Service dogs are trained to do specific tasks to provide more independence to individuals with disabilities. Though service dogs may always be on alert to serve, they are not always working.
Service dogs are always on call for their handler. However, they are not always on duty. Service dogs have downtime where they can play and act like other pets and get some rest. Not all support animals are considered Service Animals under the ADA requirements.
How Many Years Do Service Dogs Work?
The average dog lifespan is between 10-13 years. The average work life of a service dog is 8-10 years. Most service dogs begin training as puppies. Training generally takes 18 months to 2 years before the dog is ready to be paired with a handler (their person) whose disabilities they’ve been trained to meet.
When service dogs get too old or sick to do their job, or their handler’s health declines leaving them unable to care for the dog, the animal is retired from service.
There are many options for a retired service dog. Often the dog stays with their person as a pet and another service dog is provided. Where finances, space, lodging restrictions, or ability doesn’t allow for the pet option, the animal may be placed with family to maintain the relationship with their person and another service dog takes over the service responsibilities.
Some agencies require that the animal be returned to the agency when retired, and the agency either transitions them to a therapy dog or places them for adoption. Service dogs never end up in shelters!
Are Service Dogs Happy?
Some people and agencies consider service dogs to be slave labor, and a few training schools may use punitive reinforcement instead of positive reinforcement during training or may think of these animals as equipment rather than living beings.
Despite these few situations most service dogs are cared for by the volunteers who raise them prior to training, are properly and positively trained, and are loved by the handlers who receive them as service animals.
Because dogs love to learn, to be with their person, to please their person, and to perform their duties these service animals live full, happy lives. Even when service dogs are working they are doing what they love and this makes them happy. Doing service also keeps these animals from getting bored.
Because these dogs enjoy their work, even when they are on alert watching out for their owner or are called back on duty in the middle of playtime or a nap, they are still enjoying their time.
Sometimes service dogs may appear to be sad. This is actually their calm demeanor and indicates they are working and should not be distracted.
Do Service Dogs Ever Play?
Service animal training can start as early as a few days old. Service dogs are considered working animals, not pets, by the ADA. Nevertheless, when off duty, service dogs behave like any other dog.
It is important for service animals to have regular downtime, breaks from their work, and periods of play and rest. Different service dogs have different downtime depending on their responsibilities.
When off duty, handlers will generally remove the service equipment. Service equipment might include a collar, leash, vest, or badge which identifies them as a service dog, notes their responsibilities, or which may help their handler give instructions, or helps the dog to lead their handler safely.
Should You Pet a Service Dog?
NO. You should never approach a service dog, or try to distract it in any way from doing its job.
If you distract a service dog from their duty and something happens to their handler, it’s considered your fault.
Dos and Don’ts Etiquette with Service Dogs:
- Don’t approach, or allow your children to approach, a service dog without permission
- Respect a handler’s response if they choose not to answer questions about their service animal or their disabilities
- Don’t talk to the service dog, talk to the handler
- Don’t praise the animal when it completes a task
- Don’t talk, whistle, coo, or bark at the dog
- Don’t tap your leg or clap your hands
- Don’t take photos without permission
- Don’t try to play with service dogs when they are on duty
- Keep your dog away from service animals
- Never offer food to a service dog
- If you see a service dog without its person, that’s a sign that their handler needs help, so follow the dog
It is always wise to use the above etiquette when approaching any unfamiliar animal as you never know how an animal might respond.
Ten Different Types of Service Dogs
- Guide Dogs help blind or visually impaired persons get around safely. The first service dog, a guide dog, dates back to WWI when guide dogs helped thousands of soldiers blinded by poisonous gas.
- Hearing Dogs work with hearing impaired and deaf persons to alert them to specific sounds – such as a ringing phone, a crosswalk signal, or alarms/sirens – and to make physical contact with their person in response to these sounds. These dogs must be able to handle stress, noise, and crowds.
- Mobility Assistance Dogs are trained to help people with physical disabilities or limitations by opening doors/cabinets, hitting elevator buttons, retrieving dropped objects, pulling wheelchairs up ramps, carrying items in a backpack, or providing balance.
- Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) help people diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, and anxiety through helping their person manage symptoms by recognizing signs of specific distress and providing the specified calming or reminding activities needed in each case.
- Autism Support Dogs may provide a sense of predictability in social settings, act as an icebreaker, reduce isolation, and comfort an autistic child during stressful situations.
- FASD Service Dogs help kids exposed to alcohol prenatally and provide similar support as Autism Support Dogs, and are trained to interrupt repetitive behaviors.
- Seizure Alert Dogs can detect when a seizure is about to occur and warn their person so precautions can be made to prevent injury. Nearly 15% of dogs can naturally do this.
- Seizure Response/Assistance Dogs are trained to bark to alert family members a seizure is occurring, to place themselves to break a fall, or to activate a life-alert system.
- Diabetic Alert Dogs ( DADs) are trained to recognize changes in a person’s blood sugar levels by scent and alert the person so they can test blood levels and administer the proper remedy. The dog may also be trained to alert other household members or set off an alarm system if medical help is needed.
- Allergy Detection Dogs are trained to sniff out and alert to the odor of allergens such as peanuts and gluten.
How to Recognize a Service Dog
You can sometimes recognize service animals by the service equipment they wear, but it is not required for all service animals, especially if it interferes with their ability to complete the tasks for which they have been trained. Also, not all animals wearing service equipment are trained service animals. Some may be therapy dogs, court dogs, Emotional Support Animals, or fake service animals. Often, these other support animals are mistakenly identified (either by their owner or the public) as service animals when, in fact, they are not considered service animals under ADA regulations and do not have the same rights in public places and housing situations.
The difference between a service dog and a support animal is that the service dog is a working dog and the others are pets. Likewise, service animals are trained to do specific tasks and support animals are not trained, but provide comfort and companionship only.
Service Dog ADA Guidelines:
- Service dogs receive extensive training to engage in specific tasks to support their person.
- Service dogs are protected under the ADA and allowed to enter public facilities and go anywhere the public is allowed to go.
- A service animal must be under the control of its handler at all times.
- A service animal must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered unless the person’s disability prevents using these devices because it interferes with the animal’s ability to safely and effectively perform its task.
- Service dogs can be recognized by their alert and focused attention and their subdued behavior while on duty
- Service dogs are trained to walk on the LEFT of their handler.
– ADA “Service Animal” Provisions