Introduction

National Service Dog Month and Doctor Dogs

National Service Dog Month and Doctor Dogs

September is National Service Dog Month, a time devoted to raising awareness and celebrating the extraordinary work service dogs do every day for their human partners. Atlas Assistance Dogs gets to see every day how much of an impact these four-legged heroes can have in the lives of their disabled handlers. There are many types of service dogs and each and everyone deserves recognition for their hard work and care they provide which allows their human to thrive with them at their side.

3 service dogs stand side by side in profile view.

During this wonderful month, Atlas had the exciting opportunity to interview Maria Goodavage and hear about her research into dogs’ incredible life-saving abilities and her latest book.

Maria Goodavage is a veteran journalist and a New York Times bestselling author.  Her latest book is Doctor Dogs – How Our Best Friends Are Becoming Our Best Medicine

This fascinating book profiles dogs who detect cancer, Parkinson’s, and a variety of bacteria and viruses, dogs who anticipate seizures and diabetic lows and highs, and dogs who help autism, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and PTSD.

Earlier this year, Maria was also generous enough to donate three copies of her book to Atlas that we were able to Give Away to three lucky contest winners!

Hear From Maria Goodavage

When we asked Maria what compelled her to write Doctor Dogs, she told us that she had been hearing more and more about cancer-detection dogs and found the parallel between those dogs and the other dogs she had written about before: war dogs, and secret service dogs.

She told us that “All of these working dogs have the same attributes – a great bond with their handler, the ability to work hard and stay focused, and even save lives.  I’m a science geek and I wanted to explore this more. In writing this book, I traveled the world to find best stories and scientific research available. I feel so lucky to have had a front-row seat to all of this.”

Psychiatric Service Dogs

We then asked her to tell us about how service dogs can help people with psychiatric disabilities. She told us that many mental health disorders can benefit from service dogs such as anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and bipolar. “Dogs are so good at these jobs. I’d say PTSD is the biggest use of psychiatric service dogs, but they’ve been shown to help with mental health issues that dogs haven’t been widely turned for yet. I even wrote about a woman whose dog is trained to help with her schizophrenia.”

Indeed, Atlas could not agree more. We have seen so many people with a variety of mental health struggles benefit from their service dog. They can mitigate self-harm behaviors, panic attacks, alert their person to someone coming up behind them, and so much more.

A service dog sitting between his handlers legs and looking up
A Service Dog performing a task commonly called "anchor"

Medical Alert and Response Dogs

People often wonder what makes a successful service dog. When asked specifically about medical alert dogs, Maria told us the following: “Calmer dogs who are able to focus well can be ideal for service work. Loving to work for a reward is also really important; They have to want their paycheck!  As far as medical detection dogs – the pets who help behind the scenes with research – sometimes the more hyper dogs do the best.”

A number of Atlas clients benefit from medical alert and response dogs. For people with various types of chronic illnesses and disabilities, these dogs can significantly improve their day to day. These are dogs who can alert their handler to oncoming seizures, blood sugar changes, migraines, fainting spells and more. They are also trained to help during the medical event in the ways that are most beneficial to their handler.

Facility Dogs

While Atlas does not specialize in facility dogs, they are incredibly important and skilled workers. “Facility dogs are specially trained assistance dogs who work with an organization, and alongside a handler. They’re often used in courthouses to help be a companion to vulnerable populations like children giving testimony.  They help a variety of settings, like hospitals and clinics, by providing a calming, grounding, very cute distractions for people,” Maria tells us.

New and Exciting Discoveries

We’ve determined that dogs can do amazing things. With each passing day, there are more and more discoveries on the skills and jobs dogs can have. We asked Maria if there were any new uses of dogs she could tell us about:

Yes! Humans’ best friends are being tapped for an incredibly important job: screening people for COVID-19. It turns out they’re really good at it, and can do so safely, thanks to the protocols and methodologies being used. Some countries have started to use dogs to screen for the virus at their airports. At airports, sporting events, and other venues where they’re currently working, anyone they alert to as potentially positive will get a rapid PCR test. Once we get a handle on the latest variant, dogs could be invaluable in helping keep people safe.”

Maria Goodavage dressed in a red dress with arms crossed is smiling at the camera. Next to her is the cover of her book                                               

Discover more of Maria Goodavage’s  work on her website: https://www.mariagoodavage.com/

About Atlas Assistance Dogs

Atlas Assistance Dogs is a non-profit organization that fundamentally expands access to assistance dogs. We support people with disabilities to train and certify their own service dog using positive, ethical training methods. At Atlas, we believe anyone who would benefit from a qualified assistance dog should be able to have one. 

We work with people with a wide range of disabilities who wish to train their own service dog and offer a comprehensive Academy for professional trainers wanting to become service dog trainers. For more information about Atlas’ Client Certification program or other training services, please visit www.atlasdog.org or contact info@atlasdog.org

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