September is Service Dog Awareness month

By: Danielle Bardwell

What is a service dog?

A service dog is a dog that has been trained to help a disabled person complete a task they would not be able to do on their own. Duties of a service dog may include; guiding a blind person to a destination, alerting a deaf person of important sounds, sensing and informing someone of an oncoming medical issue such as a seizure, or interacting with certain objects for a mobility impaired individual. By providing assistance, service dogs are helping ease the burdens disabled people face on a consistent basis which helps them live a more independent life.

How are service dogs trained?

There are multiple ways service dogs can be trained; they can be trained by a training organization, an individual who trains dogs, or they can be trained by the person who has the disability. To be considered a service dog, the dog would need to be trained to perform specific tasks when needed for a disabled person. Depending on the service the dog is going to provide, they may spend years in training. There is only a small percent of dogs that pass their training to become a service dog, but thankfully those that do not pass their training make great family pets instead.

How to identify a service dog, and what to do if you see one.

Although many service dogs may wear a vest stating they are a service dog and advising not to pet them, they are not required to wear a vest or any other identification. Beyond a vest, a good implication that a canine is a service dog is that the dog is sitting at attention by the owner’s side, their focus is on the owner, they are not easily distracted. Service dogs come in all shapes in sizes as different sizes may be better at performing tasks than others. For example, large breeds will have the height to reach objects or complete tasks that might be on taller surfaces. Many times, these large breeds will also have the strength needed to help mobility impaired individuals. It is best to assume every dog you come across is a service dog hard at work until you are told otherwise.

If you see an unattended service dog and the dog nudges or barks at you, it could mean the owner needs assistance. Therefore, follow the service dog and once you get to the owner or wherever the dog had led you, access the situation and call for help if necessary.

If the service dog is with the handler remember the following:

  • Do not touch the dog without getting permission from the owner first. This rule should be followed for any dog you come across but it’s especially important with service dogs. Puppies are super cute and although it can be tempting to pet and play with them, service dogs are always at work and you do not want to cause any distractions that would break their focus.
  • Do not give a service dog food or treats. There are many reasons to not give a service dog food which include; many dogs are on a feeding schedule, they could be on a special diet, the dog may have allergies, or they may become distracted by the treat.
  • Keep your dog away from service dogs. Dogs are social beings and can get excited when they see other dogs and want to play and interact with each other. Since the service dog is always working, you again don’t want to take the canine’s focus away from the owner.