What Is a Service Dog?

101 Mobility® learns about Service Assistance Dogs and More from paws4people!

kid and service dog101 Mobility® recently met with Founder, Kyria Henry and Executive Director, Terry Henry of paws4people™, to learn about service canines. Kyria and Terry brought two service dogs with them to demonstrate what these amazingly intelligent and skilled animals are capable of.

What is paws4people™?
The Mission of the paws4people foundation is to enhance the lives of active-duty service members, veterans, children/students, and seniors by utilizing the “special powers” of canine companionship and service displayed by highly trained assistance dogs, through specialized educational, private placement, therapeutic and visitation programs.

What is the difference between my dog and a service dog?
It is important to first understand that there are different types of dogs providing different services to humans.

Community Dogs: Community dogs are dogs that provide companionship to a service member, veteran, or senior who just lost a spouse and needs more than a pet. They receive roughly 120 hours of obedience training and at least three months of social training, meaning guided interaction with other animals and people in different settings.

Therapy Dogs: Therapy dogs receive obedience training and socialization in addition to learning far more extensive commands and facility training. Therapy dogs’ sole mission is to visit nursing homes, schools, and hospitals/hospice facilities and bring a sense of joy to patients. Therapy dogs are allowed ‘limited’ public access according to ADA guidelines and only allowed in places where they are fulfilling their service duties, such as a hospital or nursing home.

Indirect Service Assistance Dogs: Indirect Service Assistance Dogs are also known as ‘Facility Dogs.’ These dogs are trained, certified, and placed with a specific individual such as an educator, therapist, or another health professional who will use the dog within his/her profession to provide educational instruction or therapeutic interventions to students with special needs or individuals with physical, neurological, psychological and/or emotional disabilities. These dogs do not live with the student or patient; they are kept with the handler.

Direct Service Assistance Dogs: These dogs are trained starting at just three days old, certified, and placed with a specific individual who has a definable physical, neurological, psychological, and/or emotional disability or disabilities. The direct-service assistance dog provides the client with assistance in conducting daily living activities, thus enabling them to perform more independently than they otherwise would without their assistance dog (AD). These are the dogs that you may see wearing a harness with someone who is blind (they are serving as a guide dog).

What do the direct service assistance dogs do?
Direct service dogs have full public access as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. paws4people carefully train each dog on a different set of commands specific to the human’s disabilities or needs. Some dogs are able to detect seizures in their humans eight hours prior and allow the human to take the proper precautions or medications. Other service dogs are trained to guide the blind (although paws4people™ does not train guide dogs, some other programs do) or to alert the deaf or hard of hearing. There are some service dogs trained to recognize dangerous blood sugar levels for humans with diabetes. Wheelchair users also utilize service dogs to assist in daily living tasks such as picking up or retrieving certain items, opening doors, carrying items, and turning on/off lights. One of the newest uses for service dogs has been to help mitigate symptoms of severe PTSD, TBI, and other neurological disorders.

A few impressive feats from a direct service assistance dog:

  • Opening a door
  • Knowing over 130 commands
  • Ability to read flashcards: ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ etc.
  • Helping with laundry

How can I get a service assistance dog from paws4people™?
paws4people™ is just as careful in selecting the service dogs they train as the humans they train to properly utilize these special canines. paws4people™ will assess your needs and if selected, you will be matched with the dog that chooses YOU. The dog will demonstrate that he or she accepts your personality, disabilities, smell, assistive devices, etcetera. From there, the canine will receive the training that is specific to your needs. Unfortunately, there are not enough dogs to go around for everyone, so the selection process is meticulous.

To learn more about the service assistance dog application process and to submit an application, click here.

*The information in the blog post is cited from the paws4people™ website and interview with Kyria and Terry Henry. Other Service Dog Training entities may show varying information as no program is exactly alike*