If you’ve ever tried to train a dog a trick or two, you know how difficult it can be to get them to do the simplest of tasks. That is why service dogs, recognized by their service dog vest in public, and their professional trainers deserve respect.
Service dogs are trained to help people with a variety of disabilities, both physical and mental. Training usually lasts two years, but not all dogs make it to graduation. Any dog, regardless of breed or age, can attempt service dog training. Just like humans, dogs have varying personalities and abilities. The first characteristic a service dog must have is they are willing to please and enjoy the company of humans. Then they must show focus and non-reactiveness to humans who are not their trainers. The dogs must also be able to be trained to be desensitized to distractions from passersby, traffic, children, etc.
Service dogs for the visually impaired are trained to help maneuver their owner through their homes and public, and even signal when there are changes in sidewalk elevation. These dogs are also trained to locate and retrieve objects. Dogs for the hearing impaired are trained to alert their owner to specific sounds and people, and warn of approaching objects. Medical assistance dogs are trained to help people with autism as well as comfort owners with psychiatric issues.
Some service dogs are trained to perform a range of tasks from turning lights on and off, calling 911, and helping owners get dressed and undressed. Service dogs also can open and close doors, help their owners stand upright, prevent falls, and move footrests and armrests on wheelchairs. Some service dogs can detect irregular heartbeats, allergens, approaching seizures, high and low blood sugar levels for people with diabetes, etc.
A special bond is forged between a person with disabilities and their service dog. By nature, dogs want to learn how to please their owner – and they appreciate the love and affection they receive in return. Based on their personalities, service dogs need to learn what is expected of them. Then as creatures of habit, with repetition, they will master a variety of tasks on command.
A word of caution. Service animals are not considered pets. They should not be approached to be played with or petted. Look for the service dog vest to spot a certified training service dog.