Service Dogs: Canine Companions
Service dogs are sometimes also called assistance dogs or guide dogs. Technically speaking, these are different kinds of canine jobs, but many people use the terms interchangeably to refer to any dog that has been trained to assist a person with a disability. These disabilities may be physical or mental, and include difficulties such as visual or hearing impairment, seizure disorder, autism, severe depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Depending on the owner’s needs, service dogs can be as small as toy breeds or much larger. Some service dogs offer physical support to their owners by supporting their weight when they need help and that would call for a larger dog so that it would have the necessary strength, but dogs whose primary role is to provide psychological support can be small enough to hold in the arms. Regardless of size, the other traits required for a service dog are the same.
A service dog must be biddable, healthy, have a good temperament, be able to carry out necessary tasks, and be highly responsive to training. Service dogs can come from all walks of life and many are adopted from shelters. Others are donated by private breeders and some are bred by service dog organizations. Some owners prefer to train the dogs themselves, so the dog will be perfectly tailored to their needs, and others have an organization or program carry out the training.
During their training, dogs are highly socialized and exposed to as many situations and different kinds of people as possible so that all bases are covered and the dog will be able to adapt to any new situation that presents itself while working with their owner. Service dogs are trained to ignore distractions while they are working, and learning to ignore friendly overtures by people who mean well is a large part of it. A dog cannot afford to be distracted when they need to lead their owner over a crosswalk, for example.
Dogs are trained to maintain a position while working, regardless of what is happening around them and to hold the position even if their leash is dropped. This position is typically heel. A dog is said to be working when it is wearing its “gear,” which may be a harness, vest, or backpack. Vests and backpacks can be used to carry essential items for their owner. Gear helps other people recognize a service dog.