Emotional support animals and service dogs are two different breeds, so to speak. Much more than loving pets with a purpose, highly trained service dogs spend months learning how to best help their handlers perform major life tasks despite physical or Physiatric challenges. For handlers and service dogs alike, intense commitment to working together leads to life-changing partnerships.
Working Animals, Not Pets
The Americans with Disabilities Act spells out the types of tasks service dogs perform. Guiding people who are blind, pulling a wheelchair and alerting people who are deaf are examples. Protecting a person having a seizure, calming a person with PTSD during an anxiety attack and reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications also qualify.
Service dogs perform some pretty amazing feats, says Dr. Carol (C.J.) Betancourt, a retired physician, service-dog user and co-founder of the Arizona-based Foundation for Service Dog Support. "We have quite a few clients with seizures who have gotten dogs," Betancourt says. "Many of the dogs are able to detect the seizure before it happens. They can warn the person so they will sit down or lay down on the floor." Dogs usually stay with the person during the episode, she says, and are trained to run and get help or bark once it's over.
People with diabetes may benefit from having a service dog who can alert them to hazardous high and low blood sugar levels. "We'll usually take saliva samples during the training: one of when the sugar is high and one of when the sugar is low," Betancourt explains. "Our dogs are trained to spin around; to go in a circle in one direction if it is high and in the opposite direction if it is low."
When patients develop a mobility challenge, Betancourt would like her fellow physicians to broaden their treatment options. "Instead of automatically ordering them a wheelchair, a service dog ought to be part of the dialogue," she says.
About three years ago, Detective Scott Sefranka of the Phoenix Police Department nearly died in a shooting. His physical recovery from the gunshot wound to his abdomen took months after much of his intestines were removed. More surgery to a fractured arm, nerve damage and back issues were additional physical reminders.
"What I didn't really expect at all that was the mental issues I suffered," Sefranka says. "I had developed PTSD. I developed anxiety about not wanting to leave the house. I didn't want to go to work. I didn't want to associate with people at work. I basically tried to stay hidden."
His results from cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR, often used to treat post traumatic post traumatic stress disorder, were mixed. Digestive issues limited medication options. His wife started researching service dogs, but because the FSDS program centers on golden retrievers (who shed), the couple looked elsewhere at first. But they found too-long wait lists and too-high costs at other service foundations. Eventually, they bought their own service dog – a poodle named Digby – and training commenced.
Following roughly 18 months of basic then individualized training, Digby now helps Sefranka by retrieving objects, opening doors and performing a variety of other physical tasks, including serving as a balance and brace when the detective struggles with hip stability related to the bullet's exit-wound damage.
Digby also helps Sefranka deal with his mental health concerns. "He can actually pick up and sense when I have anxiety issues," he says. "He'll act as a distractor either by licking me or nudging me. Since I don't take the medications, I need grounding a lot of times. He'll lay across me or put pressure on me, which helps ground me back to reality."
PTSD means regular bouts of nightmares, night tremors, anger issues, isolation and depression. "Digby's really been a key component in me moving forward," he says. "Since I got him, I've been able to go back to work. I've been able to go back out in public and kind of resume my life as normal."
A hypoallergenic dog is a breed of dog that is less likely to trigger a allergies.
Typically a hypoallergenic dog has a low to non-shedding coat that produces less dander and stops hair from shedding off them and into your home.
It is worth saying that these dogs still have some dander in their coat that causes allergic reactions.
Dander is one of the primary causes of allergies, however, saliva and urine are also none triggers that can cause sensitive people to get sneezing.
Although these dogs may be better for people with allergies if you have severe allergies there may not be any breed that you are compatible with.
Before deciding on any dog you should talk to your doctor to get more information on this subject.
Even if you are able to, you should still spend time with the breed you want to get before bringing one home.
This depends on your living situation and what you want in a dog. When deciding which dog you should get you should consider these things. Where you live, if you have young children, and how active you want to be.
If you have young children you might want to get a bigger/more confident dog. This is because many small dogs get frightened when with young children. This can then cause aggression in the dog out of protection of themself.
If you want a dog that you can run with or play around with, you should look for a more energetic dog. If you want a dog that you can cuddle with, you should get a smaller, calmer dog
If you live in an apartment a smaller dog might be a better option. In small living spaces like apartments can be hard for a big active dog and can also lead to destruction.
If you live in a house a larger dog makes sense because the dog has room to run around and be active. Also, in a home, the dogs have a yard to play in and burn some of their extra energy.