Is a Service Dog Right for Your Family?
Welcoming a serviceman home after their tour ends requires many transitions. Often, veterans come home with physical or psychological scars that require special attention. Many find comfort in support groups, medical care, but others may need a different type of assistance. This is where a constant companion, such as a service dog may fill a need in your veteran’s life. Service dogs offer comfort, support and guidance for people with physical, emotional or mental impairments. Their protective watch enables veterans to resume many of their day to day activities and lead more fulfilling post-service lives.
For families of veterans seeking information about service dogs it is important to understand the different options available to your family. There are many different types of services dogs that can be utilized to assist with a variety of daily functions.
The Different Types of Service Dogs
Guide dogs are the most recognized service dog today. Guide dogs assist the blind and visually impaired by helping them navigate. Whether it is getting around in their home or outside their home, these dogs are essential in providing direction when approaching sidewalks, intersections, vehicles, and even help in negotiating steps and curbs. In this relationship, the handler or master, provides directional commands. These highly trained dogs understand how to keep their handler out of harm’s way and will even disobey a command to protect their master.
Hearing dogs are trained in a different manner than guide dogs. Their job is to alert their master to a variety of household sounds. These dogs are trained to physically lead their deaf or hearing impaired handler to the origin of a sound. This can include leading them to door knocks, door bells, alarms, buzzers and even crying babies.
Other types of service dogs, those not considered guide or hearing dogs, can be trained to work with many different types of individuals. Sometimes they work with individuals with balance issues, seizures, low blood sugar, or can also be used with individuals suffering from psychiatric, mental or physical disabilities. These specially trained dogs can also be taught to do numerous activities. This can include getting objects, opening and closing doors or cabinets, and turning on lights. These remarkable animals can even be trained to wake their owner during a nightmare. In addition to these types of tasks, often these dogs are also trained to fetch help should their handler need additional assistance.
Not All Dogs Are Created Equal
When researching a new addition to your family, keep in mind that there are many organizations that claim to provide assistance dogs. To ensure the highest quality animal, look for trainers that follow the standards set by Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation. Ideally, your dog should come from a trainer that is also accredited by one of these institutions. These organizations are familiar with the rigors and depth of training needed to ensure the best fit, companionship and support for your veteran’s physical or mental health needs.
To be a service dog, a dog must go through the right type of training for the task. The process to locate and have the right type of service dog trained can often take more than a year, but for those suffering with battlefield scars, the wait is often well worth it.
Written by Brook Appelbaum