Not all dogs live the cushy life, snoozing and playing all day; some dogs go to work every day! Service, therapy and emotional support dogs can play pivotal roles in helping people lead more confident, comfortable and independent lives.
These highly trained dogs perform tasks that help the handler with physical or psychiatric disabilities. And there’s almost nothing these dogs can’t do.
Have vision or hearing problems? Service dogs can help navigate the way to the post office or let you know if someone has entered the room. In a wheelchair? Some dogs can pull the chair, turn on light switches, fetch medicine and open doors. Need help walking? Service dogs can help provide stability and balance. They can even alert diabetics when blood sugar is low or warn of an oncoming seizure.
For people with autism, a dog can provide a calming effect and redirect the person from self-harming behaviors. Some dogs are even trained to help military veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries.
Is every service dog multi-talented and able to perform all these tasks? No. Each dog is individually trained to the needs of his or her handler.
In public, most of these dogs wear vests, and although it’s tempting to pet them, it’s best not to distract them from the task at hand.
Unlike their service counterparts, therapy dogs are trained to help people other than their handlers. These pets visit hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and other locations. They come in all shapes, sizes and breeds and simply need to have easygoing temperaments and feel comfortable around many different people. While these dogs have some training, it’s not tailored to a specific handler as it is in service dogs.
With therapy dogs, petting is encouraged. In fact, some are trained exclusively to snuggle up and provide unconditional love, comfort and companionship. In a hospital setting, they can help reduce anxiety and distress. These dogs are usually handled by their owners and offer what’s called “animal-assisted activities” to those who need it.
Dogs that provide animal-assisted therapy, however, are slightly different. In these cases, a certified therapist or healthcare professional may use the dog as part of a treatment plan with specific goals. The dog may help provide a child the confidence needed in order to learn to read. Or it may help a person build strength, balance and range of motion as part of a rehab program.
Emotional Support Animals
Yet another category of working pets, emotional support animals range from dogs and cats to ferrets, horses and birds. These animals typically don’t have specific training, but provide people with affection and companionship to help deal with mental and emotional conditions from anxiety and depression to panic attacks and fears or phobias.
Does your dog have a calm, easygoing nature and love meeting new people? Are you interested in sharing your dog’s love and emotional support with people in your community? Then consider having your dog evaluated for therapy dog training. It can be a rewarding job for you and your dog.
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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.