When most people think of a service dog, the first thing that comes to mind is a seeing eye dog, or guide dog. But did you know there are actually several different kinds of service dogs out there that are all trained for specific purposes?
Continue reading to learn more about the different types of service dogs, and how service dogs differ from other types of supportive dogs!
8 Types of Service Dogs
1) Guide Dogs
A guide dog, also known colloquially in the US as a “Seeing Eye dog,” is a type of service dog that assists a blind or visually impaired partner to travel safely and navigate around obstacles.
Breeds: In terms of breeds, guide dogs are often Labradors, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and occasionally Standard Poodles for those with allergies.
2) Hearing Dogs
A hearing dog works with a deaf or hard-of-hearing partner. Hearing dogs are trained to alert their partner to specific sounds at home and in public by making physical contact with their owner. Some examples of the types of sounds hearing dogs are trained to respond to are babies’ cries, sirens, alarms, and doorbells.
Breeds: Labradors and Golden Retrievers are often selected to become hearing dogs, but many other breeds have been successfully trained to become hearing dogs as well, including Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, and even shelter dogs the right temperament!
3) Psychiatric Service Dogs
Psychiatric service dogs comprise a broad category of service dogs that are specially trained to help individuals with a range of different diagnosed mental illness, including but not limited to autism, severe depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD. This type of service dog is often confused with therapy dogs as well as emotional support animals.
For partners with autism, dogs are often trained to interrupt repetitive behaviors, track their partner should they run or wander away, calm meltdowns, among others skills. In addition to their trained skills, it is believed that an animal’s mere presence is also beneficial for individuals with autism in generally maintaining calm and offering comfort. Plus, having a dog around can even ease social situations!
Service dogs can be beneficial to those with severe depression in that they can be trained to recognize repetitive and/or potentially harmful behaviors. They also provide a partner with a reason to get outside and exercise (going for walks!), a sense of purpose, and a comforting presence, all of which can help a person with depression.
Anxiety and PTSD
Service dogs can be trained to recognize and help to preempt an oncoming flashback or panic attack by lying on top of their partner to slow heart rate. Since individuals with PTSD can tend to feel hyper vigilant about their safety, a service dog can help its partner feel safer by doing things like entering a dark house or a room before them. A dog can also help an anxious partner to feel less overwhelmed in a crowded public setting, for example, by creating a wall with their body in order to protect their partner’s personal space.
A service dog can be trained to recognize and interrupt specific obsessive compulsive behaviors and can also help to calm related anxiety via Deep Pressure Therapy.
Breeds: will vary based on need!
4) Mobility Assistance Dogs
Mobility Assistance dogs are service dogs that are trained to help a wide variety of physically disabled people, from those with spinal cord or brain injuries to those with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, or arthritis. Mobility Assistance dogs are trained in performing tasks like bringing objects to people, pressing buttons on automatic doors or elevator, bracing people who are ambulatory, opening and closing doors and cabinets, turning lights on and off, retrieving the phone, pulling wheelchairs up ramps, etc.
Breeds: Common breeds for this category include Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Doberman Pinschers, and German Shepherds. Other common breeds include Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Danes, Mastiffs, and other livestock guardian breeds. The type of tasks needed will determine the type of dog, based on necessary size/weight. For example, if an individual needs brace support, they will require a larger, sturdier type of dog.
5) Medical Alert Dogs
A Medical Alert dog is a type of service dog that is trained to alert their partner to dangerous physiological changes within themselves, for example hormone levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, imminent seizure, or other testable bodily symptom. Dogs are able smell/sense these changes and are much more sensitive than humans have the capacity to be. Two common types of Medical Alert dogs are Seizure Alert dogs and Diabetic Alert dogs.
Seizure Alert Dogs, not to be confused with seizure response dogs, are a type of medical alert dog that can sense and alert their partner to an oncoming seizure. These dogs are also trained to react to a seizure by performing actions like fetching a phone, alerting someone nearby, and remaining near their owner during the seizure to prevent injuries.
Some skepticism exists around the topic of seizure alert dogs, as it is not known exactly how some dogs have the innate ability to sense an oncoming seizure in a person. It is speculated, however, that a change in scent is given off by a person prior to having a seizure.
Breeds: Like many other types of service dogs, Labs, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, and mixes of any of the aforementioned breeds are often chosen to become seizure alert dogs.
Diabetic Alert Dogs are a type of service dog that alert their partner to a drop in blood sugar. They are also often trained to do other things like retrieve a diabetes test kit or medication, provide support while walking, help their partner stand after sitting or after a fall, etc.
Breeds: Typical diabetic alert dog breeds are Labs, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, and mixes of the aforementioned breeds. While these breeds dominate this specific category of service dog, any dog breed of dog can conceivably be trained to become a diabetic alert dog!
6) Seizure Response Dogs
Seizure Response dogs, also called Seizure Assistance dogs, are specially trained to recognize and respond to the signs of their owner having a seizure. Not to be confused with Seizure Alert dogs, this type of dog is trained to react once a seizure is already happening. This variety of service dog can be trained to do things like bark to alert others to the situation, position themselves to break a fall, activate a life-alert system, or get help.
Breeds: A selection of dog breeds that seem to have a higher rate in those with the ability to detect seizures include German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Samoyeds, Border Collies, Setters, and Poodles.
7) FASD Service Dogs
A developing category of service dog is the FASD service dog. FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and refers to people who were exposed to alcohol prenatally, and therefore might have physical, mental, and/or learning disabilities in additional to possible behavioral disorders as a result.
FASD service dogs are similarly trained to autism service dogs, and can be trained in a variety of different tasks depending on their partner’s specific needs. A few examples of typical tasks that FASD service dogs might be trained to do include interrupting a repetitive or harmful behavior, tracking down their partner if they run off, calming and comforting, alerting others to a potentially dangerous situation involving their partner, or alerting their partner to important noises or other cues they might not sense.
Breeds: Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Poodles, Labradoodles (Labrador-Poodle mix), Bernese Mountain Dogs, Boxers, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, Great Danes, Bull Terriers, Beagles, Old English Sheep Dogs. What’s most important here are the traits of the dog. Larger dogs that are intelligent with gentle dispositions that are people-oriented are ideal.
8) Allergy Alert/ Allergy detection
Allergy Alert dogs (AKA Allergy Detection dogs) are service dogs that are often paired with young children to sniff out allergens (often tree nuts, gluten, or shellfish) that are deadly to their partners. They sound the alarm when they sense the allergen in order to keep their partner safe. These dogs will typically wear a vest with pockets that says, “IN EVENT OF EMERGENCY CHECK POCKETS.” and contains information and/or medication in the event of an emergency.
Keep in mind that those who require an Allergy Alert dog have such severe allergies that even just touching or smelling the allergen is enough to trigger a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction. These reactions cannot easily be managed with OTC medications, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that these individuals keep distance from their allergens.
Breeds: There is no one ideal breed for an allergy alert dog. It’s more about the unique characteristics of the individual dog and how those traits work together. Allergy alert dogs are chosen for being highly motivated, intelligent, eager to please, as well as independent.
What is a Service Dog?
A service dog, sometimes called an “assistance animal,” is a dog that is highly trained to perform specialized work for a person with a disability. Service dogs give their partners a sense of independence and confidence to live their lives out in the world with less fear, concern, and/or restriction, and improve their overall quality of life. Because of the valuable work that service dogs do, they are legally allowed in many places where pet dogs are not. Over 80 million Americans with various types of disabilities have a service dog!
Service Dogs are Different from Therapy Dogs and ESAs
Service dogs are often confused with therapy animals, ESAs (Emotional Support Animals), and even pets! However, service dogs belong in a category all their own.
Because service dogs are working animals, it makes sense that they’d be confused with other types of special dogs like therapy dogs and ESAs. However, what sets service dogs apart is that they are highly trained to perform specific tasks to help their handler, who has a disability. Therapy animals and emotional support animals are not necessarily required to be specially trained to do their jobs, and therefore in most jurisdictions, these kinds of animals are not afforded the same privileges as service dogs.
Therapy dogs do not serve a single partner like service dogs do, but rather accompany their handler (usually their owner) to volunteer in clinical settings like hospitals, schools, hospices, and nursing homes, where they provide comfort and affection to the people there.
Therapy dogs must be reasonably well behaved, have a calm temperament, love meeting new people, and be unfazed by new noises and environments.
Emotional Support Animals
An emotional support animal is an animal that is intended to provide comfort and companionship to its owner. They may be trained for/by a specific owner, but they are not trained in specific tasks or duties in order to aid a person with a disability- this is essentially what differentiates an ESA from a service dog.
In order to be considered an emotional support animal, the need must be prescribed by a mental health professional for a patient with a diagnosed psychological or emotional disorder like panic attacks, anxiety, or depression.
Why is it Important to Differentiate Service Dogs from Other Dogs?
Differentiating between service dogs and other types of dogs is important because when non-disabled people attempt to pass of their pets, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs as service dogs, the rights of people with disabilities who have real service dogs are in danger of being diminished, and in particular, those with invisible disabilities.
What Rights Do Service Dogs Have?
Service dogs are entitled to many rights that other types of dogs and animals, like pets, are not. In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act has strict rules about the rights of people who use service dogs, including where the dogs are allowed to go with their partner. If you’re interested in learning more, check out https://www.ada.gov/!
***maybe it’s worth noting somewhere that because people don’t always fall into neat categories of disabilities, nor do service dogs really. Service dogs can be trained in whatever tasks would best serve the specific needs of their partner.