service dog in front of shopping cart

Assistive Pooches

There are reasons too numerous to list why people love their dogs—but those who rely on a service dog each day also share a profound sense of trust and loyalty with them. Dogs are terrific helpers, and they quickly become a best friend. Did you know dogs can learn more than 100 commands? That is quite a vocabulary, but these animals are up to it. Some of them even learn more than one specialty.


Assistance Dogs
Adults and children with physical and/or developmental disabilities can direct an assistance dog to retrieve dropped objects; carry house keys, a phone, water bottle, coins or mail; open and close doors or drawers by pulling on a rope or bracing a shoulder; even activate light switches with their paws. An assistance dog can aid someone with limited mobility by pulling him or her short distances in a wheelchair while the owner holds onto its harness. An assistance dog can brace someone to stand up from a seated or fallen position by making its bodyrigid. Dogs can also brace someone while he or she climbs stairs. As the assistance dog performs its tasks, it makes its owner's environment more accessible.
(Image attribution: http://www.pawsitivity


Guide Dogs
People with blindness can count on their guide dogs to keep them safe by leading them to streets, buildings, parks or anywhere their owners choose to go. Guide dogs gently guide their masters and respond to verbal commands and hand signals.


The Best Tips on Acquiring a Service Dog by Jackie Waters
Jackie is one of our readers who wanted to share what she learned about service dogs after a relative began using one. Here is what she has learned first hand! 



Guide Dog on Duty JJ & Dave Munroe

Dave Monrue began losing his sight when he was about four years old, due to hydrocephalus. Today, Dave works for the Springfield Independent Living Center in Springfield, Illinois. Dave utilizes Jaws for Windows, which is a screen-reading software program for blind computer users to 
navigate the Internet, email and most other text. Dave received his guide dog, JJ, a Yellow Labrador retriever from Seeing Eye, Inc., to help him navigate the rest of his world. 

I first met Dave at a disability conference where he patiently explained to me that you shouldn't pet a guide dog because it is always on duty and shouldn't be distracted. But because Dave is a nice guy, he did let me pet JJ once, to say "Hi." Dave told me the trainers at Seeing Eye, Inc. jokingly refer to the dogs as "people," which any pet owner will tell you is not far from the truth.

Indeed, guide dogs work very hard, responding to their owners in a system of verbal commands and hand signals. A person who is blind depends very much on "hearing" his or her environment, such as hearing when a car or people are approaching. Since many contemporary vehicles have quiet engines, safety is more difficult on the street. Guide dogs help their owners get around safely, as well as quickly and efficiently. They help their owner feel confident about moving around faster than when he or she is alone utilizing a white cane.

As with all languages, tone conveys several meanings of the same word. Guide dogs must be as sensitive to tone as their owners are to hearing. The main commands given to a guide dog are "forward," "left," "right," and "hop up." A guide dog will sometimes take initiative by taking action before hearing a command. For example, if a dog spots an object in the way that the owner hasn't, the dog will refuse to move forward, even after being told to. This is referred to as intelligent disobedience. Since dogs are creatures of habit, communication between Dave and JJ became minimized when they got to know one another.

Dave's relationship with Seeing Eye brought him a lot of luck because Seeing Eye Inc. is where he met his wife, Erin, in June of 1991. Erin was also getting a new guide dog at Seeing Eye Inc. Today the couple has a daughter, Shannon, who is fully sighted. Dave retired JJ, and has since had several other dogs.  Ardee, a Golden retriever, was trained by Southeastern Guide Dogs in Plalmetto, Florida, the only guide dog school at that time training dogs to work with blind people using wheelchairs.  Dave had had an accident that required him to use a wheelchair and Ardee took to this as if he had been doing it all along. After Ardee, Dave partnered with Homer, a Black Labrador retriever. After 9 years, Homer shows little signs of slowing down, even after having surgery for colon cancer! Dave reports, "I'm glad to know this article will continue to educate people about guide dogs.  They do amazing things and I often wonder how I ever went without one."


service dog with vest

Hearing Dogs

Adults who are hard-of-hearing or deaf can enlist the help of a hearing dog to alert them to a ringing TDD telephone or knock at the door, to nudge them awake when the alarm clock sounds, or warn them of danger if an intruder comes. A hearing dog will bring its owner to any sound unless it is the sound of a smoke alarm. Then the dog is trained to bring its owner to the nearest exit. Hearing dogs will respond to hand signals and mechanical clickers. Generally, service dogs learn to respond to any mode of communication its owner uses.
(Public domain image:


Seizure Response Dogs

Seizure response dogs are trained to recognize behaviors associated with its owner's seizures and to get help. They first get the attention of someone else in the household by running back and forth from the victim (it places a paw on the victim) to the other person —just as Lassie did in the Lassie TV series. If necessary, the dog will repeat the alert signal until help is on the way.

If no one else is around, a dog can activate a medical call box in the home of a person with epilepsy. The medical call box is set up in advance with emergency personnel who have the individual's medical record and registered medications. The box is activated when the dog pulls a cord attached to it. The dog will then lie upon its owner until the seizure subsides or help arrives. Having a seizure response dog allows an person with epilepsy the freedom to live alone and to travel. It helps family members relax about leaving their loved one alone.


Canine Caregivers for People with Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease

Dogs can be used as visiting therapy dogs or companion service dogs who live full-time with individuals. See this article about how companion service dogs are used with dementia and alzheimer's to prevent them from leaving the house unaccompanied, or help get the owner home when confused.


Companion Dogs

Adults and children with disabilities benefit greatly from a companion dog. The relationship encourages social interaction with others and fosters a healthy sense of well being, and that means better health. When someone is happier they literally function better; this has been medically proven. Often, a person's disease will calm down or certain symptoms will disappear altogether after getting a companion dog.


Facilities Dogs

Some professional care-givers, educators and therapists utilize skilled facilities' teams of dogs while visiting a hospital, nursing home, hospice, group residence, school or an individual with a disability. Dogs cheer people up! While easing loneliness, skilled facilities dogs improve the mental, physical and emotional health of those in their care.


Combination Dogs

Of course there are many people with multiple impairments who will utilize a combination dog that has been previously cross-trained, or they will send their dog for further training. For example, some guide dogs must also assist their owners by retrieving objects or performing other mobility-related tasks. Sometimes a person's disability worsens or he or she develops an illness such as epilepsy, which results in requiring the dog to have further training.

Service dogs do important work that maximizes independence in people with disabilities. And long before they hang up their harness at night, service dogs are also loving, loyal and non-judgmental friends who make a big difference in each owner's life.