My usual pastime is surfing the net for cute dog or cat pictures. I came upon one such picture wherein a puppy wearing a jacket that said,” Service dog in training”, was sitting on the grass. This term perked my curiosity. I asked Google, what is a service dog? A link to a movie named ‘Quill: The life of a Guide Dog’ popped up. I clicked on it and could not stop watching what the movie had to show for 1 hour and 40 minutes! This movie is about a dog named Quill which is sent by his mother’s owner to trainers who give him basic training. Then the trainers send him to a dog trainer, who specifically deals in training guide dogs for the visually impaired. After his training is complete, Quill is selected to assist a blind man and they both train together to walk, work etc. in harmony. Quill serves him till he passes away and serves as a demonstration dog till he becomes too old to work. In the last year of his life he is sent to his first trainers home, where he dies after living with them for a year. This movie beautifully captures how a chosen puppy is trained to be a guide dog for the blind. It also shows how he helps his handler to overcome his physical disability and makes him faster and safer to walk to work on his own. This movie touched my heart and I started researching on ‘Service dogs’. To my amazement, I was introduced to a whole new world of how dogs are a gift of god to humans!
All through history dogs have served man, in peace and war, guarding his home and livestock from intruders, carrying and pulling heavy loads and being a loyal companion. In times of war, dogs have served as messengers, sentries, scouts and lifesavers. In the modern-day fight against crime, dogs assist in sniffing out drugs and explosives and tracking down wanted criminals. In recent times dogs have been busy giving a new lease of life to people who are physically challenged. A service dog is a type of assistance dog that is specifically trained to help people who havedisabilitiesincludingvisual difficulties, hearing impairments, mental illness, seizures, diabetes, autism, and more. The most commonly used service dog breeds are Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden, but any breed can be used. I discovered that for each handicap, physical or mental, a different type of service dog is used. The different types of service dogs are (according to Wikipedia):
- Autism service dog: An autism service dog is a service dog trained to assist a person with autism to help them gain independence and the ability to perform activities of daily living similar to anyone else. For the most part, these dogs are trained to perform tasks similar to those of service dogs for other sensory processing disorders.
- Guide dog: Guide dogs or ‘Seeing Eye dogs’ are assistance dogs trained to lead blind and visually impairedpeople around obstacles.
- Hearing dog: A hearing dog is a type of assistance dog specifically selected and trained to assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing by alerting their handler to important sounds, such as doorbells, smoke alarms, ringing telephones, or alarm clocks. They may also work outside the home, alerting to such sounds such as sirens, forklifts and a person calling the handler’s name.
- Medical response dog: A medical response dog is a service dog trained to assist an individual who has a medical disability.
- Psychiatric service dog: A psychiatric service dog is a specific type of service dog trained to assist their handler with a psychiatric disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia.
- Seizure response dog: Seizure response dogs are a special type of service dog, specifically trained to help someone who has epilepsy or a seizure disorder. They can summon help, move potentially harmful objects away from the person’s body, block the person from walking into danger during a seizure, attempt to rouse the person, provide physical and emotional support and carry information regarding the person’s medical condition and oxygen.
- Mobility assistance dog: A mobility assistance dog is a service dog trained to assist a physically disabled person who has mobility issues, which may include being wheelchair-dependent. They provide balance and stability, pull wheelchairs, carry and pick up things for persons with mobility impairments, open and close doors, and operate light switches.
Like our pets, service dogs of any kind know all the basic commands of ‘sit’, ‘come’, ‘go’, ‘fetch’ etc. But on top of that, they can perform many activities that our pets cannot since they have not been trained that way. For example, when the harness of a service dog is on, it knows it has to be serious and is at work! It is advised not to pet a service dog unless having asked the owner permission. Distracting a service dog is considered disruptive. It cannot bark, relieve itself, eat or do anything apart from helping its handler when its harness is on. Some of the things service dogs can do are pick up dropped objects, fetch a telephone, drop articles in a waste paper basket, open and close doors, speak on command to alert of an intruder, bark for help, get help in an emergency, load and unload the washing machine, switch on and off light switches, fetching items from a cupboard, shelf, refrigerator or a drawer, be a support, carry items from one person to another,reduce the anxiety of a person with post-traumatic stress disorder by putting its head on the patient etc.
After a service dog retires, the handler is the first choice to keep it. But if the handler cannot manage to keep it, the dog’s first trainer is the next one in queue to keep it. If by chance, they refuse to keep it, it goes through an adoption pool and goes into a home after a careful screening process. Since they are very well trained, the demand to adopt a retired service dog is so high that the waiting list may go on for years! I wish I could adopt one too!