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service dogsMost people do not think about the difficulty of some routine daily tasks like turning on a light switch.  But some individuals with disabilities need help. That help comes from their service dogs. Service dogs are trained to help individuals with disabilities complete daily tasks. The service dog makes the individual with the disability more independent. A service dog is not a pet. They are there to do a job. A most important job, which is to provide a service to their owner with no distractions. The service dog’s full attention must be on their owner and the owner’s needs. If the service dog is distracted, the dog may miss an important que that could mean life or death to the individual.

 

Uses of Service Dogs

The service dogs training aid individuals with specific disabilities. The dogs training includes:

  • Guiding an individual who is blind or has hearing loss
  • Pulling a wheelchair or help an individual walk
  • Calming an individual with autism or post traumatic stress disorder
  • Opening or closing doors
  • Turning lights on and off
  • Picking things up
  • Warning someone if the owner is going to have a seizure or blood sugar is low
  • Alerting their owner when it is time to take their medication

 

Training A Service Dog

A service dog’s training consists of two steps, basic training and service training. Basic training should begin when the dog is under six months old. The basic training will include the sit, stay, down, come commands, along with socialization skills. During this time, the trainer or owner will be working to make sure the dog can perform these basic tasks in various locations without distractions.

 

Service training occurs between six months to one year. At this point the separation of work and play must occur.  The dog must learn to understand that when his or her service dog vest (gear) is on it is time for work. While the service dog in training is in the gear, the dog begins learning specific tasks related to the owner or individual with the disability. The service dog in training will be learning skills like turning a light on or off. The service dog in training is not expected to complete the task 100% of the time but be consistent.  During training the dog needs time and repetition.

 

Service training is a gradual process. The training begins with tasks in a location with little to no distraction then moves to ones where the distractions increase. For example, first teaching the service dog to heal at home. Then as the dog masters that task move the training to a street where there are other distractions.  Continually move the training to areas with more distractions. This helps the service dog in training to focus on his work tasks at hand. Once the dog has turned 18 months old and has completed his or her service tasks in public 100% of the time, the dog can then move from a service dog in training to a service dog.

 

Life of a Service Dog

A service dog’s main focus is to work. So, once the service vest or tags are put on the dog is at work. From early morning until night the dog must help the individual assigned to him or her. While at work, the service dog must focus on performing the trained daily tasks. Whether it is guiding someone that cannot see very well through the house or turning on and off the lights. When the day is over and the service gear is off, the service dog can socialize with other people or dogs, run and play, or do other dog things.

 

Service Dog Versus Regular Pet

The main difference between a service dog and a regular pet is the service dog is a working dog. While a service dog will have time to run and play, everyone must realize when the dog in the service gear it is at work. Work means complete and total focus on the owner or individual the dog is there to help.  People cannot pet or play with the service dog especially while it is in “uniform”. Everyone involved with the service dogs training must keep a line drawn between work time (in the service gear) and play time (wearing no service gear). Making the distinction of the expectations will help to not confuse the service dog. Another difference is the required amount of training for a service dog.  The training will generally take approximately two years to complete.

 

A regular pet does not need more training. The basic training and socialization is enough. A regular pet can play or be petted at any time. They can also get and give attention to the owner or the family at any time.

 

If you would like more information on service dogs, or if it’s time for a health check for your service animal, please contact us at http://www.longviewanimalhospital.com/contact-us/.