The list of types of service dogs is constantly growing – as is the diversity of service dog breeds that help people. Many dog owners would say their canine companions are their best friends, but for a growing number of individuals with specific physical, neurological or mental health needs, different types of service dogs are also invaluable partners in day-to-day life.
Service dogs who lead visually impaired and blind people around obstacles are one of the most commonly known types of service dogs. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Lab/Golden hybrids are often dog breeds chosen as guide dogs, although other breeds, such as Poodles, can also be well suited to be this type of service dog
For people with hearing impairments, service dogs assist by alerting them to noises such as alarms, doorbells, or crying babies. When the dog hears the sound, he will touch their human and lead toward the noise.
Labradors and Golden Retrievers are dog breeds that are often selected as hearing dogs, but many other breeds, including Cocker Spaniels and Miniature Poodles, have been successfully trained to alert as hearing dogs.
These types of service dogs can perform a wide range of tasks for people with a wide range of mobility issues. Mobility assistance dogs can bring objects to people, press buttons on automatic doors, serve as a brace for people who are ambulatory, or even help pull a wheelchair up a ramp. These dogs help people increase their independence and confidence.
People with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, and arthritis are among those who benefit from a mobility assistance dog. While the dogs must be large enough to support their human partner, many different breeds can be mobility assistance dogs.
Also known as DADs, these service dogs can provide independence and security by alerting them to chemical changes in blood sugar. The scent changes associated with hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic events in diabetics are imperceptible to humans, but not to dogs. These service dogs alert their partners to blood sugar highs and lows before the levels become dangerous.
When a diabetic alert dog indicates a potentially dangerous hyperglycemic/hypoglycemic event, the human knows to test his or her blood. Then he or she can inject insulin or ingest a dose of glucose before the blood sugar level gets dangerous. Many of these dogs are trained to alert others in the household or set off an alarm system if their human needs medical help.
Seizure alert dogs are one of the controversial types of service dogs. They react with a specific type of behavior right before their human has a seizure. The ability to alert to seizures seems to be a natural ability for a small number of dogs, although some neurology experts say there is no reliable evidence to suggest that dogs can reliably predict seizures.
On the other hand, many patients, families, and trainers insist their dogs do accurately predict and alert to oncoming seizures, and stories about pet dogs who alert without training have received a lot of media attention.
Not to be confused with seizure alert dogs, seizure response dogs provide help to a person experiencing an epileptic seizure. These dogs bark for help or to press an alarm system during a person’s seizure. They can also get a person out of an unsafe place. And may bring medicine or a phone to a person who is coming out of a seizure.
These types of service dogs assist people who are suffering from issues like depression, anxiety, and most often, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can afflict people after they have served in combat, worked as a first responder, or experienced abuse, natural disasters, terrorism, and other life-altering events, such as car crashes.
The human handlers in this category can feel hyper-vigilant about their safety, and service dogs can make them feel safer by doing things like entering the home before the human and turning on the lights with a foot pedal. These dogs can also help PTSD sufferers who feel overwhelmed in public places by creating a physical barrier between the handler and others, giving the handler more personal space. Many PTSD sufferers find that having a service dog to care for forces the human to also take care of themselves, by getting out into the world and getting exercise with their dog.
For kids on the autism spectrum, these dogs provide a sense of predictability as the children navigate social settings. The dogs can be a big help for kids who have trouble connecting with classmates. The canine acts as an icebreaker in social situations. They improve the child’s quality of life by reducing isolation and comforting the child in stressful times. These dogs are also trained to keep children from running away and can track children if they do runoff.
An emerging category of the service dog, these dogs support children who were exposed to alcohol prenatally and have been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). These children may have physical and mental difficulties, as well as behavioral problems and learning disabilities. FASD dogs are trained similarly to autism service dogs. They can also be trained to interrupt repetitive behavior.
With the rise in food allergies has come another type of medical service dog. Allergy detection dogs are trained to sniff out and alert to the odor of things such as peanuts or gluten. Often partnered with children, allergy detection dogs can be trained to alert to allergy-inducing smells at school. Allergy detection dogs provide kids with a greater sense of independence and giving their parents a greater sense of security. While it is clear that some dogs can be successfully trained to alert for allergies, this category of service dogs attracted negative attention when some parents said they paid for dogs that could not care less about a deadly peanut.
A therapy dog is a dog that is trained to provide affection, comfort, and support to people, often in settings such as hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, libraries, hospices, or disaster areas. In contrast to assistance dogs, which are trained to assist specific patients with their day-to-day physical needs, therapy dogs are trained to interact with all kinds of people, not just their handlers.
The use of dogs for therapeutic reasons has been demonstrated by many people over the last few centuries, including Florence Nightingale, Sigmund Freud, and Elaine Smith.
Emotional support dogs work with an individual who needs comfort. Under the governing law, an emotional support dog is not a pet and is generally not restricted by species.
An emotional support animal differs from a service animal. Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks (such as helping a blind person navigate), while emotional support animals receive no specific training, nor even, necessarily, any training at all. (Therefore, in the setting of mental illness, whether or not the animal is a “service animal” or an emotional support animal would depend on whether or not it is formally trained to do something specific to mitigate the mental illness.) Any animal that provides support, well-being, comfort, or aid, to an individual through companionship, unconditional positive regard, and affection may be regarded as an emotional support animal.
In the U.S., people with mental health disabilities can be exempted from certain federal housing and travel rules if they own an emotional support animal. To receive that exemption, they must meet the federal definition of disabled, and the animal must provide emotional support that alleviates some symptoms or effects of the disability. The person must usually present a letter from a certified healthcare provider, stating that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the symptoms or effects of the disability.
Facility dogs are highly specialized therapy dogs who come in two types: dogs who provide extensive animal-assisted therapy, and dogs who live (or work extensively) on-site to provide comfort to residents, patients, or visitors. Facility dogs who provide extensive animal-assisted therapy can often be found in physical therapists’ offices, counselors’ offices, or anywhere else a professional provides a specialized service to a lot of people. These facility dogs may help with the process of rehabilitation, provide practice for a physical therapy patient, or help a wounded child learn to trust again. Anytime dogs do specialized work for a professional’s clients or residents, they are probably facility dogs.
Facility dogs do not have any rights of public access outside of the office or building where they work.