10 Types of Service Dogs and What They Do
Many dog people would say their canine companion is their best friend, but for a growing number of individuals with specific physical, neurological, or mental health needs, different types of service dogs are also invaluable partners in day-to-day life. Legally, these dogs are welcome in places where pet dogs are not. Unfortunately, the practice of non-disabled people passing off pet dogs as service dogs has eroded the rights of real assistance dog handlers, especially those with invisible disabilities.
“Don’t make assumptions,” says Toni Eames, president of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. “If you see a person who can walk and talk, and they’re sighted, and they’re hearing, the dog may be alerting to diabetes or seizures.”
According to Eames, those tasks may be done by a breed who doesn’t fit the popular image of a service dog as a retriever or a German Shepherd. As the list of jobs for service dogs grows, so does the diversity of breeds helping disabled people.
Let’s take a look at 10 types of service dogs, from the well-known to the newly developed:
1. Guide dogs
Assistance dogs who lead visually impaired and blind people around obstacles are one of the most commonly known types of service dogs. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Lab/Golden hybrids are often chosen as guide dogs, although other breeds, such as Poodles, can also be well suited to the job. According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, guide dogs have been helping visually impaired people for centuries, and their use may date back to Roman times. Many laws and pieces of legislation regarding service animals were original written with an emphasis on guide dogs. While people often expect guide dogs and other assistance dogs to wear vests, the Americans With Disabilities Act does not require a vest, although they’ll often be wearing a special harness with a handle on it.
2. Hearing dogs
For people with hearing impairments, these types of service dogs assist by alerting their human to noises such as alarms, doorbells, or crying babies. When the dog hears the sound, they’ll touch their human and lead toward the noise. Labradors and Golden Retrievers are often selected as hearing dogs, but many other breeds, including Cocker Spaniels and Miniature Poodles, have been successfully trained to alert as a hearing dog. According to Assistance Dogs International, small-to-medium mixed breeds acquired from animal shelters are often trained as hearing dogs, with Terrier mixes, Poodles, Cockers, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and even Chihuahuas being selected for personality and temperament.
3. Mobility assistance dogs
These types of service dogs can perform a wide range of tasks for people with a wide range of mobility issues. According to Service Dogs of America, mobility assistance dogs can bring objects to people, press buttons on automatic doors, serve as a brace for people who are ambulatory, or even help pull a wheelchair up a ramp. These dogs help people increase their independence and confidence. People with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, muscular dystrophy, and arthritis are among those who benefit from being partnered with a mobility assistance dog. Different breeds are selected depending on the handler’s size, but the dogs must be large enough to support their human partner.
4. Diabetic alert dogs
Also known as DADs, these types of service dogs can provide independence and security by alerting to chemical changes in their handler’s blood sugar. The scent changes associated with hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic events in diabetics are imperceptible to humans, but dogs can pick up on them and alert their people to blood sugar highs and lows before the levels become dangerous. When a diabetic alert dog alerts, his human then knows to test his blood, then inject insulin or ingest a dose of glucose before his blood level gets dangerous. Many of these dogs are trained to go alert others in the household or set off an alarm system if their human needs medical help.
5. Seizure alert dog
Seizure alert dogs are a controversial type of service dog who react with a specific type of behavior right before her human has a seizure. The ability to alert to seizures seems to be a natural ability for a small number of dogs, although some neurology experts say there is no reliable evidence to suggest that dogs can reliably predict seizures. On the other hand, many patients, families, and trainers insist their dogs do accurately predict and alert to oncoming seizures, and stories about pet dogs who alert without training have received a lot of media attention. Some epilepsy organizations, like the BC Epilepsy Society, state that it’s not possible for dogs to be trained to alert to seizures, but some dog training agencies (including UK-based Support Dogs and 4 Paws For Ability in the U.S.) say it is possible to train a dog to alert.
6. Seizure response dogs