The Difference Between Your Pet and a Service Dog

Mar 04, 2011
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There are millions of dog lovers all over the world and I am proud to be one of them. For those who are dog owners, we can all agree that they play an important role in our lives – they’re practically or are part of the family. They also provide unconditional love, companionship and always welcome us home. Besides being a loyal companion, man’s best friends help people with disabilities by being service dogs.

Nowadays, most people have seen or heard of guide dogs and/or service dogs, also known as assistive dogs. Many assume that these dogs provide the same service to people with disabilities, but in fact guide dogs and service dogs have different jobs and purpose. Guide dogs provide assistance specifically to people who are visually impaired or the blind. Other requirements include being specific breeds and must be able to perform certain skills on command, such as relieving themselves.

Service dogs or Assistive dogs do not need to be specific pedigrees. Requirements do include them to have desirable personality traits, good conformation and good health. Service dogs are sometimes trained and bred by private organizations. In other cases, a disabled handler may train his or her own dog with or without the aid of a private dog trainer.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) define “service dog” under its broader definition of “service animal”. “Service Animal” (ADA Subsection 36.104): “Any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding people with impaired vision, alerting people with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items, alerting.”

Virtually any dog can be considered a “service dog”.  Since there is no formal training required, however, trainers, and certification programs do exist. The main requirement is that the dog must be able to provide a service for the disabled person that they would have had a difficult time doing without the service dog. Service dogs wear special capes or insignia to inform people to not distract the dogs from their “jobs’ when they are working.

Service dogs do differ from a pet in that they are trained to perform specialized tasks at specific times. Just as we have to conform to society, such as in our behaviors and perform certain tasks when we are “on the job” the same goes for a service dog. When a service dog is not “on the job”, they can then relax and behave more like the family pet. Although, there are differences, service dog and dogs as our pet do overlap some. Our beloved pets “assist” us every day. Since they are loyal to us, they will also alert us from intruders and sounds, provide protection, and even retrieve objects for us if needed. No matter what, they are loved!

Service Dog Central

Author: Jenny Carlton

  • Kerry L.

    Great article! I am glad that you mentioned handlers with disabilities training their own dogs. In Texas, the “official” service dog organization can deny an individual a service dog if they are not “disabled” enough. However, this is understandable because of the costs incurred in training a Tier 1, if you will, service dog. Although I am a T 6, 10-11 para with full use of my arms, I am not a young spring chicken anymore. With my SD Kodi at my side, I bet I push my chair 80% less than when I did not have her. She is adding years to the life of my shoulders! Also, being able to have her retrieve my chair if it rolls away is a lifesaver. Thanks for the article, Jenny!

  • bobl07

    Thank you for your comments. Remember for all people with disabilities it is so important to exercise and to lead a healthy lifestyle. This can keep your weight down which would benefit shoulders as well.

  • lenn mc millan

    I too have a service animal whom I trained myself to perform specific tasks detrimental to my disabilties and lifestyle. He was tested by a counsellor for the blind from the local Dept. Of Rehabilitation Services. We are both old now and have suffered a lot of trauma since then, both physical and emotional, but he still stays on task 70 percent of the time.

  • bobl07

    Thank you for your comments.