Enabling the Disabled: The Different Types Of Service Animals
We are lucky enough to have a little furry companion waiting for us at home every day. But how much more if they can help the human race with something more significant—overcoming the challenges posed by disabilities?
They are called service animals and are specially trained to aid in the specific daily life tasks of the disabled. Moreover, they can assist you with not just one but multiple tasks. It's quite hard to believe that animals can learn so much to help, but that makes them even more amazing!
Let's discuss more about service dogs and their different types. Then, if you need or know someone who could use their assistance, this article can help you determine which one you'll need!
What's a Service Animal?
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) refers to a service animal as any animal providing help to a disabled person. They are trained to perform a task in the owner's stead or to aid them in accomplishing it.
Examples of the task they perform include:
- supporting them while they walk
- picking up dropped items
- reminding them to take medications
- pulling their wheelchair
- alerting them to a certain sound, smell, or an alarming situation
- pressing elevator buttons
Dogs cover a huge part of the service animal population, often called guide dogs or helper animals.
What a Service Dog Isn't
You may have heard of terms like emotional support animals or companion pets and think they provide the same assistance as service animals. However, they are different.
They're not emotional support animals.
If you encounter any of the following terms, note that they don't have the necessary skills of a service animal.
- companion pet
- emotional support animal
- support animal
- comfort animal
ADA's Title II and III laws don't consider them as service animals in training. A service animal has a particular job to accomplish. They are not simply there to accompany you or provide therapeutic help. Instead, they are trained to assist people with physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities.
Moreover, ADA only recognizes dogs and miniature horses. Even if other wild or domestic species are trained for a particular task, they are still not considered service animals. A recommendation from a health expert won't also make any animal into a service animal.
The 7 Different Types of Service Dogs and How They Can Help Disabled People
Now you understand what a service animal can do. Next, let's proceed with the seven common types of helper dogs and discuss what and how they perform tasks!
1. Guide Service Dogs
A guide service animal assists visually-impaired people. They help them navigate the road safely to get home or walk in public areas. Whether you need to cross the street or go up and down the stairs, a guide dog can lead you through these tasks.
Most breeds of guide dogs are Labradors, golden retrievers, and poodles. They're usually trained to start from 12 to 24 months of puppyhood and wear a special harness with a handle. You might see some guide dogs with a vest, but that's not a requirement.
2. Diabetic Alert Service Dogs
Get yourself a DAD—a diabetic alert dog! This service animal alerts diabetic people when changes are detected in their blood sugar levels. They do this by sensing changes in scent during hyperglycemic events, which are detectable by dogs.
It allows the disabled person to get a blood test or inject insulin or glucose before the blood level gets dangerous. These service dogs are trained for this job for a minimum of two years. Trainers teach them to set off alarms or alert other people at home.
3. Hearing Assistance Dogs
Animals, especially dogs, have exceptional hearing ability. As a result, they are an ideal service companion for those with hearing disabilities. They alert the owner (touch and lead them) to important sounds, such as doorbell rings, alarms, crying babies, or the microwave switch.
A service dog is individually trained for one or two years and can perform as many as 40 tasks. The most popular dog breeds for hearing services are Labradors, golden retrievers, miniature poodles, Cocker Spaniels, and other small to medium mixed dog breeds.
4. Seizure Alert and Response Service Dogs
Two types of assistance dogs focus on people suffering from seizures: seizure alert and seizure response dogs. They help detect a seizure before it happens and help their handler during or after one. Surprisingly, no reliable source shows a dog's ability to predict seizures, but they seem to have an innate ability to detect and react to them.
Additionally, epilepsy organizations say it's impossible to train service dogs to detect seizures, but dog training companies argue they can at least train them to be alert. Seizure service dogs train for at least 2 years to learn how to aid people with epilepsy.
5. Medical Service Dogs
Medical service dogs help people with other medical issues and provide mobility aid (miniature horses also do this). Usually, they aren't trained for psychiatric or epileptic conditions, but there are exceptions where they can perform both tasks.
These animals remind their owner to take medications or alert health providers if medical attention or procedures are required. Medical service dogs are trained for two years to learn how to perform these tasks.
6. Allergy Detection Assistance Dogs
Food allergies are another common medical condition many people suffer from, which service dogs can help with! An allergy detection animal uses their exceptional sense of smell to detect allergic food. They identify certain odors like gluten or peanuts. When partnered with children, parents find relief in knowing their children are safe while they're away.
These service dogs take 18 to 24 months of dog training. This allows them to learn how to detect their owner's allergens and alert them in the face of harmful substances.
7. Psychiatric Helper Animals
Lastly, there are helper animals for people with mental disabilities like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. They are called psychiatric service dogs. These animals make their human handlers feel safe and at ease by doing simple but significant things like:
- turning the lights on
- entering the home first
- providing personal space in public places
- protect them from uncomfortable interactions
- assist in taking medication
- bring their owner a phone when necessary
- call 911 in your stead
- touch or nudge the disabled person when experiencing symptoms
- encourages the handler to get some fresh air and exercise outside
- cuddle their owner during a panic attack
- de-escalating emotional breakdowns
- assisting a disoriented owner
Psychiatric dogs train for one to two years. A licensed mental health professional can also recommend you a psychiatric service animal when necessary.
Caring for a Service Animal
It is not only the handler that needs to be taken care of. You also need to know how to accommodate a service animal properly. So here are some ground rules to keep everyone safe in your household.
Things You Can Do as the Handler
You might have a disability, but that doesn't mean you can’t do anything for your service animal. It’s easy to establish a mutually-benefiting relationship with a loyal companion that will never leave your side. There is, in fact, a lot you can do for them! Here are some:
- Learn about pet first aid and carry a kit with you.
- Mark vet clinics or hospitals in areas you reside or travel in in case of pet emergencies.
- Don't forget to bring a muzzle or head halter because some public areas require service dogs to wear it.
- Make your service dog wear the necessary gear to keep them safe in different climates.
- Ensure the dog takes proper food and supplements.
We understand that having a disability limits you from accomplishing most tasks. So if you cannot do the things above, seek help from someone and instruct them on what to do.
Things to Do If You're Not the Handler
Meanwhile, a bystander can assist when the disabled handler of the service animal needs help. However, you must be careful when you're around the animal. Here are two things to remember:
- Do not approach a service animal as you will interfere with their job. This will also help prevent them from causing a direct threat to the property and require the owner to pay a pet deposit.
- If the handler needs help with caring for their service dog (e.g., applying first aid or phoning a health professional), listen to their instructions and do what you can to help.
A Service Animal is a Man's Best Helper
A service animal is not your typical furry companion, but it can help you cope with the challenges of living with a disability. They undergo dog training to acquire certain abilities, from leading the way to dialing 911 for medical emergencies.
Working animals differ from your pets at home, But they share one incredible trait: they help you improve the quality of your life!
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