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All About Service Dogs

Author: Thomas Villalpando

All About Service Dogs

Dogs, being one of the most intelligent animals around, are able to aid disabled individuals if thorough training is provided. A properly trained dog for this job is known as a service dog or assistance dog. 

Here, we’ll provide valuable information about service dogs, the tasks they can be trained for, and all the ways they can help someone with a disability find independence and thrive.

So, keep reading…  

What is a Service Dog?

A service dog is a dog that is trained to mitigate their handler’s disability through specialized tasks. These loving animals play a vital role in improving their person’s quality of life and independence.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as dogs trained individually to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.  

Under the ADA, service dogs have certain legal protections and rights such as the ability to accompany their disabled person anywhere that is open to the public (with a few exceptions). 

Ways a Service Dog Can Help

People with a wide range of disabilities may benefit from a service dog. These may range from conditions that affect hearing, mobility, mental health, neurological functioning, cognition, and more.  

Service dogs for these individuals can do a whole lot of good. Here are just some examples of tasks that they can be trained for, depending on the person’s disabilities. 

  • Navigation and guiding for someone who is blind or has low vision.
  • Alerting to sounds of a doorbell, telephone, door knock etc. for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Retrieving items, helping with balance and stability, opening and closing doors for someone with physical or mobility disabilities.
  • Alerting to an oncoming seizure, and keeping their person safe during and after the seizure.
  • Alerting to changes in blood sugar for someone who is diabetic.
  • Interrupting self-harm or compulsive behaviors and panic attacks

And so much more…


Types of Service Dogs

The types of service dogs are constantly growing as we discover how many more things dogs can do to help. Below we’ve listed just some of the most common types of service dogs. Each one of these dogs provides different benefits and has unique characteristics. 

Hearing Alert Dogs

Hearing alert dogs, as the name suggests, help people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These dogs alert and assist their owners if they hear something that’s necessary for their day-to-day life.    

These sounds range from doorbells, door knocking, alarm clocks, text messages, phone calls, and fire alarms. Hearing dogs also provide great assistance in public places as they can let their human partner know if something or someone is coming up behind them, calls their name etc.

These dogs increase their partner’s awareness and independence towards the environment. 

Mobility Assistance Dogs

Mobility assistance dogs support people with a wide range of disabilities. They may be partnered with individuals who use a wheelchair or mobility aid, have difficulty standing, walking, or balancing. 

They can perform tasks such as opening and closing doors, retrieving dropped items, turning on lights, and pressing buttons.  They can also help someone with balance and stability through counter-balancing, bracing, and proprioception. You may see a mobility dog wearing a specialized harness for the person to hold onto. It is important to note that mobility dogs must be an appropriate size and be fully cleared for this specific type of work by a veterinarian for their safety. 

Seizure Alert/Response Dogs

Seizure alert/response dogs are trained companions who can respond to a seizure in individuals who have a seizure disorder. These dogs assist their partners before, during, and after a seizure. Here’s the kind of help a seizure dog will be able to provide.

They may be trained to go get help from a specific person in the home by pressing an alarm button or bringing them to their person. During the seizure they can keep their person safe by moving them into a specific position or acting as a pillow. They can go retrieve their person’s medication. After the seizure, the dog will stay with the person as they regain consciousness and provide grounding tasks. 

Note that many of these tasks also apply to medical alert/response dogs for people who have medical conditions which may make them prone to fainting or falls, such as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).

Many dogs do learn to sense and alert their person to a seizure before the onset of one, but not all do. Even without an alert, these dogs remain incredibly beneficial to someone’s well-being and independence.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD), also known as a Psychiatric Assistance Dog (PAD), is a type of service dog specifically trained to assist people diagnosed with a psychiatric/mental health condition.  

These include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. 

These service dogs can recognize symptoms in their person, such as flashbacks or an anxiety attack, and provide mitigating tasks to interrupt the event.

Not only this, but they can also perform physical tasks such as waking up their partner in the morning or from a nightmare, getting water or medication if the person is unable to get it themselves, or even reminding them to take their medication in time.  

PSDs will provide trained emotional support, such as helping their owner calm down during emotional situations through deep pressure therapy (DPT), making their partner feel safe in public places by letting them know if someone is coming up behind them, and alerting others if they sense that their partner is in extreme distress. 

A woman laying down with her hands over her head. Her service dog is tucked under her head

Keep in mind that many people often have multiple disabilities and their service dog’s tasks may fall into different categories. For example, someone with a Traumatic Brain Injury may deal with seizures, as well as difficulties with balance and stability. Someone with PTSD could also be dealing with chronic pain. A service dog does not need to stay in “one category”.

Benefits of Having a Service Dog

By now you have probably figured out that there are many benefits for an individual who brings a service dog into their life. These four legged partners provide not only physical support, which but also emotional support. Service dogs are able to offer health benefits, improve happiness, lower stress, and increase fitness. But, it does not end there. 

  • They Provide Companionship: Service dogs are great companions and can accompany you in various situations. They aid the feeling of loneliness and offer a sense of security along with constant care.     
  • They Are Great Motivators: Service dogs are great in helping their partners gain motivation. They’re able to bring joy to their handlers’ lives and motivate them to handle challenging tasks that they might have struggled with otherwise.
  • They Provide A Great Sense Of Freedom And Independence: Having these canine companions means that their partners have to rely less on others to accomplish their everyday tasks. Because these companions are always available and ready to help, they relieve their handlers’ feeling that they’ll have to rely on other people to get their daily tasks fulfilled, which in turn brings back a sense of freedom. 
Thank you to these amazing dogs, providing so many people with support and love everyday. 
a golden retriever service dog

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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