Service Dogs for Seniors

Exploring the benefits and regulations around owning service dogs

Many people are familiar with the concept of Guide Dogs, specifically referring to helpful hounds that aid the blind in everyday tasks. What is a little less understood is the parameters of other types of service animals. Everything from the legality of taking them into restaurants or on planes, to questions about what they can or can’t help with and how they are trained.

The senior population has a range of needs regarding health, safety, and lifestyle. The level of assistance needed and the cost involved in acquiring the right guide dog will be different for each person. However, it would be pretty easy to claim that most seniors could benefit from a service animal at some point. At the very least, simply owning an animal has amazing benefits for seniors. But beyond the more well-known reasons why people invest time in their furry friends, a closer look at attributes service animals possess may have you considering adopting your own.

Dog tasks

Before deciding to get a service dog, it’s important to understand what sorts of tasks dogs can be trained to help with. Traditional Guide Dogs have been an extra set of eyes for the blind, but there is so much more a dog can help with when trained appropriately for your condition.

Dogs can be trained to be your ears:
• They can come to get you when the doorbell rings
• They can nudge you until you wake up when your alarm goes off in the morning
• They can come to get you if your partner is in distress

Dogs can be trained to be your legs:
• They can bring you a glass of water to help you take your pills
• They can lift a lever to open the door when the bell rings
• They can bring you the phone in an emergency

Dogs can be trained to be your voice:
• They can deliver notes on your behalf when you wish to communicate
• They can learn to call 911
• They can get go out and get help when you need it

Dogs can be trained to be your memory:
• They can get your attention at the same time each day, reminding you to take your medicine

Dogs can be trained to detect danger:
• They can let you know when your sugar levels drop
• They can warn you when you are about to have an epileptic seizure

Dogs can simply reduce anxiety.

Service animal regulations

A *service animal is a dog who is trained to help someone with the day to day realities of a diagnosed condition. This would include tasks supporting people with deafness, blindness, diabetes, epilepsy, and more. If trained properly and supporting its owner with a defined disability, these dogs are able to accompany their human friend into restaurants, shops, or anywhere else they may need assistance.

There is a broader usage of the term “service animal” that extends beyond the more traditional definition. This is where you see emotional support animals coming in to play. While doctors can write notes recommending patients be accompanied by animals for any host of reasons, there are different laws from state to state that apply when using a more general definition of a service animal.

It is important to know what type of animal you have and where you fall within the law. Understanding your own needs and the letter of the law will make sure you find yourself in a helpful relationship with your service animal and your community. As you do your research, please stick to trustworthy information. There are websites willing to sell you a service dog certification or registration which may not be legally valid. Going through the appropriate channels will help ensure you and your service animal are recognized wherever you go.

And if your needs aren’t consistent with legislation’s definition of a service animal, then you have an amazing pet whose benefits you can enjoy. Not every dog has to be a service animal. It does, however, have to tick all of the right boxes in order to be a service animal.

Training

This element is crucial. Training is what gives the animals the skills they need to be your support system. Training is what allows the dog to be classified as a service animal, which protects you and your service animal under the law. Training is also where the largest part of the investment in a service animal lies.

Whether you are having your own dog trained for the job or adopting a new one, there will be costs involved in getting their skills up to snuff. Keep in mind that it can be a long process and many dog breeds are not cut out for the job, so it is best to engage a professional for at least a consult if you are considering moving forward with a service animal of your own.

Please do your research before diving in. You want to make sure that your animal is trained in an ethical way, in a way that is compliant with your state’s rules and regulations, and in a way that will keep you safe. There are many programs out there that can help you get started on this journey if it interests you.

If you are taking on a new dog, you may consider working with a rescue animal. A mature aged dog will appreciate a happy home and may have an energy level that is more consistent with your environment. Keep in mind that you’ll also want the proper certifications and registrations in order to be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act if applicable.

Whether you consider yourself in need of a service animal or simply someone whose life may be improved with a hand from a furry companion, it’s worth a dig into the benefits of having an extra set of paws around the house. At the end of the day, animals provide company and assistance, which we could all use at any stage in life. But, always remember that an animal is as much a commitment as a companion. A well-considered decision to take on a new partner could be the best one you’ve ever made.

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