How to Get a Service Dog: Your Complete Guide
If you’re a person living with a disability, you may have considered getting a service dog to assist you in some way. Service dogs are no longer only for the blind, after all. They can be trained to assist people who are hearing impaired or have mobility issues; to recognize low blood sugar in diabetics; or to alert people with epilepsy of an impending seizure. In fact, the abilities of these specially trained animals is almost boundless, provided they receive the right training and are paired with the right partner.
Still, finding a service dog to meet your needs isn’t always an easy task. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide to help you learn if you qualify for a service dog and how to get a service dog if you do.
A service dog can provide many different kinds of assistance to a person with a disability. He can also provide companionship, loyalty and unconditional companionship and love.
Who Is Eligible for a Service Dog?
In general, anyone living with a disability is eligible to get a service dog. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this means any person with a “condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them.” The World Health Organization further explains that disability has three main components:
Impairment, such as the loss of use of a limb, eyesight or hearing, or cognitive impairment such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
Activity limitation, such as limitations in seeing, walking, thinking or remembering
Participation restrictions, such as the inability to work, drive, go to school or participate in social and recreational activities in the community.
A disability may result from a mental illness as well as a physical impairment. For example, people living with crippling anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder may be disabled by their condition and eligible for a service dog.
With that being said, most organizations that provide service dogs to people with disabilities have their own criteria as well. For example, Paws With a Cause, a nonprofit headquartered in Wayland, Michigan, that provides service dogs to adults with mobility issues, seizure disorders, or hearing loss and to children with autism, requires that applicants meet a predetermined threshold of disability (e.g., moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears, or a medical condition affecting one or more limbs). They must also be at least 14 years-old and live in a stable home environment with no other dogs (other pets are okay).
Similarly, Canine Companions Inc. requires that applicants be at least 18 years of age (5 years for a child) and complete a lengthy review process that includes a medical referral, an in-person interview and more.
Additionally, all professional organizations that train and provide service dogs require that applicants demonstrate they have the physical and financial resources to provide food, exercise, grooming and veterinary care for the dog.
What Are the Different Types of Service Dogs?
The history of service dogs dates back to the 1750s, when a Paris hospital for the blind began training guide dogs to assist their patients in performing the tasks of daily life. Since that time, the concept of a service dog has evolved to include dogs that perform a wide range of tasks for humans with physical and emotional disabilities and a variety of medical conditions. This includes:
Almost every disabled person qualifies for a service dog under the ADA. However, not every organization provides every type of service dog.
Great Danes are often trained as mobility assistance dogs because of their size and relatively calm temperament
Once called seeing-eye dogs, guide dogs help visually impaired or blind individuals navigate through life. They are most often German shepherds, golden retrievers or labs, but standard poodles and mixes like labradoodles and goldendoodles are also well-suited to the job. Unlike most service dogs, guide dogs are trained in “intelligent disobedience.” That means they will disobey a command from their human partner if the dog judges the action to be dangerous or unwise. For example, a visually imparied person might not see an oncoming car and command the dog to cross the street. In that case, a guide dog would disobey to keep its owner safe.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
Mobility assistance dogs are trained to assist people with mobility issues in a variety of ways. They are very helpful to people who are confined to a wheelchair or who’ve lost the use of one or more limbs due to a condition such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, ALS or a stroke, as well as to amputees. They can be taught to turn on lights, press elevator call buttons, open doors, retrieve items and much more. Some mobility service dogs may also pull a wheelchair using a special harness, or “brace” a person with balance or strength challenges when they stand up, transfer from a wheelchair or move about.This is some text inside of a div block.
Because mobility dogs generally need size and strength to perform their jobs, they are usually large dogs. Bernese mountain dogs, border collies, boxers and even Great Danes can make excellent mobility dogs, as can German Shepherds and retrievers.
As the term suggests, hearing dogs help people who are hearing imparied respond to sounds in their environment, such as a knock on the door, a smoke alarm, a doorbell or someone calling their name. Depending on the situation, the dog may lead their human partner to the noise (e.g., to the front door) or just alert them to the sound (e.g., an alarm clock) Hearing dogs can be almost any size or breed, but the breeds most often trained for the job are golden retrievers, labs, poodles and cocker spaniels.
Diabetic Alert Dogs
Thanks to their incredible sense of smell (about 100,000 times more powerful than a human’s) dogs can sniff out changes in body chemistry that no human can. Dogs can detect many kinds of cancer, for example, and they can also be taught to recognize when a person with diabetes has low or high blood sugar and to take appropriate action before a serious emergency occurs. The dog may be trained to fetch emergency medical supplies, for example, or alert another family member if the diabetic loses consciousness. Some service dogs are even trained to call 911 using a smartphone or tablet with a touchscreen, or using a special K-9 alert phone or device.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are trained to help people with serious mental health issues interact with others and function independently in the world. Unlike emotional support animals, which can be any type of animal that provides companionship and emotional support, psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks. For example, a psychiatric service dog might help interrupt a panic attack by repeatedly nudging his owner or sitting on their lap. They can also help a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder control repetitive behaviors that disrupt their lives. PSDs are also very beneficial for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder who need the calming presence of a trained dog that can “run interference” for them when they are out in the world.