Many people have seen a Service Dog helping someone with a physical or cognitive disability. Maybe you’ve seen a Service Dog pressing an elevator button for someone in a wheelchair or retrieving a can from a shelf at a grocery store. While there’s no question that the tasks performed by Service Dogs are essential actions, they offer so much more than assistance — they provide unconditional love and loyal companionship.
There are various names for helpful canines — canine companions, also referred to as emotional support dogs, therapy dogs, and Service Dogs. They all provide valuable assistance to their human charges, but there are distinctions.
Service Dogs work for individuals with disabilities other than blindness or deafness and have legal rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Service Dogs go through rigorous training for up to 24 months. Before they celebrate their first birthday, they already know several commands. By the time they turn 18 months, they’ve learned as many as 80 commands and are trained to perform a wide variety of tasks including but not limited to; pulling a wheelchair, bracing, retrieving, alerting to a medical crisis, and providing assistance in a medical crisis.
Unlike Service Dogs, canine companions or emotional support dogs (ESD) are companion animals that provide emotional or therapeutic support to an individual with a mental health condition or emotional disorder simply by being present.
Therapy Dogs are a pet dog trained to provide affection, comfort, and love to those it interacts in many different settings. Therapy dog owners may volunteer their time to visit with their animals to facilities in which the team is welcomed or may be practitioners who utilize the dog in a professional setting. Therapy dogs are not covered under the legislative public access laws, and therefore do not have the same public access rights as an assistance dog and its handler.
Emotional support animals do not receive the same training as assistance dogs and therefore, depending upon the country may have different laws regarding their public access privileges. For example, in the United States of America, Emotional Support Animals do not have the same right to public access as an assistance dog and its handler.
Providing Service and More
While physical benefits are the most prominent and immediate ways a Service Dog assists a person with disabilities, the emotional benefits of a Service Dog are significant. A service dog means adding a loyal companion to your life beyond typical canine devotion.
People with disabilities experience social isolation and loneliness at significantly higher rates than those without disabilities. Studies show that loneliness is associated with poor well-being in people with disabilities. A Service Dog provides companionship that can ease feelings of loneliness.
In addition, having a Service Dog increases socialization for people with disabilities, which can also help eliminate isolation. The companionship of a Service Dog can help a person with a disability feel more comfortable in situations, empowering its handler to become more active in social circles.
A True Partnership
While people love their pet dogs, Service Dogs and their handlers build a strong relationship that creates a solid partnership. Like many other aspects of life, relationships are crucial. Dogs don’t judge, they accept people as they are. They have no hidden agendas and no reason to deceive a person, and their affection is genuine.
The authenticity of a Service Dog’s affection is one of the reasons they can form a unique bond with their handler. As a result, handlers know that they can entrust their lives to their Service Dogs, even if they cannot completely trust other humans.
For example, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be reluctant to trust other people but rely on their Service Dog to steer them through difficult social situations.
Another example includes Service Dogs that aid children with Autism. While some children with Autism are more trusting than other children, that isn’t always the case because it’s a broad spectrum disorder. Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are subjected to bullying, harassment, and abuse, leading to a general distrust of other humans.
In addition, anxiety is one of the most common mental health impacts of ASD, and being misunderstood and misrepresented is one of the most alienating and frustrating aspects of the condition. It makes interactions with other people challenging, making it difficult for people with autism to trust another person, but they can trust Service Dogs.
Help Us Change the Lives of People With Disabilities
The life-altering impact of Service Dogs is impossible to understate. But in every account, it’s clear that a Service Dog offers far more than assistance with daily tasks. The unconditional love and true companionship they provide leads to improved well-being and allows people with disabilities to live a full life. Breeding, nurturing, and training Service Dogs has many associated costs, but the results are priceless, and your gift makes an enormous difference and can change a person’s life!