Monday, 17 April 2017

Life With a Service Dog

Humans have lived in harmony with canine companions for millennia, and the relationship continues to be mutually beneficial. From ancient Chinese scrolls depicting dogs and people working together to Roman frescoes showing a blind man being led by a dog, there’s clear evidence that supports this special dynamic.

Dogs have also been employed in the military looking for wounded soldiers or carrying messages to the front lines. These days, a service dog can help an individual in a variety of meaningful ways, and Godspeed Animal Care is proud to share them with you.

Seeing Eye, Hearing Ear

In 18th century France, canines were commonly engaged as assistants to the blind. Here in the U.S., the first guide dog school opened in 1929 called The Seeing Eye. Over the following years, formal training methods began to evolve in order to develop the concept of service dogs. While seeing eye dogs continued to help blind people with daily tasks and activities, service dogs were being trained to help deaf individuals as well.

Bonnie Bergin

The idea of the service dog was pioneered by Bonnie Bergin. Through her work with canine training and development, she helped to elevate the status of the service dog. Her work allowed a certain recognition of the bond between a service dog and their human partner, which created a wider acceptance in our culture.

High Standards

The roles of service dogs continued to grow in the 1980’s and 1990’s, as they became extremely useful to individuals on the Autism spectrum and veterans suffering from PTSD. With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, it not only became unlawful to discriminate against disabled people, but necessary requirements for service dogs were also enforced.

Special Permissions

By law, a service dog is allowed to enter all establishments, travel without any extra expense to their owner, and even reside in a property that restricts pets.

Because they are highly trained, you may notice that a service dog can open doors, pick up dropped items, communicate with their human partner (such as bring attention to alarms or signals), and perform other helpful tasks.

Transformative Power of a Service Dog

More than a pet, a service dog is a lifelong companion entrusted to serving the life of their human partner. Any breed can become trained as a service dog, but the most common are German shepherds, golden retrievers, labs, and border collies. Larger dogs are helpful for mobility, but many smaller breeds are wonderful for emotional support.

Service Dog Training

International standards include a minimum of 120 hours over the course of 6-24 months. A complete understanding of general canine obedience is central to a dog’s success, with on-demand recognition and performance of:

  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Wait
  • Down
  • Come
  • Leave it
  • Heel
  • Look or focus on partner

Certainly, a service dog must be able to tune out any peripheral distractions, pay close attention to medical alerts, and provide guidance and support at all times. There are also specific public access tests that a service dog must pass.

Registering a service dog is not federally mandated. However, voluntarily registering a service dog makes him or her more “official” and reduces possible confrontation from businesses or the public.

Love a Service Dog

If you would like more information on training a service dog, please check out our training or Service Dogs of Virginia.

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