Skip to main content
Guide dog is helping a blind man

Everything you should know about service dogs

Service dogs: history, types, benefits, training, and where to find them

Dogs are our friends in every sense of the word, and they act as companions that serve us all through our lives. However, service dogs take it up a notch. Service dogs are dogs that are trained specifically to help people with disabilities. They've existed since 1927.

In communities, these service dogs can be trained to assist people with cancer, diabetes, autism, and even the visually impaired. Plus, dogs generally bring good vibes to homes as dog owners tend to have better cholesterol levels and lower pressure and are generally good for human health.

What is a service dog?

Service dogs are specially trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, whether physical, psychiatric, sensory, or intellectual. But sometimes, we also hear of therapy dogs or emotional support animals. Now, while they're very similar, they aren't the same and cannot be used interchangeably.

Service dogs vs. therapy dogs vs. emotional support animals

Service dogs have full public access rights and can accompany their handlers in various settings, including public spaces and transportation.

Therapy dogs, on the other hand, work alongside their human partners as volunteers in places like hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. Their purpose is to provide comfort, affection, and companionship to individuals in need. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs don't have as much legal rights to access public spaces, and specific organizations and guidelines regulate their presence.

Emotional support animals offer support and companionship to individuals with psychological or emotional disorders. While they don't undergo specific task training like service dogs, they provide therapeutic benefits by easing anxiety, depression, and loneliness. However, their legal rights are limited, requiring a letter of diagnosis from a medical professional. Recent changes in airline regulations no longer mandate accommodation for emotional support animals.

History of service dogs

The story of service dogs dates back to ancient times when we find evidence of dogs supporting humans in various capacities. But it wasn't until the introduction of guide dogs for people who are blind that the concept of service dogs took a more formal shape.

After World War I, many soldiers returned home blind due to mustard gas exposure. This increased the need for guide dogs, and the first guide dog schools were established in Germany. One remarkable individual, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, played a crucial role in bringing this idea to the United States, leading to the founding of The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in the world.

Evolution and development over time

The role of service dogs gradually evolved beyond guiding people who are blind. A pioneer in this field, Bonnie Bergin, believed that dogs could help people with disabilities gain more independence. Inspired by her travels, she noticed how people with disabilities used donkeys for assistance in some countries. With this in mind, she began training dogs to provide similar aid.

Her work helped distinguish service dogs in the Americans with Disabilities Act and contributed to developing assistant dog regulations by collaborating with the US Justice Department.  She also founded the Assistance Dog Institute, later the Bergin University of Canine Studies. This institution offers specialized education in human-canine life sciences and assistance dog training.

Types of service dogs and what they do

Here are some of the service dogs:

Guide dogs

Guide dogs are specially trained to assist individuals who are visually impaired or blind. Breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Poodles, and German Shepherds are commonly selected for guide dog training.

Hearing dogs

Hearing dogs undergo specialized training to support individuals who are deaf or have hearing difficulties. These remarkable dogs alert their owners to important sounds like doorbells, alarms, or someone calling their name.

Mobility assistance dogs

Mobility assistance dogs offer invaluable aid to people with disabilities, assisting them with daily tasks. From retrieving objects to opening doors, these dogs provide practical support to individuals with spinal cord injuries, arthritis, brain injury, or cerebral palsy.

Diabetic alert dogs:

Diabetic alert dogs undergo specialized training to detect fluctuations in their owners' blood sugar levels. They possess an incredible ability to sense changes in scent and behavior, enabling them to alert their partners to high or low blood sugar levels.

Seizure alert dogs

Seizure-alert dogs are uniquely trained to assist individuals before, during, and after seizures. They can fetch help, offer protection during seizures, and provide comfort and support.

Autism support dogs

Autism support dogs play a vital role in helping children with autism navigate social situations. They serve as valuable companions, promoting social connections and providing comfort.

Psychiatric service dogs

Psychiatric service dogs greatly assist individuals with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Benefits of service dogs

Service dogs can significantly enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities. Here are some benefits:

Assisting independence and mobility

For individuals with mobility challenges, service dogs offer invaluable physical assistance. They can perform essential tasks like opening doors, retrieving items, and aiding in transfers from wheelchairs. Service dogs can also assist those with physical limitations or fatigue issues, offering balance support, preventing falls, and even carrying items.

Alerting to potential dangers or health issues

Service dogs can help individuals with potential health issues. For instance, epilepsy. By alerting them before a seizure occurs, these dogs minimize the risk of injury. During seizures, these incredible animals remain close to their owners, providing comfort and support.

Act as emotional support

Beyond their physical assistance, service dogs provide vital emotional support. They serve as loyal companions, alleviating feelings of loneliness and isolation commonly experienced by individuals with disabilities.

Strengthen personal relationships

Service dogs help with social interactions, empowering owners to participate more actively in social settings. These dogs help foster positive relationships, even improving familial dynamics by relieving some caregiving responsibilities.

To keep your remarkable service dog safe, it’s a good idea to have a physical pet tag with your pet’s unique microchip # and your contact details, such as our Lifetime Warranty ID tags.

How does a dog become a service dog

Here are the steps to make your dog a service dog:

Evaluate your dog's suitability

Consider your dog's personality and capabilities. While service dogs can come in any breed or size, not all dogs possess the necessary characteristics to be good service animals.

For instance, if you require assistance with mobility and use a wheelchair, a tiny chihuahua may not be the best fit. It's also essential to assess whether your dog has the right temperament and abilities for the job.

Training programs show that a significant percentage of dogs (around 55%-70%) do not ultimately meet the criteria for service dogs.

Essential qualities for a service dog

Certain qualities are essential for a service dog. These include:

  • staying calm in new environments
  • quick learning and retention of information
  • adaptability to various social settings
  • reliable execution of specific tasks
  • ability to focus on the owner
  • housetraining.

Be aware of the law

It's important to note that there is no legal requirement for certification or proof of training for service dogs under the ADA. Even though certifications are available from various programs, they do not hold any legal weight.

Research training programs

If you enroll your dog in a training program, conduct thorough research to ensure the program is reputable. Training programs can be costly, so it's vital to make an informed decision.

Be prepared to answer questions

Under the ADA, in situations where it's not obvious that your dog is a service animal, you may be asked a couple of questions to determine their status. For instance, "Is the dog a service animal required due to a disability?" and "What specific tasks or work has the dog been trained to perform?" It's essential to be prepared to provide clear and accurate answers to establish your dog as a legitimate service animal.

Where to find a service dog

If you're looking for a service dog, here are a few ways to find one:

Reach out to specialized organizations: These organizations are experts in training dogs for specific disabilities. They can match you with a trained service dog, but remember, there may be a waiting list. The costs can go from $15,000 to $25,000.

Ensure your service dog is microchipped, with your contact information up-to-date when you take them out.

Train your dog with help

Some organizations offer "Board and Train" programs where your own dog can be trained to become a service dog.

Rights and responsibilities of service dog handlers

If you own a service dog, it's essential to understand its rights and responsibilities:

Legal protections and rights

  • You have the right, as per the ADA, to bring your service animal to all public areas where others are allowed.
  • Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for you and your service animal under the Fair Housing Act.
  • You should not be denied transportation services like buses or taxis because of your service animal, except for specific airline policies.
  • While not required, using identifiers like vests or tags can help others recognize your dog as a working service animal.

Public access rights

  • People may ask if your dog is a service animal and what tasks it has been trained to perform.
  • Breed restrictions or local ordinances cannot deny access to service animals.
  • Follow local animal control and health laws, including vaccinations and licensing.
  • Your service animal must be well-behaved and under control in public spaces.
  • Access may be restricted in specific areas due to allergies or if it significantly changes the services provided.

Etiquette for interacting with service dogs

  • Let relevant parties know when you start using a service animal.
  • Consider using identifiers like harnesses or tags to indicate your dog is a service animal, although it's not required.
  • Show respect and don't interfere with the service dog's tasks or distract them.
  • Avoid petting, talking, or making eye contact that may divert the dog's attention.
  • Remember, service dogs are working animals. So, it's crucial to recognize and honor their purpose and the focus of their handlers.

With our Lifetime Protection Membership, you can access veterinary professionals anytime by phone, email, or live chat. Also, if you have concerns or questions about protecting your service dog and keeping them safe, don't hesitate to contact us.


Service dogs are important to make our lives easier. They help with disabilities of every kind, from auditory to mobility. Getting a service dog can significantly help the lives of the owners. So, they must follow due process, laws and ensure the service dogs are suitable for the work.

If you loved reading this article, you might also like these:


Author Bio