In honor of International Assistance Dog Week, we thank all the service dogs for all their hard work and dedication to their job. There is a clear distinction between pet and service dog and we want to provide some insight in regards to the life of a service dog and their role.
The Life of a Service Dog
On the Job
The service dog is a working dog. So they are always on the job. A service dog is defined by the ADA as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. “The service dog is legally medical equipment. They are an extension of the handler “states Alethea, a Trupanion team member. While Alethea is a service dog handler and has had her service dog Kostyl for 31/2 years, he is completely owner-trained.
Service Dog Training
The training for a service dog is an extensive process. “The typical training timeline is 2 years for basic public access skills. Also, there is additional task training specific to that handler. Likewise, I took two years off from work and school to dedicate time to completely train him. All of his commands are in Russian, “says Alethea. Language training is a common tool so the dog is not distracted while working.
Types of Service Dogs
Because each service dog is trained for specific tasks there are several types of jobs for service dogs.
Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Mobility Dogs, Medical Alert, Medical Responses Dogs all provide support for handlers. According to www.guidedogs.com, “It takes an average of 251 volunteers to help a single puppy become a guide dog.” While it is possible to receive a guide dog from a foundation, many handlers self-train to provide this resource for themselves. “It can take years to acquire a service dog, sometimes you just don’t have years to wait”, states Alethea.
How to Approach a Service Dog
Often people approach service dogs like any other dog, which is not recommended. The service dog is working and is not a pet.
Here are some steps in interacting with a handler and their service dog.
Talk to the Handler.
Approach the service dog handler as you would with an owner and a dog. You should always ask the owner before you pet the dog. It is the same situation here – you should ask permission of the handler before engaging with the service dog.
No Talk, Touch, Eye Contact
The dog is working and needs complete focus.
Respect the space.
Respect the space of the handler and service dog. They are working together with tasks and if there is an interruption or a disruption of space it can prohibit their activity.
As you would with anyone – be courteous, considerate and polite. “I’m a human being. Say hello. Also, I might need assistance- my service dog does have paws, not thumbs, states Alethea.
If a Service Dog Approaches you
If a service dog approaches you alone with no handler that is a different situation. Almost always, when you see a service dog alone that means the handler needs help. “The service dog is trained to get someone in a time of need. Also, some service dogs will carry a card when this occurs to alert people of what is needed”, says Alethea.
Medical Response vs. Medical Alert
A medical response dog is trained to respond to an active medical emergency, which can include getting under the head, laying on top of the chest, or retrieving medication. While a medical alert dog is trained to alert handler prior to a medical scenario, such as alerting handler of low blood sugar or a seizure.
The Timeline of a Service Dog
The timeline of a service dog is always dependent upon the breed of the dog and the job they are performing. While most service dogs begin training as a puppy, any dog can become a service dog. You don’t have to be a certain breed to be a service dog. Most noteworthy, it is critical that the pairing of the handler and dog is a good fit. The pair must be in sync emotionally, physically, and also that the dog is a good fit for the handler’s lifestyle.
The service dog is critical to their handler’s well-being, Likewise, the handler is responsible for their K-9 partner. You have to take into consideration food, dog walks, traveling, playtime as you would with any dog in your care. Certainly, being in sync is imperative, for the reason that you need to know the dog’s well-being. Is this dog fit to work? Do they want to work? The dog’s ability to work is linked to the handler’s safety and retirement is something that must be taken into consideration. When service dogs do retire they often stay with the handler or within the service dog community.
“This dog is your partner. You know each other. Of course, you want to be able to keep them when they retire”, says Alethea.
The service dog is able to provide assistance like no other. Their dedication and work efforts are renowned and appreciated by so many. Service dogs literally save lives every day.