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For thousands of years, people have relied on dogs for hunting, companionship, survival, and protection. But in the last century, people have called upon canines to aid those coping with a number of diseases. Formally trained dogs have guided blind Americans since 1929. Now, dogs aid those with Alzheimer dementia and Parkinson disease. But, perhaps the greatest gift these animals can give their owners is renewed independence and the improved ability to live and work in our modern world.
Many organizations around the world train dogs to assist people with a wide assortment of disabilities. Some animals pull wheelchairs. Some help their owners get out of bed or into and out of the tub. Others help their owners to maintain balance and coordination when walking and doing other activities. Service dogs have even learned personalized skills like flipping light switches, picking up items, carrying supplies, and opening and closing doors.
Many people with disabilities or illnesses can obtain greater independence with the help of service animals. Below are just a few examples of what service dogs can potentially do:
The decision to bring a service dog into your family can be a big one, and it should not be entered into lightly. Service dogs undergo extensive training at nonprofit programs where they master watching out for their human's special needs and learn how to take corrective measures. A trainer assesses each dog's natural abilities and tendencies, builds on those strengths, trains the dog to meet the specific needs of its human partner, and teaches the person how to behave with the dog and what commands and reinforcements to use.
Pet Partners provides information about service animals and consumer tips for those considering a dog. Some of the factors to consider include:
The American Veterinary Medical Association
Service dogs. Assistance Dogs International, Inc. website. Available at: http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/about-us/types-of-assistance-dogs/service-dog. Accessed July 18, 2016.
Sachs-Ericsson N, Hansen NK, Fitzgerald S. Benefits of assistance dogs: a review. Rehabilitation Psychology. 2002;47:251-277.
Service Dog Central. How much does it cost to train a guide dog? Service Dog Centeral website. Available at: http://www.servicedogcentral.org/content/node/410. Published August 14, 2009. Accessed July 18, 2016.
Last reviewed July 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 8/14/2014