Four Paws of Help

College of DuPage Nursing Student Cassandra Blake wrote for Healthy Lombard that throughout recent decades we have used animals to aid us in various ways.  We have come to recognize the intelligence that dogs have.  That intelligence can be channeled toward a specific behavior. Besides the fact that dogs may provide benefits to overall health, and help to increase fitness, lower stress, and improve happiness, they are also able to be trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities (Karetnick, 2019).  Dogs who assist those with disabilities are referred to as service dogs.  According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for those with disabilities. (Service., 2011) Under the ADA, state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public can go (Service, 2011). Whereas Emotional Service Animals (ESA) provide emotional comfort, Therapy dogs provide affection and interaction on a volunteer basis, and Courthouse dogs go into a courtroom with a child or someone who is vulnerable during a trial. Service dogs have more privileges than dogs in the other roles.

Service dogs must meet certain criteria, and it differs for each individual case, but they must be able to perform the required task.  Mostly the dogs must have a certain physical ability, so size does matter. If the dog is for someone who is in a wheelchair, a small dog would not be of much help.  A smaller or mid-sized dog is suited for recognizing when the dog’s person is going to have a seizure or their sugar level is too high or low.   Only special dogs can pass the training and testing that is required to be classified as a service dog as an estimated 80% of dogs do not pass.  The trainers consider both parents, littermates, health, alertness, energy, temperament, and drive of each dog that is considered.  That does not mean that dogs from animal shelters are not candidates, however.  There is no specific breed required but typical breeds include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds (Service., 2011). Not only is the dog required to undergo training, but the owner must also attend service dog schooling.  These dogs are trained for the specific needs of the individual and their disability.  The dog and individual must work together; each individual must learn the different commands and how the dog will answer.

Service Dog brings to each family much help and an extra pair of hands.  For parents, there is another set of eyes watching over the family member, although family members must remember that Service dogs are not pets.  This may be especially difficult for younger siblings who perceive that dog s cute, or as a playmate, but a separation must be maintained between the two because the dog has a job to do.

For the individual with the disability, this is a life-changer.  The service dog provides the owner with security and comfort as they go about their daily life (Service, 2019). Depending on the individual and their type of disability, a service dog is trained to meet these needs.  This may involve an extra pair of hands (or paws) to an individual in a wheelchair or on crutches, monitoring for low glucose levels, seizures, or autism, or various other concerns. Service dogs meet a vital need in the person’s life and provide independence that most take for granted. They provide physical support to those having trouble standing or walking and protection to the hearing or visually impaired. Service dogs provide much-needed confidence, pride, and a positive type of attention because they have this special dog next to them.  There is a bond that forms between the owner and the service dog that is unique. Few bonds are this Special.



Karetnick, J. (2019, October 17). Service dogs 101: Everything you need to know about service dogs.

Service Animals. ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals. (2011, July 12).

Service dog for the blind: How they help & how to qualify. (2019, November 08). Retrieved March 25, 2021, from



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