of diabetic service dog is essentially a medical alert dog in the event of an emergency. These service dogs find other members of the household to get their attention, bring medication from a specific location in the home, or can even be trained to press an emergency button to contact a care provider or emergency services.
Hearing Service Dogs
Who they help: A hearing service dog is trained to help those who have lost some or all of their hearing capabilities.
How they help: For people who feel vulnerable due to their loss of hearing, a service dog can provide increased independence and confidence. They are also valuable for family members who may be concerned about the safety of a hearing-impaired relative who lives alone.
The type of tasks they are trained for: A hearing service dog can be trained to notify their owner of different sounds around the home, such as fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors or doorbells. Outside, they can help to keep their handler aware of traffic noise, bicycle bells, or even other pedestrians passing them from behind.
Seizure Service Dogs
Who they help: A seizure service dog helps an individual who suffers with seizures – either by alerting them in advance of a seizure, or responding to the seizure itself.
How they help: A seizure alert service dog provides early warning to a person that a seizure is about to occur, allowing the handler to retrieve medication or mitigate the situation. A seizure response dog behaves a certain way when a seizure takes place, helping to notify other members of the household.
The type of tasks they are trained for: A seizure service dog can be trained with a bark alert, informing family members that a seizure is taking place. This can be especially valuable if a child has a seizure in the middle of the night. They can also obtain medicine bags, provide stimulation during seizures to calm their handler, or press a medical alert button.
We have known for some time that dogs are amazingly valuable companions, but the range of service dog tasks they can be trained to perform is truly awe-inspiring.
Not only are service dogs versatile, but they are extremely effective when the time comes to perform their given task! The work they undertake makes a difference to their handlers every single day, and as service dog trainers and handlers, that is something we can’t take for granted.