It’s National Service Dog Month! These furry companions are a gift to us and to all. They are literally lifesavers! What better way to celebrate them than to discuss the amazing ways they can help those with disabilities?
What is a Service Dog?
Service dogs are dogs that have undergone an in-depth level of training to learn and perform a specific job reliably in all settings and environments. A service dog is not the same as an emotional support dog. While service dogs can help from an emotional standpoint, their main purpose is to provide independence and security for a disabled individual, by performing specific assigned tasks. Both types of dogs, though, provide their handlers a side benefit of complete cuteness and companionship…that’s an added plus!
So, what types of disabilities would call for a service dog?
There are many disabilities that would cause a person to benefit from a service dog, but the need should be evaluated based on the needs of an individual versus the disability itself. One person with autism, for example, may benefit from a service dog, while another person with autism may not. Continue reading to learn more about the various roles that service dogs can perform.
Service dogs are able to support individuals who may have physical limitations. A person who is in a wheelchair may benefit from a service dog if the wheelchair needs pulling, or if the person needs help transferring from the chair to the car, bed or shower, for example. Dogs can also press handicapped accessible buttons, open doors, load and unload laundry, and pick up objects from the floor, for someone who is unable to.
So, what about those who don’t use wheelchairs? Well, someone who isn’t in a wheel chair can have many of the same limitations in mobility. For instance, he may not be able to bend down to pick things up off the floor, open doors, get into and out of the shower, etc. Good old Fido can help!
In addition to that, those with unsteady gaits could benefit from a furry companion. K-9 companions can stand near them to provide support and even wear a handle on their backs that the owner can hold on to. If the owner happens to fall, a dog can break the fall to prevent bodily injury, and also bark for help and push an emergency alert button if the owner has one.
Service dogs are the perfect furry friends to help protect a person from danger. For instance, those with epilepsy have seizures unexpectedly, which can be dangerous if they cause the person to fall down or hit his head. Dogs can provide protection and can break a fall during a seizure. Beyond that, a dog can stand guard of the person until she regains consciousness.
These life-saving dogs can also serve as an intervention when a person engages in self-harm…for instance biting, scratching, banging, or similar behaviors that some individuals with autism, Fragile X, or other disorders may demonstrate. When the handler engages in self-harming behavior, a service dog can intervene gently to stop the behavior and redirect attention elsewhere.
For those who tend to wander off and need supervision, service dogs can be an excellent source of security when they lead the person back to safety or bark to get the attention of others who can help. This can give caregivers and parents peace of mind. A dog can prevent wandering too and, in higher risk cases, dogs can actually be tethered to their owners.
Seeing and Hearing Dogs
Service dogs can act as guides for those who are unable to see and can signal to those who are unable to hear important sounds, for instance, doorbells, smoke detectors, horns, or someone calling their name.
Therapy Assistance & Communication Benefits
The presence of animals in therapy can help support a handler toward his or her therapeutic goals. Dogs can help physical and occupational therapy become even more productive and motivating. Physically speaking, a service dog accompanying a child to therapy will be able to help the child accomplish certain tasks, for example, walking and standing up. What’s better is that a service dog can make therapy “work” feel less overwhelming or challenging. When a Rover is along for the ride, what used to be a therapy session becomes a time of bonding that may feel more like “play”. This can do wonders for a child’s motivation and can quicken progress as a result!
Dogs can also assist with communication development, especially speech and language, because they often encourage children to increase their vocalizations. A service dog in therapy or even the home setting may become a partner for a child to purposefully communicate with more so than another individual. It is common for a child to say words about or directly to a furry friend, and dogs can help promote other skills along the way. For some children, the presence of these companions may help to encourage speech and language skill development.
There are cases in which service dogs are a better fit than emotional support dogs, for someone with emotional needs. If a person’s emotions prevent him from being independent or put him in danger, he may qualify for an actual service dog. For instance, some individuals with certain disabilities feel overwhelming emotions and are prone to violent outbursts, which can harm themselves and others. This is the perfect scenario for a service dog to step in and accomplish two tasks: intervene to prevent the behavior from escalating and calm the person down to stop the behavior altogether.
Dogs can also prevent emotional outbursts from happening in the first place, especially when they occur due to anxiety or anger. The presence of a dog can increase the owner’s confidence to a point that she feels secure and in control. Oftentimes, this prevents outbursts from even happening.
Social Benefits of a Service Dog
Service dogs have an added bonus of helping those with disabilities function more easily in social settings. The presence of their companion may provide added confidence and a sense of calm in these often unpredictable or anxiety-causing social situations. A service dog may also be a starting point or act as an introduction to invite others to approach the person with the disability; they may provide an initial reason to engage in conversation or approach in a friendlier more openminded manner. In all, a service dog companion may allow for added social opportunities that would otherwise be harder to come by and provide their handlers more confidence to socialize.
Service Dogs Aren’t for Everyone…but There’s a Dog for You
If your child isn’t qualified to receive a service dog, don’t abandon your goal to find a helpful and loving companion for her. Therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and companion animals are a wonderful way to bring a lovable fur friend into your child’s life and promote the growth, confidence and development that go along with this relationship with man’s best friend. There are many breeds of dogs that make great companions for children. Generally, it’s best to find one that is very calm, docile, and small enough for your child to handle on his own. There are plenty of organizations that provide dogs to fit a variety of needs, and they have resources to help you find out which type of dog is best for you. Good luck and happy hound hunting!References: https://adata.org/factsheet/service-animals https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/service-dog-or-therapy-dog-which-best-child-autism https://www.autismservicedogsofamerica.org/ https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/seizure-first-aid-and-safety/seizure-dogs https://www.cerebralpalsy.org/information/service-animals/types-service-animals
DISCLAIMER: Information published about one particular disorder does not necessarily apply to every individual who has the disorder discussed in this article. Treatments and therapies are highly individual and must be customized to the needs of each person to be effective. Do not make changes to your/your child’s treatment plan as a result of what you read in this article (or any content published by AASL) without consulting your/your child’s physicians and therapists. This content does not necessarily reflect the opinions of All About Speech and Language or its therapists. To understand the opinions and recommendations of your/your child’s AASL therapist, schedule an appointment with your therapist to discuss your concerns.