From Personal Companion to Service Dog

Service Dog TrainingDogs are loyal, loving, and lively companions. When properly trained, they can offer much more than unconditional friendship. A trained Service or Therapy dog is a valuable caregiver for an elderly or disabled person, providing greater safety and independence for its owner.

Jean Cary is a dog trainer with over 30-years experience. She offers in-home training of Service Dogs for seniors and the disabled through her business,  Service Dog Tutor, based in Belmont, CA. I asked her about the benefits and challenges of training a family pet to become a Service or Therapy dog.  She answered some common questions:

What is the difference between a Companion Dog, a Therapy Dog,
and a Service Dog?

  • A Companion dog is just another name for a pet dog. Companion dogs are only allowed in pet-friendly establishments. Companion dogs can be trained to become Service or Therapy dogs. It is important that the dog meet the physical requirements to perform the needed service.  Some dogs are simply too small or too large for particular tasks.
  • Therapy Dogs are trained to work with several individuals in a hospital, school or nursing home to facilitate social interaction and provide mental stimulation. These dogs must be friendly with out-going demeanors and pass the Canine Good Citizen Test. These dogs are only allowed in the homes and facilities where they work.
  • Emotional Support Dogs are another category of dogs that provide comfort to people having difficulty dealing with anxiety or Depression. These dogs are not allowed full public access unless they have completed rigorous Psychiatric Service Dog training.
  • Service Dogs must be trained to perform tasks directly related to the handler’s disability.  An individual who wants to train or own a dog who is a Service Dog (with full public access rights) must have a letter from their doctor that states that the owner requires the dog for full participation in daily activities.  The dog must be trained to perform at least one task the individual cannot perform for himself. Service Dogs often wear identifying badges or vests, however, this is not a requirement.

What Types of Assistance do Service Dogs Provide?

  • Guiding people who are blind
  • Remind people to take medications
  • Provide stability and balance support to enhance mobility and prevent falls
  • Pulling wheelchairs
  • Alerting people who are hearing impaired
  • Alerting for seizures and high blood sugar levels
  • Performing other special tasks such as picking up dropped items, or retrieving items on command

What Behavior is Expected From a Service Dog?

A Service Dog:

  •  Must be under the control of the handler at all times
  • Must be on a leash at all times (some allowances are made under certain circumstances.)
  • Must not show aggression towards people or other animals
  •  May not bark, growl or whine. (However, a service dog may be trained to bark in the case of an emergency affecting the handler.)
  •  May not solicit attention, food or other items from the general public, nor annoy any member of the general public
  • A service dog’s work does not disrupt the normal course of business.

A dog that is well trained with the basic obedience commands of sit, stay, down, and come, can be taught the behaviors that the owner requires for assistance. One of the many benefits of training a family pet to become a Service or Therapy dog is the cost of training, which is much less than the cost of purchasing a fully trained service dog. And teaching service skills to the dog strengthens the bond between the owner and the dog. A well-trained dog is also an asset to caregivers. And according to Jean:

“Having a dog that can retrieve mail, dropped keys and other objects for you when you live alone, have poor balance or use a walker is invaluable. You can teach the dog tasks that reduce your chances of falling and injuring yourself.

…All of these family dogs also provide a social bridge for their owners and the community. They are highly valued as reliable companions who keep loneliness at bay.”

This is a video of Jean in action with a service dog performing some very useful tasks!

We think in-home training for a companion dog is an excellent way to ensure that your family pet continues to be a welcome and valued part of the family. Thank you, Jean, for sharing your insights on Service Dog training.

~ Karl Power, CEO

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