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Service dogs lend helping paws

Original Publication Date: March 17, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Living with a dog brings unconditional love, snuggles, and joy into one's life.

Service dogs give that and so much more. Their training and responsibility qualifies them to enter grocery stores, shops, restaurants, planes, basically any establishment visited by their partner.

Service dogs enhance the quality of life and independence of their partners.

Guide dogs assist the blind or visually impaired. An official guide dog program was not established until after World War I when dogs were trained to aid veterans blinded in the war.

NBC's Today Show is showcasing Wrangler, a Labrador puppy, to high light the effort required to train a guide dog.

Volunteers raise and socialize a pup for a year then a professional handler takes over for four to six months of specialized training before the dog is placed with his visually impaired partner.

Dogs can be taught to provide many other types of service. Hearing dogs assist the deaf or hearing impaired by alerting their partner of household sounds like a door bell, alarm clock, oven buzzer, telephone, crying baby, or smoke alarm. These dogs are trained to physically contact their partner and lead them to the source of the sound.

Service dogs can be trained to aid people using power or manual wheelchairs, to retrieve objects out of reach, or to provide balance and counterbalance to a person who needs assistance walking. Some dogs learn to open and close doors, turn light switches off and on, or bark to indicate help is needed.

Others are trained to sniff bodily chemical changes associated with medical issues. A properly prepared dog can warn a diabetic of low or high blood sugar levels or an epileptic of an impending seizure.

Now dogs are being trained to assist military men and women returning from war zones in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Service dogs assist many faced with physical challenges. In contrast, about 300 veterans who returned with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have been helped in another way. They were taught to train dogs to help physically disabled veterans. Researchers report that bonding and working with a dog has positive psychological effects on those suffering from PTSD. A congressional committee is studying the effectiveness of canine-caregiving on PTSD.

To end on a somewhat light note while still emphasizing the versatility of service dogs, consider that rescue St. Bernard dogs will be on duty at Austin's South by Southwest festival. Each will carry a battery charger to revive dead cell phones. The National St. Bernard Foundation sees it as a win-win situation since some of the dogs are available for adoption and may find loving forever homes while allowing festival attendees to keep the selfies and videos streaming.

Dogs are incredibly intelligent and are willing helpers when given the proper training and paired with a loving partner who needs their assistance.


Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at HolisticTouchTherapy.com.