Service Dogs are dogs trained to work or perform tasks that help mitigate the effects of a disability for the handler/owner. In other words, they are trained to do things like:
- Retrieve things that drop or are hard to reach
- Open & close doors (including the one to the refrigerator)
- Push elevator buttons
- Turn light switches on & off
- Carry items in their mouths or backpacks
- Provide physical support for transfers to and from a wheelchair
- Provide balance and support
- Go get help should their handler/owner need human assistance, etc…
And these pets also provide unconditional love and companionship to their owners, as well.
Service dogs are also able to accompany their owners just about everywhere they go. Since the handler of a Service Animal is protected under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), service dogs are free to access public buildings and public forms of transportation, including trains, subways, buses, planes, etc…
So, what does it take to become a Service Dog?
Any dog can train to become a service dog, as long as the dog has the desirable character traits for one. These dogs need to have good temperament (good manners & sociable), be of good health, have good physical structure, and they need to be intelligent and easily trainable.
Most of the dogs selected begin their training as puppies. For the first year, the dog is raised by a dedicated volunteer foster family who trains the dog in basic dog obedience and socialization, using the guidelines provided by the Service Dog Organization.
After a year or so, the dog is returned to the organization where he is evaluated to determine what ‘service category’ he is best suited for. Formal training begins with the core training program. This is where the dog is taught all the basic skills that all these special dogs need to know how to perform. Then the dog is further trained to perform the other tasks and skills that will address the specific needs of the applicant he will be matched up with.
Dogs entering the program come from private breeders, some are bred by the organization that will be responsible for their training, and there are some dogs that are even selected from shelters! The most common dog breeds used are: Golden Retrievers, Labs, and German Shepherds.