When most people think of the term “service dog” they think of an animal that has been trained for a person who is blind and needs a guide. Others will think a dog who helps a person in a wheelchair. However, service dogs come in all different breeds and fill all types of roles. So, what is a service dog and what types of life-saving skills do these canines offer?
A service dog is highly skilled and trained to serve and help people with disabilities. The first mention of service dogs being used for medical specific issues came from a Paris hospital for the blind in the 1750’s. A few decades later Josef Reisinger, who was a blind Austrian, trained two dogs to help him over come many of the obstacles his blindness brought.
It wasn’t until after World War 1 that the modern guide dog movement was born. Thousands of Germans had been blinded or impaired by mustard gas or injuries during the war. This led a German doctor named Gerhard Stalling to train collies to assist these soldiers. By 1923 the German Sheppard Training Center started it own training program that eventually would train over 4,000 dogs for the visually impaired.
Service dogs assist the disabled every day
But service dogs are not limited to just the blind. A wheel-chair bound individual can have a dog that aids with simple tasks such as picking up an item off the floor or even being pulled up ramps. Men and women who suffer from severe Post Traumatic Stress disorder may use a canine that has been trained to help calm them during an episode.
Canine’s that are trained to assist people with disorders such as epilepsy know to seek help in the event their owner has a seizure or medical episode. Service dogs are hard to miss as they almost always have some type of vest or special harness that lets others know they are a working dog. Some service dogs have been trained to pick up on the scents of blood sugar highs and lows. This allows them to be paired with people who suffer from diabetes.
Service dogs spend two or more years in rigorous training. Once paired with an individual they work hand in hand and become a team. This is why etiquette around a working service dog is important. No matter how cute and fluffy the dog may seem they are not pets. Things such as offering food, bending down to pet, or attempting to distract the dog are never okay. Always approach the person and not the dog itself. If the urge to touch or pet the dog is too much it is important to ask the owner for permission.
Service dogs are trained to look for help
So what do you do if the dog approaches you first? If the owner is unaware of this behavior make them aware. Although most people love some puppy love from a furry friend this might be unwanted behavior and need to be corrected.
Service dogs of Epileptic people are trained to find help and lead that help back to their owners. If you are ever approached by a service dog that does not have its owner follow the animal. Allow them to lead you to their owner. Stay calm and address the medical needs that are presented. If the victim is suffering from a seizure place their head to the side to keep airways free. Place a sweater or coat underneath the head and promptly call 911 or have someone else do so. Stay with the victim until they become alert and conscious or emergency medical staff arrives.
Service dogs are a powerful example of canines ability to be more than just man’s best friend. They can in fact, much like Lassie, be man’s life-saving partner.
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