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Unleashing Knowledge: A Student’s Guide to Service Dogs and Training Insights

By michael burkey

Recently, a high school student asked me very interesting questions about service dogs and their training. These were my responses to him.

1. What are the main benefits of having a Seeing Eye Guide Dog?

A Seeing Eye Guide Dog serves as a valuable aid for individuals with visual impairments, facilitating their safety and fostering increased autonomy.

2. What is a Seeing Eye Guide Dog trained to do?

A Seeing Eye Dog, also known as a guide dog, is trained to assist individuals who are blind or visually impaired in navigating their surroundings safely and independently. These dogs are taught to guide their handlers around obstacles, navigate streets and intersections, locate specific locations and to stop at changes in elevation, such as curbs or steps. Additionally, they are trained to disobey commands that would put their handler in danger such as oncoming vehicle traffic. Overall, Seeing Eye Dogs provide mobility assistance and enhance the independence and confidence of individuals with visual impairments.

3. What are the main benefits of having a mobility assistance dog?

A Mobility Assistance Dog provides invaluable support to individuals with disabilities by offering assistance with balance during walking or standing, as well as aiding the handler in transitioning from seated or prone positions to standing.

4. What is a mobility assistance dog trained to do?

The Mobility SD walks alongside their handler wearing a mobility harness allowing their handler to apply slight pressure on the harness to assist them with walking or standing up.

5. What are the main benefits of having a diabetic alert dog?

Diabetic Alert Dogs serve as invaluable medical aids, capable of detecting a person’s declining blood sugar levels approximately 15 minutes prior to the alert provided by continuous monitoring systems. This advanced warning is particularly crucial for individuals with Type 1 Diabetes, as sudden drops in blood sugar can lead to unconsciousness without warning. By promptly alerting the handler to this physiological change, these specially trained dogs enable individuals to promptly address their condition and administer necessary medical intervention to stabilize their blood sugar levels.

6. What is a diabetic alert dog trained to do?

The dog detects a shift in the odor of a person’s breath, signaling a drop in blood sugar levels below 70. Upon detecting this change, the dog executes a trained response, such as jumping on the person or gently nudging them with its nose, to alert them to the impending drop in blood sugar. Individuals experiencing low blood sugar may exhibit symptoms resembling intoxication, rendering them unable to recognize the danger themselves.

7. What is the easiest type of service dog to train?

Training a Mobility Service Dog is comparatively straightforward as it does not entail the dog’s need to detect specific medical conditions like low blood sugar, low or rising heart rate, PTSD episodes, or sounds imperceptible to individuals with hearing impairments.

8. What is the hardest type of service dog to train?

Training a dog to alert a handler about an increasing or declining heart rate attributable to conditions such as POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, a condition characterized by an abnormal increase in heart rate that occurs upon assuming an upright posture) or a malfunctioning pacemaker poses a significant challenge. The dog must adeptly discern when the handler is exhibiting lethargy or has lost consciousness. Subsequently, the dog is required to autonomously depart from the handler, proceed to a designated plate on a wall and press it which will initiate a 911 call and a call to notify a family member.

9. What are the best breeds for mobility, guide, and diabetic dogs?

Some of the common and best breeds for service dog work include: Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Standard Poodle and the German Shepherd Dog. These breeds are especially good to work as Seeing Eye Dogs and Mobility Dogs because of their size. Dogs trained for Diabetic, PTSD, Hearing or Low/High Heart Rate alerts can be of any size. For any dog that uses scent detection as part of their skills; they should have a long muzzle rather than a flat muzzle for better scenting ability.

10. What is important about service dogs that more people should know?

Ideally, it is advisable not to cross-train service dogs as Therapy Dogs due to the inherent conflict in their roles. Service Dogs are specifically trained to serve their handlers with unwavering dedication, while Therapy Dogs are oriented towards providing emotional support to unfamiliar individuals.

Furthermore, Service Dogs should not be trained in protection work. Although individuals with PTSD may express a desire for this training to enhance their sense of security in public settings; it introduces a potential risk of the dog misunderstanding non-threatening situations as requiring an aggressive response. To address the need for enhanced safety without resorting to protection training, handlers may consider selecting breeds such as the German Shepherd Dog, which possess a naturally imposing presence when well-trained and obedient. This approach mitigates the risk of a potential bite and leaves potentially challenging bystanders wondering what else is the dog trained to do. They don’t know that the dog isn’t trained in protection work.

Conversely, for Service Dogs engaged in other types of service work, it is advisable to opt for breeds other than the German Shepherd Dog, as the public will tend to accept those breeds with greater ease and acceptance.

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