As you age, your body seems out to betray you. For some people, eyesight fails. For others, mobility suffers. For far too many, the brain starts to fall prey to dementia. For all of these upsetting developments and many others, people have to figure out the right type of care they need to get through the day.
One option that some people turn to is getting a service dog.
You’ve probably heard about service dogs, but you might not really understand what they do and whether or not they’re right for you. Here’s the basic information you need to answer the question of whether or not you should get a service dog.
What is a Service Dog?
Service dogs are trained to provide aid to people with varying types of disabilities. That definition’s broad for a reason, service dogs are trained in different tasks and skills based on the needs of the people they’ll be working with. A dog that helps a patient with dementia will learn a different set of tasks and commands than one that helps a person living in a wheelchair.
Who Are Service Dogs For?
The first question you have to consider is whether or not the type of disability you have is even something that service dogs can help with. You might be surprised by just how many specialties of service dogs there are.
Some of the main categories service dogs have been trained in are:
- Allergy alert assistance – Dogs can be trained to be on the lookout (or sniffout, rather) for any life-threatening allergens a person must avoid.
- Autism assistance – Mostly used for children with autism, these service dogs can help ground or calm people with autism.
- Balance support – For anyone with difficulties balancing, a service dog can be used as a bracing support when you start to feel off balance. Balance support dogs are often also trained to help with tasks like opening doors or retrieving items.
- Diabetic alert assistance – These dogs are trained to try to rouse a person passed out from a blood sugar high and contact emergency services if they can’t be roused.
- Hearing assistance – For people that are deaf or hard of hearing, service dogs can be trained to recognize certain sounds to help communicate them to their person, such as the doorbell or alarms.
- Medical alert assistance – These service dogs are trained to recognize the signs of certain physiological symptoms that point toward medical problems and retrieve medicine, attempt rousing a person, or contact emergency services as needed.
- Psychiatric service – This is a broad category of service dogs that includes dogs that help people with Alzheimer’s, anxiety, or any other disorder that affects mood and behavior. They’re trained in skills like helping to calm their owners when they sense they’re stressed and helping them remember to take meds.
- Seizure response – These service dogs are trained to recognize the signs of a seizure and either retrieve the needed meds or contact emergency services.
- Visual assistance – For the blind and those with weak eyesight, service dogs work as a guide to help them move through the world more safely.
- Wheelchair assistance – These service dogs are trained to help with all the little tasks that become more difficult when a person is confined to a wheelchair. They can do things like fetch objects, open doors, and answer the phone.
If you see anything on this list that would be helpful to you, then a service dog may be worth considering.
5 Benefits of Having a Service Dog
While a service dog isn’t right for everyone, for those it is a good fit for, there are a number of clear benefits.
- They help with tasks you have a hard time doing on your own.
Aging can make completing many tasks that once seemed simple – like getting up to get the door, or picking up something you’ve dropped – suddenly much harder to pull off comfortably. Service dogs can be trained to complete many of those tasks for you, making your day-to-day life easier.
- They can make you safer.
Whether by keeping the visually impaired from collisions, contacting emergency services when they can tell a person is in need, or retrieving the right medication at the right moment, service dogs protect their humans from harm in a number of important ways.
- They reduce the need for human caregivers.
Many of the tasks service dogs can be trained to help with would otherwise fall to human caregivers, be they loved ones or paid caregivers. Having a dog do them lightens the load on people and can save money in comparison to hiring in-home help or moving to an assisted living facility.
- They provide a reason to be more active.
Service dogs are usually high energy and smart. They require a lot of training and activity to be satisfied. If you could use an excuse to be more active (and most seniors could), they’re a good incentive.
- They offer frequent love and affection.
Of course, service dogs are just like any other dog in providing affection to the humans they live with. You won’t just get help around the house or with your medical needs, you’ll get a new family member.
5 Things to Keep In Mind Before Getting a Service Dog
All that may sound pretty great, but before you go out and start looking for a service dog, there are a number of issues to be aware of first.
- Trained service dogs are expensive.
Buying a service dog that already has basic training in what you need is costly. Even if you decide to buy a dog and train it yourself, finding one of a breed that’s known for being good for service dog training can be costly as well.
- ‘They come with ongoing costs.
On top of the upfront cost of the dog, you have to anticipate all the usual costs of owning a dog. Food, vet bills, and the various supplies you’ll need can all add up over time.
- They require care.
As with any pet, taking care of a service dog does require work each day. You need to remember to feed them, clean up after them, make sure they get enough exercise, and get to the vet for regular visits.
- They require training.
Even if you buy a service dog that’s already trained, you have to keep up with the training that’s already been started. Expect to continue working with them each day to reiterate the commands and tasks they’ve already learned and ensure their training stays fresh.
- Not everyone will understand.
You may well face some blowback going out into the world with your service dog. Some people find the presence of an animal to be an imposition in public spaces. The law is on your side in this, but if you’re someone who’s likely to feel uncomfortable dealing with confrontation when you go out with your service dog, you should know to expect the possibility.
Service dogs aren’t right for everybody. For dog lovers willing to put in the work required though, they can be rewarding, extremely helpful, and even make the difference between life and death.