Everything you need to know about companion and service dogs

Service dogs provide physically challenged individuals with a sense of freedom and independence they may have otherwise been lacking. Most commonly service dogs are used for people with mobility or psychiatric issues and for people who are hearing impaired, visually impaired or for individuals who experience frequent seizures. Highly trained and unfailingly dependable, service dogs are an important addition to many disabled individuals lives. The use of service dogs doesn’t benefit the disabled individual alone. Service dogs are often rescued from shelters and trained by charitable organizations, giving them a second chance in life.

Service dogs are trained to be a second set of eyes, ears and hands for disabled and physically challenged individuals. They open doors, fetch items like canes and wheel chairs, turn lights on and off and can help with a persons limited mobility by providing support with movement. Service dogs are also used by the hearing impaired. A service dog for the hearing impaired would be trained to alert their owner of important sounds such as alarms, knocking, phone ringing and distress sounds of an adult or baby.

The criteria for service dogs is based mainly upon size, health and temperament not by breed type. A potential service dog must be alert, responsive to sound, calm, intelligent, and most importantly eager to please. Physically a potential service dog would be hearty, but not large in size. It would be tall enough to stretch and reach things like light switches. Health wise, all potential service dogs must pass a veterinarian physical to be accepted to the training program.

Once it is determined that a dog meets all the criteria for becoming a service dog, they under go months of intensive training. Dogs are typically trained using positive reinforcement methods, hence the reason they seek dogs that are eager to please. Initial training involves teaching the young dog some basic commands. This step is crucial, because it is the foundation for the service dog learning more complex requests later in it’s training. When the dog is a few months shy of being a year old it moves to another stage in it’s complex training. In this stage the service dogs are taught to work around wheel chairs and other medical equipment, in addition to learning how to retrieve items. The next stage of a service dogs training involves the dogs being trained to learn the actual daily commands they will be using in assisting their owner. This phase is when the service dogs learns to open and close doors, turn on and off lights and complete other needed daily tasks. In the final stage of training dogs are paired with their potential owner. During this stage the potential owner and the service dog spend several weeks getting to know each other and learning how to work together successfully. All the stages of a service dogs training take a few months, so the average service dog is close to two years of age when placed in it’s permanent home.

Obtaining a service dog typically requires little to no financial commitment. Occasionally, charitable groups will simply charge an application fee, but rely mainly on donations of time and money to stay afloat. Often after an application is submitted an individual is placed on a waiting list, that can vary in length depending on the organization itself. Service dogs and their owners do have equal rights under the Americans with Disabilities act, so once a service dog graduates and is placed in it’s home it can go anywhere it’s owner goes. Service dogs are an important part of many peoples lives and thanks to the help of many generous volunteers more service dogs are available now than ever before.

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