Dogs That Help Us: A Look at Service, Therapy, and Emotional Support Dogs

Dogs That Help Us: A Look at Service, Therapy, and Emotional Support Dogs

September is National Service Dog Month, which started us thinking about dogs that help humans navigate everyday life. Here's a look at service, therapy, and emotional support dogs.

Service Dogs

Service dogs can give people with disabilities the independence and freedom to live full and active lives. To become a service dog, the dog goes through a challenging and time-consuming training program. Depending on the dog's age, breed, temperament, and the specific tasks it is being trained to perform, most service dogs require at least 12-18 months of training. The program includes basic obedience, training for specific tasks, and a final phase called "teaming." That is when the handler teaches the dog how to perform its tasks in different environments and situations, such as crossing the street in a noisy area. The dog also learns to respond to the handler's cues and commands, which usually will later be taught to the disabled person.

Here are some examples of tasks that a service animal may be trained to perform:

  • Retrieve items for a person with a physical disability
  • Guide a blind person while walking
  • Alert a deaf person to important sounds
  • Alert others to a medical emergency, such as a seizure, a fall, or a fainting episode when the person may be unresponsive
  • Activate an alarm or call for help in an emergency at the person's command

Suppose you see a service animal in public. In that case, it's important not to distract the dog by petting it or calling attention to it. Think of it this way: the dog is at work when it is assisting someone. Just go about your business and let the service animal do its job.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. This includes the right to have service animals in public places. Under the ADA, businesses and other public places are not allowed to ask about the nature of a person's disability or the qualifications of their service animal. They are also not allowed to require medical documentation, identification cards, or training documentation for the animal. If a business or other public place refuses to allow a service animal to enter, the disabled person could file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice office.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are trained to reduce stress and provide comfort to people in a variety of situations. They are often used for programs in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.

Therapy dogs are typically certified by an organization, including the Alliance of Therapy Dogs or the International Association of Pet Facilitators. They must meet specific standards of temperament and behavior and be trained to patiently perform particular tasks, such as providing comfort, distraction, or companionship.

Therapy dogs have many benefits, including improving mood, boosting self-esteem, and promoting social interaction. Therapy dogs can also support people grieving, recovering from surgery, or dealing with other difficult life experiences such as military service.

Here are some additional facts about therapy dogs:

  • The first therapy dog program was started in 1944 by a group of nurses in New York City.
  • There are now over 30,000 therapy dogs certified in the United States.
  • As long as a dog is well-behaved and has a calm temperament, it can become a therapy dog, regardless of its' breed.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are dogs or other animals that provide companionship and support to people with mental health conditions by helping to reduce anxiety, depression, and other symptoms. Unlike service dogs, no specific training is required for ESAs, and they do not have the same legal protections. However, they can sometimes be allowed in places where pets are not typically allowed, like airplanes and apartments. Check with the location to find out their rules. If you are considering getting an ESA, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. They can help you determine if an ESA is right for you and provide you with resources to find a suitable animal.

Dogs help us in many ways by enriching our lives, reducing stress, and performing tasks for us when we cannot. It's part of why they're known as man's best friend.

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Sources: Canine.org & SundogTherapy.com

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