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  • Writer's pictureMaureen Mickel

Service Dogs: What are they?

It seems like every day, I get an inquiry about a client wanting to make their pet personal into a service dog. While we have experience in training and working with these incredible dogs and will train teams that meet our qualifications. Let's talk about what makes a dog a service dog.

A service dog is a highly trained canine companion that offers invaluable assistance to individuals with disabilities. These remarkable dogs are specifically trained to perform tasks that help mitigate the limitations imposed by their handler's disability. They play an essential role in enhancing their handlers' independence and overall quality of life.

Different Types of Service Dogs:

Guide Dogs: Assist individuals with visual impairments or complete blindness by guiding them safely through their surroundings.

Hearing Dogs: Alert their deaf or hard-of-hearing handlers to sounds such as doorbells, alarms, or approaching vehicles.

Mobility Assistance Dogs: Help individuals with physical disabilities by providing support with tasks like opening doors, retrieving objects, or aiding in balance and stability.

Medical Alert Dogs: Detect and respond to medical conditions, such as alerting to oncoming seizures, changes in blood sugar levels for diabetics, or detecting allergens in individuals with severe allergies.

Psychiatric Service Dogs: Provide support and assistance to individuals with psychiatric or emotional disabilities, offering comfort, grounding techniques, and performing specific tasks to mitigate anxiety or panic attacks. These dogs are different than emotional support dogs, as they have been trained to do a specific task to help a person with a psychiatric disability.

Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs: It's essential to distinguish between service dogs and emotional support dogs. While both offer crucial support to their handlers, service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks related to their handler's disability. They have public access rights and are protected under the law. On the other hand, emotional support dogs provide comfort and emotional support to their owners but do not undergo specialized training and are not granted the same public access rights as service dogs.

Therapy Dogs Vs. Service Dogs: Therapy dogs are well-trained canines that provide comfort, emotional support, and companionship to people in various settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other facilities. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs do not perform specific tasks for an individual's disability. Instead, they provide emotional support and create a positive, soothing environment for other people. These dogs do not have the same public access rights as service dogs. They are usually only allowed in specific places (such as libraries, hospitals, and nursing homes) with permission from the facility or organization they are visiting.

The Role of Genetics in Creating a Great Service Dog: The journey of a service dog begins with careful breeding and selection. Genetic factors play a crucial role in determining a dog's temperament, intelligence, and working ability. Breeding programs focus on producing puppies with the right traits for service work, such as intelligence, confidence, and a strong desire to work alongside their handler. Not all dogs are destined to be service dogs. In order for Spirited K9 to train your dog service dog tasks, they must possess the genetic qualities required for a service

Misconceptions about Service Animal Certification: It's essential to understand that no official certification or registration is required for a dog to become a service animal. Legitimate service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks and should demonstrate impeccable behavior in public. While certain organizations may issue identification cards, vests, or certificates, these are not legally recognized, and businesses cannot require them as proof of a service dog's status. Spirited K9 will often write a note or a certificate that shows the service dog has been professionally trained by us (even though this is not required by law).

The Downside of Combining Protection Work with Service Roles: While some businesses will train service dogs to also be trained in protection work, it's crucial to recognize the potential risks associated with this combination. Protection training involves controlled aggression, which could create complications in public settings and lead to confusion about the dog's role. Service dogs must remain calm, well-behaved, and focused on assisting their handlers, rather than engaging in protective behaviors. Spirited K9 will not train a service dog in protection work.

Oftentimes, we have potential clients contact us, wanting us to "certify" their dog as a service dog to be able to take their dog with them on flights or into public spaces that do not allow pets to enter. We will not write any faulty letter or certificate to a pet posing as a service animal to gain access to public spaces or flights. Additionally, we will only train a service dog to assist with a handler's disability.

Service dogs play a crucial role in enhancing the independence and quality of life for people with disabilities. Faking a service dog can lead to skepticism and distrust towards legitimate service dog teams, perpetuating the misunderstanding and stigma surrounding service animals. Some individuals may try to fake a service dog by using ill-trained or poorly behaved dogs. This can perpetuate negative stereotypes about service dogs and lead to the belief that service dogs are not well-trained or are a nuisance in public spaces.

As a responsible dog training business, we advocate for the proper training, care, and recognition of service dogs to ensure their invaluable contributions continue to positively impact the lives of their handlers. Please understand, our business will not label a dog as a service until it has gone through rigorous training

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