Service Dogs Help Those with Disabilities and Other Conditions
Learn more about the various types of service dogs!
Did you know that service dogs aren’t just for the blind? You’ve probably heard of service dogs helping soldiers with PTSD but what you may not know is how many specifically-trained dogs there are to help people with all types of disabilities including physical, sensory, and mental health issues.
Dogs can give us a reason to get up in the morning, to exercise, and take good care of ourselves. We know they need us as much as we need them. Before my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Buddy James, came into my life, I had no idea I was capable of loving anyone that much. I hadn’t experienced the type of love he offers—loyal, non-judgmental, affectionate, steadfast and predictable. He provides invaluable comfort and has alleviated most of my depressive tendencies, like feelings of isolation and loneliness.
A dear friend Adrienne Gurman lives with chronic depression and all of the obstacles that presents. Yesterday she had to say goodbye to her beloved Chocolate Labrador, Maya. My heart grieves for her because I understand how tremendous the loss was. Her dog was a huge comfort and helped her navigate the world in spite of her mental health issues.
During my years of researching the relationships humans have with their dogs, I have come across a multitude of terms and definitions on how dogs are trained to help people with all types of disabilities. Instead of keeping this info locked up in my head, I thought it would be helpful to share it with you—my fellow dog lovers. Here is a breakdown of definitions:
A working dog refers to a canine who is not merely a pet, but one who has been trained to perform specific tasks in order to assist its owner. This is an umbrella term use for all types of service dogs.
Guide dog refers to a dog trained specifically to help blind or visually impaired people.
Hearing dogs are trained to alert deaf or hearing-impaired individuals to sounds, i.e., the arrival of people, doorbells, smoke alarms, telephones, alarm clocks, etc.
A therapy dog is a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools and other situations and environments that can create stress. Therapy dogs are not considered service or assistance dogs.
A psychiatric service dog is trained to assist with psychiatric disabilities including soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, autism, depression, anxiety or any other mental impairment that is at the level of a disability.
This is an alternate term used for a psychiatric service dog. Because the word psychiatric carries a stigma, a large percentage of people with mental illness have an aversion to it. It’s often associated with words like psycho, psychopath, psychotic, and crazy. (To learn more about the stigma associated with mental health issues visit actress Glenn Close’s nonprofit: Bring Change 2 Mind.)
An emotional support dog usually provides comfort rather than performing specific tasks but these dogs aren't defined as service dogs.
A skilled companion dog is trained to provide their owners with relief from feelings of isolation, increasing a sense of well-being, sense of purpose and self-esteem. They have been proven to increase optimism and mood.
Mobility Assistance Dogs increase the independence of a person who uses a wheelchair and/or has trouble standing. These dogs perform tasks such as retrieving dropped items and opening doors.
Diabetic Assistance Dogs are life-savers. They help their humans maintain better control over blood sugar levels and provide continuous glucose monitoring.
Autism effects sensory, memory, motor and postural control. Social and communication skills can be compromised leading to social isolation. Assistance dogs for autism can provide a bridge to a more functional and interactive life.
There are two types of dogs trained to help with seizure disorders. Seizure response dogs and seizure alert dogs. A seizure response dog can summon help, carry information about the handler's condition, and provide physical supports. A seizure alert dog can sense and notify their human companions of an oncoming seizure by circling, pawing, or barking.
If I have left anything out of this list, please be sure to post a comment!