I always thought helper dogs were for blind
or hearing impaired people. As I began to learn
more about these dogs, I realized they also
offered a variety of assistance to people with
Service dogs can be trained to retrieve objects
that are out of reach; pull manual wheelchairs;
open doors and turn on lights; retrieve help;
assist with dressing or undressing; and assist
in many other ways. Some service dogs are
specially trained seizure response dogs and
there are dogs trained to offer a person counter
balance when ambulating. One less tangible
benefit is that these dogs can actually expand
your world by giving you opportunities to get
out and meet people.
My service dog, Dottie, and I take walks around
the neighborhood every evening. Each evening,
between 5:00 and 6:00, she brings me her leash.
We never come home not having socialized with
people we encountered. Interactions are usually
prompted by Dottie and then switch to me.
How Do I Get a Service Dog?
There are various programs throughout the
country. Some programs serve only a
particular region and others do not have a
defined territory. Costs vary, as do
lengths of waiting lists. To help you assess if
a program meets your needs, here are some
questions to consider when choosing a service
- Does the organization offer to train your dog or
does it train only their dogs?
- What kind of assistance is their service dog
trained to provide?
- Does the organization provide services only to a
certain territory? You want to make sure you are
in their service area.
- What are the costs to the recipient?
- Is there an age restriction? Some programs take
children and adults and others limit how young
the recipient can be.
- How long is the wait to get a dog?
- How long is the training camp for you with your
- What are the costs to you for the camp? Some
programs pay for training camp costs such as
room and board, and others leave these expenses
up to the recipient.
- Is there support after the training camp?
- Many organizations will allow you to apply
online; however, if the Web site does not answer
all your questions, there is usually a number to
call. The Web site referenced below lists
many of the service dog groups:
What’s a Training Camp?
Training camps are a time when the recipient
learns to work with their dog. The dog is
trained–now you need to be. Service dogs
know many commands before being paired with the
physically limited person. Camp teaches
you how to train your dog to perform tasks
specific to your needs.
After leaving camp, it did not take me long to
realize one of my specific needs. My dog left
her toys all over the floor and, being in a
wheelchair, this made it very difficult for me
to get around. Using the command “clean up,” I
taught Dottie to pick up her toys and put them
in her toy basket. Her little trick really
impresses young visitors AND their parents.
Is a Service Dog Right for Me?
An important question to ask yourself is if you
are prepared to be a responsible dog owner?
These animals are wonderful companions, but they
are still large dogs that need to be let out to
toilet; managed for fleas; brushed to control
shedding; and taken to the veterinarian for
routine health maintenance. Additionally,
training reinforcement is an ongoing
A service dog can help a person become more
independent, feeling happier and better
about their life. There is a lot to consider
before making the leap in that direction but, if
you decide this path is right for you, it can be
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