Service dogs are not like pets or companion animals that we love to cuddle and play with. These dogs are crucial life partners. They are inseparable from their human companions because they provide an invaluable and life-saving service.
Over the years we have grown to admire and deeply respect service dogs due to their intelligence and life-saving skills. As September is National Service Dog Month, we have compiled astounding statistics about service dogs to help you appreciate these amazing animals.
Number of Service Dogs in The US
Assistance Dogs International, an organization that links not-for-profit programs that train and place Assistance Dogs, estimates that there are 16,766 assistance dogs in the North America Region. But this number considers service dogs trained by ADI accredited organizations. It doesn’t consider service dogs trained by their disabled owners. Thus, it is difficult to establish an exact number of service dogs in America. For example, ShareAmerica.com estimates that there are about 500,000 service dogs in the US.
The number of service dogs in America might not be clear. But one thing is crystal – they provide invaluable services to a great number of members of our society. They help disabled people live independently and as a team, they work through the barriers of day-to-day life.
Types of Service Dogs
While a service dog typically has a “specialty”, it is important to consider that many disabled people do not have just one disability or medical condition and that a service dog might support someone with a number of tasks that does not fit into one box. However, some types of service dogs are specifically defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Here are some examples:
- Guide or Seeing Dogs. Trained to be a support for people who are blind or have low vision.
- Hearing or Signal Dogs. Trained to alert people who are Deaf or hard of hearing about sounds like a knock on the door.
- Psychiatric Service Dogs. Trained to assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities to detect the start of events such as panic attacks or self-harm behaviors and mitigate their symptoms. They may also do other tasks like reminding the handler to take medicine or turn on the lights for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- The Sensory Signal Dogs or Social Signal Dogs (SSigDOG) assist people with autism. They can alert the handler to potentially harmful repetitive movements, like hand flapping, allowing them to stop the action. They can also help ease overwhelming situations with tasks like deep pressure therapy, and guide someone out of an overwhelming place.
- Seizure Response Dogs. Trained to assist people with seizure disorders. They can support their handler during and after a seizure. They may also be able to sense the episodes ahead of time and warn the handler or guide them to a safe area.
Although it may seem like there are a great number of service dogs, there is an even greater of disabled Americans. With 61 million Americans with disabilities, it is clear that so many more dogs could be helping people. But it takes plenty of resources, effort, and time to train a certified service dog. Many begin the journey, but they do not finish it.
More Than Half (50-70%) of Service Dog Candidates Do Not Complete Their Training
Dogs of all breeds have the potential to become service dogs – However, some common service dog breeds are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds (or mixes of these breeds).
Candidate canines must go through rigorous training that spans a prolonged period of time which starts from puppyhood. The objective is to produce a well-trained, confident, and trustworthy dog that improves the quality of life and can save lives. Service dogs learn everything from basic obedience skills, to navigating public spaces, and performing complex disability mitigating tasks for their person.
Professional trainers or organizations working in specialized facilities could charge as much as $40,000 to train a service dog. And the training takes about three years to complete. That’s almost the same amount of money and time a person takes to earn a college degree in an in-state public institution. If the cost is too high, and the wait too long, someone could consider training their own service dog. But the process can be difficult and overwhelming. Getting support from specialized and knowledgeable trainers can make the process easier.
Due to the rigorous requirements, many service dog candidates will not become service dogs. As many as 50-70% of the candidates do not complete the training. This does not mean that the dog is not a wonderful animal. However, being a service dog means being put in many different environments and exposed to stressors that not all dogs are suited for. It is simply not fair to the dog to put them through those situations if they are not happy and thriving doing the work.
Service Dogs Help to Reduce PTSD Symptoms
We can probably all recognize that dogs, be they pets, emotional support dogs, or service, can all have an incredible impact on their person. But service dogs are not the same as emotional support dogs. Service dogs are specially trained to perform different tasks to help people with disabilities and health conditions. On the other hand, Emotional Support Animals provide their handlers with therapeutic benefit through companionship. They provide comfort and affection to people in need of such.
A recent survey of service dogs and emotional support dogs assisting ex-military personnel revealed astounding findings. Both types of animals helped decrease Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms in their handlers. However, participants paired with service dogs showed more positive outcomes than participants with emotional support animals. Also, veterans who were paired with service dogs showed fewer suicidal behaviors, decreased anger, and fewer had sleep disorders.
Veterans may benefit from trained tasks such as:
- Alerting them when someone approaches them from behind
- Interrupting and mitigating panic attacks and/or dissociative episodes
- Waking them up from nightmares/night terrors
Along with many other psychiatric and medical-related tasks.
Service Dogs Have Special Legal Protections
Service dogs and their handlers have special protections and rights.
Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the law requires homeowners and housing providers to provide reasonable accommodation for service dogs and not to discriminate. Unlike regular companion animals, a landlord or housing provider cannot demand special fees or a deposit when dealing with a person who depends on a service dog. Nevertheless, the handler is still responsible for the behavior of their service dog. In case the dog causes damage, the owner should take responsibility.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), airline operators in the US are required to accept service dogs as passengers and transport them on flights to, within, and from the United States. This is exclusive to service dogs (of all breeds). It does not apply to emotional support animals and other animal species. However, the same law also provides specific circumstances where the airline can decline to transport a service dog.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives service dogs the right to access public areas and facilities. Operators of public facilities are required to admit them and their handlers without discriminating. Allergies or cynophobia (fear of dogs) are not regarded as legitimate and legal reasons for a service dog team to be asked to leave. However, there are instances where operators of such areas can exclude service dogs. For example, if there are legitimate health or safety concerns such as burn units or restaurant kitchens. Also, the handler must remain in control of the animal at all times. If the handler is not in control and the dog expresses undesirable or antisocial behavior, they could be asked to leave.
It is important to note that the laws protect the service dog teams, not the service dog alone. If the service dog is being handled by someone other than their disabled handler, a secondary handler (such as a parent or caretaker), or (in some states) by a professional trainer, the dog does not have the right to be in these spaces.
Although they may look like and sometimes behave like pets, service dogs are far from that. They are specially trained dogs equipped with skills to make many disabled Americans experience independence and thrive. Potentially any dog breed can be trained as a service dog. But the cost, intensity, and duration of training often push many candidates out of the training course wagon. As we commemorate National Service Dog Month, we honor not just the hard-working dogs, but also their dedicated handlers who put in continuous work and effort to succeed with their dog. Celebrate with us and consider volunteering as a Team Facilitator or volunteering with Atlas in a variety of other ways to help more people thrive with their service dog at their side!
About The Author
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 email@example.com