Humans have regarded dogs as their faithful companions since the dawn of time, and many past civilizations, recognizing their enormous potential and abilities, elevated dogs to the status of deities, such as Anubis to the Egyptians, Xolotl to the Mayan tribe, and Cerberus to the Greeks.
Even today, we are often amazed by the incredible new abilities we discover in our dog friends, such as the ability to detect and alert to impending seizures, the ability to sense low and high blood sugar levels, and according to research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University in the UK, dogs even can smell COVID-19 on people with a 94% success rate.
Dogs may not be deities, but they certainly have superpowers. And what’s most heartwarming is that dogs use their “powers” every day to help people in need, making their lives safer and easier. Share America estimates that by 2021, about 500,000 registered service dogs will be helping people, and they don’t seem to be nearly enough, as more and more families apply for their service dog and are stuck in long lines.
While I like to call them superheroes, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
Service dogs help both people with physical and mental disabilities, and there are different types of service dogs, each trained to perform different tasks, depending on the condition of the person being assisted. I have summarized here 8 different types of service dogs, and what they can do.
Guide dogs for the blind
Guide dogs are the eyes of blind and visually impaired people, helping them move safely and confidently through familiar and unfamiliar environments. The handler tells the guide dog where to go, and the service dog guides the handler safely, avoiding obstacles, pointing out to the handler doors and steps in the way, as well as low-hanging tree branches or other objects in the way that could injure the handler, finding crosswalks when it is necessary to cross the street, and instructing the handler to cross only when it is safe to do so. An interesting characteristic of guide dogs is that they are trained to obey their handler, but also to disobey him! This is called “intelligent disobedience”, which means that the guide dog can refuse to carry out its handler’s command if it feels it is unsafe and could harm the handler. Such as walking out into the street when there are oncoming vehicles.
Labradors and golden retrievers are generally used as guide dogs and their training begins at a very early age when they are just puppies. At first, they learn only the basic commands, such as “sit,” “down” and “stay,” and then they spend about six months learning how to behave in busy, public environments without being distracted from their work. Then they begin the actual guide dog training, which usually lasts from 6 months to 1 year. Finally, they are paired with a handler with whom they will train until they are ready to stand on their own.
Hearing dogs are the ears of the deaf and hard of hearing. They are trained to alert their owners to common sounds, such as the alarm clock, doorbell, cell phone ringing, a baby crying, the smoke alarm, or other sounds important to the owner. To alert, they make physical contact, nudging with their nose or paw. Many guide dogs are also trained to lead their handler to the source of the noise or, in some cases, when the source of the noise is dangerous and could injure their handler, to lead them away to a safer location.
Although hearing dogs are trained to be attentive to certain sounds, they are also trained to ignore all unimportant background noise and stay focused on their work, especially outdoors, where street noise can be frightening and overwhelming to untrained dogs.
Hearing dogs can also be taught to respond to sign language cues when they need to assist nonverbal people.
Most hearing assistance dogs are small to medium-sized mixed breeds, although people tend to prefer Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Poodles and Cocker Spaniels for this job, what is important is that the dog is very attentive to sounds, have a stable temperament, be friendly, and people-oriented, and can stay focused on the job, to a valid hearing assistance dog.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
Mobility assistance dogs are trained to help people with physical disabilities who have mobility problems, from minor problems such as poor balance to more serious problems such as not being able to get around without a wheelchair. In addition to the love, affection, and companionship they provide, mobility assistance dogs can do much to help their owners. They help maintain balance when walking or going up and downstairs, they can pick up and carry objects, open and close doors, drawers, and cabinets, turn lights on and off, and even pull the wheelchair, although it is recommended that the dog only pull for a short period and not be the sole puller, but help the owner use the wheelchair.
In general, medium to large dogs is chosen to be trained as mobility assistance dogs, as their tasks require some physical strength. Preferred dog breeds for this work are Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, Bernese mountain dogs, and poodles.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Unlike the service dogs listed above, psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are not intended to help people with physical problems, but to help people with mental disorders. This does not make them any less important, and their job is a bit more tricky, given the difficulty in identifying signs of presenting illness, such as hallucinations, anxiety, or panic. Psychiatric service dogs can offer their services to people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and social phobias. They can prevent or reduce anxiety and panic attacks, as well as emotional meltdowns by distracting the owner or applying physical pressure to comfort and help calm them down. They can warn people around them to give you space, go for medication, and alert others if they sense their owner is in danger. For people suffering from hallucinations, psychiatric service dogs are extremely helpful in helping them discern what is real and what is not, keeping them firmly grounded in reality.
Since the work of psychiatric service dogs is not only governed by verbal cues directly from their handler, but is mostly triggered by cues from the handler’s body language, changes in attitude and feeling, or the environment itself, psychiatric service dogs need to train near their handler to identify, understand, and memorize upcoming attack cues, and be able to respond more effectively.
Dogs of any breed can be trained to be psychiatric service dogs, the important thing being that the dog is sociable, attentive, able to focus on the job, and has a stable temperament. For this reason, many people decide to train their r a newly purchased dog that they feel comfortable with, to be their protection dog. There are many pet dog training courses, both online and offline, that you can choose from.
Diabetic Alert Dogs
Diabetic alert dogs use their enhanced sense of smell to detect drastic changes in blood sugar levels, whether too low or too high, and alert their diabetic helper to check their sugar levels and, if necessary, take medication. They can also alert others if the situation becomes too critical.
It’s not yet known if the diabetic alert service dog can smell a difference in breath, sweat, or body odor, but it’s a great power to have in any case.
Allergy Detection Dogs
Allergy detection dogs, like diabetic alert dogs, use their super sense of smell, 2,000 times more powerful than the human sense of smell, to smell and detect any trace of allergens that could harm their owner. The most common allergens are nuts, peanuts, wheat, milk, eggs, shellfish, latex, and some chemicals used in detergents. The allergy dog may have to scan a room for traces of the allergen or smell hot or cold foods.
Some allergies are so severe that it only takes a small amount of the allergen to cause anaphylaxis and, in the worst case, death, if not treated quickly. Because of their presence, allergy detection dogs offer extra security to people with severe allergies, helping them to live their lives with greater ease and a greater sense of security.
Autism Service Dogs
Autism service dogs often offer their services to children with autism, but adults affected by autism can also be helped by an autism service dog. When assisting children, autism service dogs are useful in helping them interact socially and build confidence. They also help prevent the child from wandering off, can prevent or calm emotional outbursts, and stop repetitive and harmful behaviors. Through daily interaction, they encourage verbal communication, sensory stimulation, and concentration.
Dog breeds that are best suited to training Autism Assistance Dogs are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Labradoodles, Great Pyrenees, and Old English Shepherds.
Crisis alert dogs
Seizure assistance dogs help people with epilepsy in several ways. They alert others when a seizure occurs, to protect their attendants, they cushion their fall by placing their body between the seizing subject and the ground, and when the subject is lying on the ground, the seizure service dog lies down next to the attendee to prevent injury.
Although there is no scientific evidence or understanding, seizure alert dogs seem to be able to recognize an impending seizure and sound the alarm before it begins its devastating effects. This makes them even more valuable and useful. Perhaps this is another of the mysterious superpowers of dogs that we know so little about.