The Wonder of Service Dogs

The Wonder of Service Dogs - image

Service dogs are truly inspirational! Being furry guardian angels to people with disabilities, these selfless creatures devote themselves wholeheartedly to their owners, ensuring they can meet all their daily needs and tasks efficiently.

What are Service Dogs?

Service dogs are canines that have been through intensive training with the purpose of assisting a physically or mentally disabled individual by conducting day to day tasks that they would be otherwise unable to perform. Various types of service dogs are specially trained for serving people with specific purposes, for instance those who are vision and hearing impaired as well as patients who have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, diabetes and epilepsy.

Types of Service Dogs

  • Visual Service Dogs
    These service dogs are specifically trained to support their visually impaired handlers in conducting day to day activities. Also known as “Guide Dogs” or “Leader Dogs”, these canine companions are supposed to wear a white guide dog harness, purposely designed for use by individuals that require visual assistance. Sturdy breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepherds are popular candidates for this area of specialisation.

  • Hearing Service Dogs
    These special canines are specifically trained to respond to their handler’s surrounding sounds such as doorbells, phones, cars, alarms and impressively, their name! This capability enables the dog to alert their hearing-impaired handler.

  • Psychiatric Service Dog (PSDs)
    PSDs are specialised in assisting and supporting their handlers suffering from depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Autism, Schizophrenia, Panic and eating disorders as well as Social Anxiety Disorder and Agoraphobia. Their scope of tasks can range from reminding their handler when to take their medication, to calming them down when on the verge of or during a manic or panic attack. They’re also able to intervene and interrupt their handler’s OCD behaviours and are also specially trained to disrupt a traumatic memory or hallucination of their handler suffering from PTSD.

  • Seizure Response Dogs
    The responsibility of these canines is to perform specific tasks for handlers prone to seizures. Commonly delivered tasks include alerting someone in case their owner experiences a seizure, fetching medicine and applying deep pressure for ending a seizure episode. While service dogs can be trained for promptly performing these tasks, they incredibly only develop the skill to intuitively sense the onset of a seizure as the bond between their handler and them strengthens over time.

  • Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs)
    Also known as “Blood Sugar Alert Dogs”, these responsible companions are well-trained to use their special K9 alert devices for placing a 911 call if their handler experiences abnormally high or low blood sugar levels. Most DADs have handlers from different age ranges that may not necessarily present signs of any disability.

Service Dog Training Process

  • Puppy Raising
    A puppy raiser is a service doggie-term for a foster parent. Puppy raisers are people with specialised training to nurture and rear puppies until they reach 14-16 months of age. From here, they commence with service dog training programs.

  • Pre-Screening
    Pre-screening is required for all potential service dogs and this process takes approximately two weeks. During this time, dogs are X-rayed and tested for possible medical and/or behavioural issues. Pups that pass the pre-screening phase then proceed to the next training stage.

  • First Term
    After a three-month period, these dogs are expected to have polished up on their response skills to basic obedience and command training learnt as puppies. In addition, they learn retrieval commands as well as to work and be around a wheelchair. Dogs surpassing the training criteria of the first term advance to the next semester whilst those that don’t seem to be ideally suited to the task are adopted by loving families, very often being the puppy raisers.

  • Second Term
    This challenging block of training runs over another three-months where dogs are taught over 40 different commands. They are also prepared to perform efficiently in varying environments, so they are more adaptable to meeting a diversity of people.

    Again, at this stage, not all dogs are considered ready, while those that are will continue to the next training phase, bringing them closer to their service dog qualification. By this stage, the trainer is so familiar with the pooch that they are easily able to identify the perfect owner for him or her.

  • Team Training
    This phase takes place over two weeks, in which the dog’s new handler is educated in handling their doggie devotee. A graduation ceremony is then hosted where the trainers entrust the leash to the new owner.

Applying for a Service Dog

Individuals over the age of 18 years who demonstrate physical limitations in performing daily tasks can apply for a service dog. All prospective handlers must pay a small fee of R5.00 upon the satisfactory completion of the training course which shall also mark their first day as the canine’s owner.

We highly commend the trainers of these incredibly intuitive service dogs for their commitment to educating these canines with the objective of improving the lives of those who suffer from disabilities. Great respect and gratitude is especially owed to all the service dogs out there, selflessly sacrificing their time for the sole purpose of enriching their disabled human companions’ existence. Thanks to these saving graces, the phrase “Man’s best friend” has never rung truer.

Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson




Disclaimer: The information produced by Infurmation is provided for general and educational purposes only and does not constitute any legal, medical or other professional advice on any subject matter. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Always seek the advice of your vet or other qualified health care provider prior to starting any new diet or treatment and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you suspect that your pet has a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.