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Service Dog Facts
Service Dog Info

service dog infoThere are many types of service dogs that help people in a variety of ways.  Have you ever wondered, “What is a service dog?” or wanted to find information on service dogs? Here we give you the details and facts about service dogs including hearing dogs, detection dogs, therapy dogs and more.

Armed Service Dogs

There are canines in the armed services, working for customs and excise and for the police forces around the world.  They are variously used as guards, aids in patrol and as “sniffers” trained in the detection of explosives and narcotics.  Some, particularly the Bloodhound, with its incredible scenting ability, are used to track criminals or find lost children.  However, as you will see any breed can be trained to aid humans with various tasks and this includes mixed breeds as well.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

There are now so many guide dogs in the world that there is not an official record of how many are working with the blind and visually impaired today.  Since there is not 1 registry that places all of them and each registry works independently, one can only guess that the number is in the 10’s of thousands.

The largest program in the world that trains and then places guide dogs with humans is the Seeing Eye which is located in Morristown New Jersey. Each year they place roughly 1800 trained dogs.

While the service dogs in this area can be trained to do many different tasks, the common elements that just about all learn are:
  • To walk in a straight line unless there is an obstacle, go around that obstacle and then continue on in the straight line.
  • Never to turn a corner unless commanded to do so.
  • Always stop at each curb on a street and wait until their human partner gives a command to either cross or turn right or left.  It is important to note that the dogs are trained to take traffic into consideration and will only proceed with a command when it does not put the human into harm’s way.
  • To judge height and width of doorways, openings, etc in order to know if their partner can pass through without difficulty.
There are so many different dog breeds of all different sizes, including small breeds,  who are taught to guide the blind…and one of the reasons is so that each dog literally fits with the person whom they will be guiding…height and length of stride is vital for a good match.

An interesting piece of information about service dogs is that once the dog is fully trained, he and his or her new owner then spend up to 4 weeks together for additional training that focusing on the 2 of them working as a team.  Only once they qualify together will the dog be awarded with a special harness to mark the occasion and allowed to go to his or her new home.

Hearing Dogs

Perhaps the best known worker dogs are sheepdogs and guide dogs for the blind. However, there are also many hearing dogs whose job it is to help the deaf.  A hearing dog is taught to respond to the sounds chosen by the individual applicant…such as responding to a knock on the door, the whistle of a kettle or the ring of a telephone or alarm clock.

The happenings that would go undetected by the deaf person were it not for the help of their dog in drawing attention to them.

Hearing dogs are trained to alert people to household noises that are necessary for safety and for a person to live independently.  They are trained to make physical contact with their owner and then, if needed, to lead the person to the source of the sound.  By providing awareness and a great deal of companionship, these wonderful dogs enhance a person’s life and allow a person to have freedom and independence.

They are of great aid, not just in the home but do amazing things in public as well.  The most important task of a hearing dog, in public, is to increase awareness of his or her environment.  When the hearing dog turns to look at something…whether this be a siren or a honking horn of a car, it causes the owners to notice and see what is happening.

How Hearing Dogs are Trained

The training of this special type of service dog usually takes anywhere from 4 to 7 months.  During this time the dog’s temperament will be evaluated, they will go through intensive obedience, socializing and sound training.   While many pets are given treats to encourage learning, hearing dogs are taught to work for either toys or simply affection.

Hearing dogs are trained to respond to common sounds that occur in the home or outside environment. This includes fire alarms, smoke alarms, the ring of a telephone, the sound of an incoming text on a cell phone,  oven timers, doorbells, knocks on the door, alarm clocks and when it is needed, other sounds such as the cry of a baby who has woken from a nap.

Once a hearing dog is placed with their new owner, they will most often become aware of additional sounds that apply specifically to their new environment.  This can include the beep of a microware, the alert noise that a washer’s load is done, etc.

The limitations of a hearing dog are if a noise only is heard very randomly and very inconsistently… for example, he or she may not react to the buzzing noise of the emergency broadcast system alert on the television, since it does not happen often.

In most cases, a trainer will bring a certain dog to a new owner in order to provide some one-on-one training to help the dog get settled and to go over any questions that may arise.  In many cases, this can last from 3 to 6 days…and reputable companies will have the standing offer of providing lifelong follow-up.

Interesting Training Note:  Work must always be interrupted by a dog as play.  When a sniffer dog is being trained, his reward is to retrieve.  When a young dog retrieves a package of illegal drugs, he will be allowed to have a game with the package, but that will be the only game he is allowed when he is working.  A dog’s instincts are channeled into retrieving a particular scent…The dog gets every individual scent and breaks it down in its mind until it finds the one that it knows that his or her master desires…The dog builds up a “scent picture”.  Every picture given to him or her includes the particular narcotic or explosive that the dog has been trained to find as a common denominator.

How to React if You See a Service Dog

While many service dogs are adorable and you may be intrigued by their working vest and the implied intelligence that goes along with that, there are rules that everyone should follow for the sake of both dog and owner…
  • Do not give a command to the dog, that is to be done by the owner and no one else.
  • Try to not walk alongside the dog’s left side…this can be distracting to him or her.
  • Try to not walk in sync together on the owner’s right side…it is best to stay a few paces behind.
  • If you feel that the owner may need some assistance, always ask first and then offer your left arm to them.
  • Never give a snack or treat to a service dog.
  • Only touch or pat the dog if the owner has given permission to do so…And if this is the case it is best to give a gentle pat on the head.
Other Types of Service Dogs

There are assistance dogs for the disabled also trained to answer their needs, and Pro-Dogs Active Therapy Dogs which, with their owners, visit hospitals or nursing homes to brighten the lives of people who may no longer be able to keep a dog of their own.  Dogs are always needs in the Pro-Dogs Active team, but first they must pass a rigorous temperament test…Some top show dogs are on the register, as well as many crossbreeds and many mixed dogs.

Indeed it has been proved that the mere act of stroking a dog can help to reduce a patient’s blood pressure.

Interesting Note: In 1916, a doctor who was in charge of a clinic for the war wounded in Germany was walking a blind man on the grounds of the hospital when he was momentarily called away.  He left his German Shepherd in charge of the patient and on his return, he was so impressed with the way that his dog had behaved that he vowed to begin training dogs to be guides for the blind…and that is how it all began!

An important aspect of service dog information is that the presence of these animals is being increasingly recognized as therapy and canines are finding their way, as residents, into a growing number of psychiatric and geriatric hospitals and hospices.

While dogs can be taught to pull carts that are loaded with items that one buys, or in some countries even draw milk from a churn, perhaps the most important task of all is as a companion to the lonely and the elderly…those people who would have no one to relate to were it not for their loyal and loving friend, the dog.


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