September is National Service Dog Month! Which means this is the perfect opportunity for Puppy Panache to pay homage to the dog heroes that support people with disabilities.
We have all heard of seeing-eye dogs, and most of us are aware of emotional support dogs and those helping people in wheelchairs. Beyond these examples, there are many lesser known, specialized service dog types. They help their humans through their incredible sense of smell and ability to tune into their owner’s well being.
Types of Service Dogs
For nearly every imaginable disability, there is a corresponding service dog. They provide assistance to people with mental difficulties, or as medical alert dogs and mobile assistance dogs.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Many military veterans with PTSD suffer from severe anxiety, depression, nightmares, and panic attacks. Psychiatric service dogs are specially trained to help their owners deal with these issues. They recognize the specific warning signs – such as clenched fists, rocking, or heavy breathing – and provide an “anxiety alert” to interrupt the negative cycle.
A PTSD dog might gently wake up its owner during a nightmare experience for a cuddle. Or bark and wag its tail when its human starts rocking, signaling that it’s time for a walk around the block or a ball-throwing session.
In turn, owners are also schooled to understand what their dog is trying to tell them. This way, their dog can help them stop the downward spiral of an oncoming anxiety attack.
Medical Alert Dogs
These service dogs are trained to alert their owners to medical conditions before they occur.
Seizure alert dogs, for example, have an innate ability to detect an oncoming seizure. They are skilled at warning their owners when an epilepsy attack is imminent, then stay close by to prevent injury.
Diabetic alert dogs use their keen sense of smell to detect high (hyperglycemia) or low (hypoglycemia) blood sugar levels and prompt their owner to take insulin or a glucose tablet. If the owner is asleep when the blood sugar incident occurs, they are trained to wake them up.
If an owner is unconscious or otherwise debilitated, medical alert dogs seek out another member of the household and solicit help. Some dogs are even able to use a specially-designed phone to call 911.
Mobile Assistance Dogs
Trained to help with physical tasks, mobile assistance dogs provide mobility to people with physical disabilities.
These amazing service dogs help their owners by retrieving and delivering dropped items, opening and closing drawers, and turning lights on and off. They are adept at pulling a laundry basket or a lightweight wheelchair within reach. Skilled at opening doors, they know how to activate automatic push plates, and some dogs can even help their owners put on a sock or jacket.
A related category of assistance dogs includes hearing dogs. These dogs alert their deaf or hearing-impaired owners to sounds by nudging an arm or a leg. They enable them to respond to ringing phones, incoming email alerts, a doorbell, or a fire or smoke alarm.
Skilled Companion Dogs
Yet another assistant dog category includes skilled companion dogs. They enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive, and developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or autism spectrum disorders.
And like all service dogs, they provide a huge sense of freedom, safety and self-esteem to their owners.
How to Support Service Dog Organizations
As you can see, service dogs can be trained to meet a wide variety of needs for their owners. There are numerous organizations that train and match these dogs with the humans who need their help.
If you want to consider supporting any of them during National Service Dog Month (and beyond), we encourage you to explore Canine Companions for Independence (our personal favorite!), This Able Veteran, and Paws with a Cause.