Monday, August 10, 2015


“Dog is man’s best friend” is not an expression that is unfamiliar to us.  Very often that quote bears witness to the diligent work and acts of heroism performed by dogs both here and abroad.  Last week was ‘International Assistance Dog’ week, an event created to recognize, and raise awareness about, assistance dogs.  During the course of this and next week’s articles, I would like to shed some light on the ways many dogs “assist” us.  In addition, offer a bit of clarification between service and therapy dogs.

Service dogs are assistance dogs, therapy dogs are not, even though they help people.  The difference between the two as explained by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network ( is as follows.

Specifically trained, a service dog performs set tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.  The disability may be classified as being physical, sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual.  The work performed by a service dog must directly relate to the individual’s disability.  Those tasks performed can include, among others, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, reminding a person to take medication, etc.  Service dogs are protected under Titles II and III of the 1990 Code of Federal Regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This legislation allows service animals to accompany their person into any public facility that allows the person.  Even if the facility has a “no pets” policy, it may not deny entry to a person and their service animal. Service dogs are not considered pets.

A therapy dog, emotional support, or comfort animal is not a service animal under Titles II and III of the ADA.  They are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by the federal laws protecting the use of service animals.  These animals provide comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes, disaster areas, etc., and to people with learning difficulties.  They provide companionship and help relieve the feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, etc., but do not have the specialized training to perform the required tasks that assist people with disabilities.

There are many examples of assistance, a.k.a. service, dogs that fit the ADA definition.  Guide Dogs or Seeing Eye® Dogs assist blind or severely visually impaired people.  In the United States Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are typically the breeds used as guide dogs. They are chosen because of temperament, versatility, size, intelligence, and availability. Guide dogs must be large enough to guide a person while in harness, and yet small enough to fit easily on both public transportation and in other public venues.  Two excellent resources for additional information are Guide Dogs of America ( and The Guide Dog Foundation ( ).

Another example is Hearing or Signal Dogs.  These dogs alert a person who is deaf, or who has significant hearing loss, when certain household sounds occur like alarms, doorbells, or telephone rings.  They are trained to make physical contact and lead their person to the source of the sound.  Additionally, a person taking their Hearing Dog into public will be more aware of the environment by noticing whatever the dog reacts to.  Hearing Dogs are generally mixed breeds acquired from animal shelters and are small to medium in size.  The Dogs for the Deaf, Inc. ( ) website provides additional information and resources regarding these dogs.

Other Service Dogs assist people with disabilities other than vision or hearing.  They can be trained to work with people who use wheelchairs, have balance issues, autism, need to be alerted to medical issues like seizures and low blood sugar, or who may have psychiatric disabilities like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or schizophrenia.  These dogs help by retrieving objects, opening doors, turning light switches on or off, barking for or locating help, providing balance, and many other individualized tasks. They may be of any breed, however the person’s need typically determines the size of the dog required.  A good service dog is not protective, is people orientated, not overly active, and is confident but not overly dominant or submissive.  Additional information can be found at both Service Dog Central ( ) and the Psychiatric Service Dog Partners website ( ).

Next week, Therapy dogs help too!


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