How Service Dogs Provide Life-Saving Support
Dogs Improve Safety and Security for People With Disabilities
Dog ownership is on the rise, with more than 80 million dog owners in the U.S. today. People love dogs for various reasons, including being cuddly and friendly and providing them with a sense of security. But some people own dogs because they provide them with life-saving support.
Service dogs were first used in the early 1900s to assist individuals with visual or hearing disabilities. Today, there are 500,000 service dogs in the U.S., helping people overcome a wide variety of challenges that interfere with their daily lives. Dogs are not only their best friends; dogs could be their heroes.
Why Dogs Make Good Service Animals
Some may be curious why we chose a dog to take on such a massive responsibility for human lives. Dogs are loving, loyal, and friendly.
They naturally build relationships with humans and show them care and concern. In addition, dogs can be calming to us and offer a desire to help.
But the two most important reasons humans chose dogs for this role were because dogs are brilliant – we can train them to make good decisions and perform complex tasks – and secondly, dogs have an uncanny sense of smell that is much more sensitive than our noses. A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 – 100,000 times better than that of humans.
Service Dogs Are Specialists
Not all service dogs can perform the same types of duties. Therefore, we train service dogs to be specialists and help one human at a time with their unique needs. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.”
Let’s explore some of the various specialties of service dogs.
A guide dog, commonly called a “seeing-eye dog,” is trained to assist blind or visually impaired humans. They help to lead their owner around obstacles and navigate the outside world. Guide dogs are very good at assessing situations and making their own decisions based on what they can see.
The hearing dog can be the ears of deaf or hearing-impaired people. They lend their owners assistance by alerting them when they hear a vital sound, such as a doorbell, fire alarm, or alarm clock.
Medical Alert Dogs
Several specialists in the family of medical alert dogs, including the seizure alert dog, are trained to recognize the signs of an imminent medical event. If an episode occurs, they can alert others for help.
The seizure alert dog can also hold a position to help protect their owner during an attack. In addition, medical dogs for people with diabetes can alert their owners when they sense a drop in blood sugar, and allergy alert dogs can help protect children and adults from potentially dangerous allergens they smell in the air or nearby food. Medical alert dogs have a strong sense of smell to protect their humans from harm.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
Mobility assistance dogs must be strong dogs, as they perform several daily tasks, like pushing elevator buttons or pulling wheelchairs up ramps for individuals with mobility issues. Mobility dogs assist those with arthritis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries, and more.
Autism Support Dogs
Humans with autism often have difficulty connecting with other humans. An autism support dog can provide companionship and help them navigate social settings, including keeping track of them in busy places.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Depending on the owner’s condition, a psychiatric service dog can have many responsibilities. For instance, a service dog for anxiety can provide calm and comfort, anticipate potential anxiety attacks, and fetch medication if needed. They can also get help if their owner is in distress.
How Dogs Help Us
Every day, dogs help us in many ways. While they may not all be professionally trained service animals, they can provide benefits to humans just by being themselves. Dogs are known to benefit humans by:
- Providing companionship
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing stress levels
- Help us cope following a crisis (PTSD)
- Encouraging us to move
- Improving cognitive function
- Promoting social interaction
Emotional Support Dogs and Therapeutic Dogs
Emotional support or therapeutic dogs provides us comfort by being themselves. These types of dogs are not necessarily trained to be service dogs and are also not recognized by the ADA as one.
To be a service animal under the law, the dog must be required due to disability and provide specific work or tasks. In most cases, an emotional support dog does their job solely by being present.
However, that doesn’t mean their service to us isn’t invaluable. For instance, dogs have been brought into schools and communities following tragic shooting events to provide comfort to victims, witnesses, and families.
In schools, therapeutic dogs are being used to reduce stress and promote positivity. For example, a 2019 University of California study showed that canine reading programs increased student reading fluency by 12-30%.
In long-term care facilities, therapy dogs bring joy to residents, often giving them someone to talk to, helping them cope with illness, loss, and depression, and reminding them of their own beloved pets.
We can train dogs to do amazing things for humans. It cannot go unrecognized how valuable dogs can be in the lives of those who rely on them for daily tasks, support, and companionship. Maybe someday, a dog will be your hero, too.
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