The Use of Service Dogs for People with Physical Disabilities in the USA

Written by on August 18, 2020 in Animals and Pets with 0 Comments

Service dogs have been a significant asset to people with disabilities in the USA and throughout the world for many years. Dogs have long been applauded for their ability to assist in several different tasks. In many cases, a service dog can make all the difference in its handler’s overall quality of life.

Although dogs have been helping humans in many capacities for centuries, the concept of a service dog as we know it today has only been around for a few decades. In the United States, The Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA) formally defined the role of service dogs in 1990, providing legal protection to dogs serving in this meaningful manner. Today, the idea of canine companions as aids for people with physical disabilities is widely recognized and accepted.

What Makes a Dog a Service Dog?

Once upon a time, when you heard the term service dog, you might have pictured a guide dog leading a person who was visually impaired or blind. Many dogs serve as guide dogs, but that is not the only task that these amazing pups can do. Over the years, as people have learned more about various disabilities, the part that these talented pups play in their owner’s lives has increased dramatically.

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that a service dog is:

Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

There is no specification or rule that only allows certain breeds to be a service dog, as long as a dog can perform a specific task or tasks to assist its owner.

While service dogs can be any breed, the ADA does stipulate that service animals can only be dogs, except for rare instances where miniature horses are acceptable. This rule means that any other kind of pet, even if highly trained to help you perform specific tasks, cannot be a legally designated service animal.

Even though any dog can be a service dog, that doesn’t mean that any breed will be a good fit in every circumstance. Some breeds fare better with certain conditions, especially in the case of physical disabilities. Therefore, it is vital to consider the specific disability of the person who needs an assistance animal. For example, if the person is in a wheelchair and the dog needs to help with mobility issues like pushing or pulling the wheelchair, a small breed wouldn’t be the best choice.

Are There Different Types of Service Dogs for People with Physical Disabilities?

There are many classes of service dogs, including guide dogs, hearing dogs, seizure response dogs, mobility dogs, and sensory dogs. The person’s disability determines the type of service dog a person has and what kinds of tasks are needed.

Here is a look at the different categories of service dogs:

Guide Dog (or seeing-eye dogs)  -These dogs help their owners find objects, avoid dangerous situations, and navigate a variety of areas and terrain. These pups can give particular sound or touch cues to alert their handlers to different events, such as one short bark when a stranger approaches.

Hearing Dogs These dogs alert their owners to certain noises like sirens and alarms by touching their owners or performing a particular action and then leading them toward the sound.

Diabetic Alert Dogs – These dogs are a type of sensory service animal trained to sense a change in blood sugar levels and alert their handlers when it occurs. The handlers can then take the necessary actions immediately. If they need medical attention, their service dog can alert other members of the household or seek help from nearby people.

Seizure Alert Dogs -These dogs can sense and alert their handlers to an upcoming seizure so they can take the necessary precautions as soon as possible. Although there has been some debate in the medical field about dogs’ ability to sense impending seizures, dog owners and professional trainers have professed that it is possible. Currently, dogs trained to alert their handlers to a potential seizure are recognized by the ADA as a service animal.

Mobility Support Dogs – These service dogs help their owners move about, which means they need to perform very physical tasks such as pull wheelchairs up ramps and even assist with lifting heavy items.

Autism Service Dogs –There are several new categories of service animals that have recently started to emerge, many of which focus more on kids. Many of these dogs work with children that suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and children with autism. They help relax the children, help them interact in social situations, keep them from running away, and track children who have run off.

Sensory Dogs – In addition to sensing things like potential seizures and low blood sugar, these canines can detect anything that is a particular issue for their handler. For example, a sensory dog with an owner who has a lethal allergy to peanuts can sense when a food contains the offending food and alert their owner to the danger.


What Types of Specific Tasks Do Service Dogs Perform?

Service dogs perform a variety of tasks based on their handler’s needs. There is no set list of tasks that every assistance animal must learn, and some of these talented and sensitive pups can carry out quite a few very impressive and creative commands.

Some of these tasks include:

  • Picking up dropped items
  • Pressing buttons or moving levers
  • Alerting a person to potential danger
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Performing specific actions to alert their handler to certain sounds
  • Fetching necessary items
  • Guiding their handlers around obstacles
  • Reminding their handlers to take medications
  • Opening doors
  • Turning lights on and off
  • Providing stability to their handlers when walking
  • Sensing and alerting their handlers to potential allergens in foods

Although the tasks assistance animals perform are not limited to these examples, for a pup to be considered a service dog, the tasks must be directly related to its handler’s disability.

How Can Your Dog Become a Service Dog?

Many factors determine a dog’s ability to be a service animal. One of the most essential components is your dog’s temperament and how easy your pup takes to training.

Your dog should be calm in crowds, not spook easily, and not be overly protective. For your pup to be a legal service dog, you must have a disability that directly impacts your quality of life, and your dog must be able to perform at least one task connected to that disability.

You can train your pup yourself if you feel you have the necessary skills. The ADA does not require mandatory registration or certification of service animals. However, registering your pup can make things a lot easier when it comes to bringing your dog to different places or living in an environment that does not usually allow dogs.

What Are Service Dogs Allowed To Do That Other Dogs Can’t?

Service dogs have certain permissions that other dogs do not have, like accompanying their handlers into public places that do not typically allow dogs and living with their handlers in no-pet housing situations. Your furry friend can also fly with you in the cabin of an airplane for no extra fee. Plus, hotels and other establishments that usually require a pet deposit are supposed to waive this fee for service animals.

If your service dog enters a business with you, employees are not supposed to ask you for any documentation or make you show any proof that your pup is a service animal. For example, no one can ask you to make your dog perform a task. However, employees and landlords do have the right to ask you if you require a service dog due to a disability.

Note: Although service dogs have many extra rights, they still must be vaccinated and licensed, and you must maintain adequate control of your animal at all times.

Are Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs the Same?

Service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs) are not the same things. Emotional support dogs are a source of comfort for their owners, often used by people with anxiety or other stress issues. Emotional support animals may accompany their handlers on flights and live in residences where dogs are generally not allowed; however, the ADA does not recognize emotional support dogs as service animals.

Therefore, businesses do not have to allow your dog entry if it is an emotional support animal. In the case of ESAs, it is up to the business owner’s discretion to let your pooch enter the premises.

Do you feel a service dog would significantly improve your quality of life but aren’t sure where to begin? To learn more about service dogs and how your canine companion can become one, contact us today. Our knowledgeable team of specialists is always on hand to answer your questions and guide you in the right direction!!

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