National Service Dog Month
September is National Service Dog Month! A national celebration and way to honor all of the incredibly hard-working dogs who act as resolute partners for the handlers they work with. The tasks they are trained to perform allow their handlers to be more independent, moving with more ease and freedom than could have been achieved alone.
Service dogs are taught to perform a variety of skills that are meant to allow their handler to lead a safer, healthier, and more stable life. A service dog might be a guide dog for a handler with blindness, a seizure alert dog for a handler who is diabetic, a mobility dog for a handler who needs support with physical stability, and the list goes on. They can be taught to interrupt a handler’s self-harming behaviors, seek medical attention for their handler, pick up or pull objects, retrieve medications or other items, open and close doors/drawers, apply deep pressure therapy, and more. Their capacity for work is remarkable and deserves the acknowledgment that is given this month.
So which dogs become service dogs? While in the US there are no specific regulations, licenses, tests or permits to have a service dog, there are three general rules that must be complied with at all times. According to the ADA, a service dog must be trained to perform work or tasks that aid their disabled handler, they must be under the control of their handler at all times, and they must be potty trained. Dogs who solely provide emotional support or comfort are not seen as service dogs in the eyes of the law, and therefore they do not have the right to public access.
There are many breeds of dogs who are often chosen as good candidates for service work. However, each dog is still an individual, even when considering the role that genetics plays in behavior. So, a litter of puppies is unlikely to be filled with potential service dog candidates, even though they are all the same breed. Although, since genetics provides insight into a dogs’ likely future behavior, and a typical service dog needs to have the energy to work for hours upon hours each and every day, you can see many of the same breeds as service dogs. That popular list often includes Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, American Staffordshire Terriers, Standard Poodles and other similarly energetic but easily motivated dogs who enjoy the mental engagement that is required to train and begin working. From puppyhood to service work, the journey can take a few years to complete, and the needs of each handler may vary greatly.
It’s awe-inspiring to watch a service dog perform its tasks and aid their handler. You can just see how much work went into the relationship and skills. The service dog and handler act as a team who are constantly sending each other vital information, all without speaking the same language. Two different species working together to create a seamless bond – living in unison.
It’s important to remember that when you see a service dog, they are indeed working. They shouldn’t be talked to, touched or interacted with by anyone but their handler. And while it can be very tempting to engage with a beautiful, well-behaved dog, their focus is on their handler, and to even say “Hello” would be putting pressure on the service dog who is hard at work. This month, we acknowledge the amazing service dogs who are changing and saving lives. Without them, the world would be a very different place.