Scientists believe that between 15,000-30,000 years ago, humans began to domesticate wolves. Thousands of years later, dogs are still man’s best friend. We may feed them and give them shelter, but service dogs have been holding up their end of the bargain for nearly 300 years.
Between their two-year intensive training and their impressive skills, it’s hard to believe these smart puppers haven’t taken over the world yet. They’re so smart they even have a price tag similar to your student debt. If you weren’t already convinced that dogs are the goodest animals out there, you’ll definitely change your mind after reading about these service dog facts.
Service Dogs Can Be Any Breed
The most common service dog breeds are Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, and German Shepherds, but any dog can be trained to be a service dog. Retrievers and shepherds seem to work best for seeing-eye dogs because they have high-intelligence but also a lot of stamina, which means they can keep up with their owner all day long.
The other most common service dog breed is Labradoodles — a lab crossed with a poodle — which is used for people who are allergic to dogs. But any dog can be given enough attention and training to be a service dog. Boxers and border collies are two other common service dog breeds.
The Modern Service Dog Came From WW1
Service dogs have a long history. There is some evidence of dogs being used as emotional companions and guiding as early as Ancient Rome and during the 1700’s in Paris, France. The modern birth of the service dog came during World War One. Dog’s were used during the war to provide emotional support for many veterans who came back with PTSD.
The modern guide dog began in Germany during WW1 as well. Countless veterans came back from war with disabilities and impairment so a doctor named Gerhard Stalling began to train dogs to guide the disabled veterans. This led to Stalling opening the world’s first guide dog training school in Germany, in 1916.
Service Dogs Practice Intelligent Disobedience
One of the most impressive things that service dogs are trained to do is practice ‘intelligent disobedience.’ This means that from young, the pup is trained to disregard their owners command if they know what’s best. You may think that would be counteractive to training an obedient dog, but this is actually incredibly impressive.
For example, if an owner with a visual impairment is stopped at a curb and wants to cross to the road, they’ll signal to their dog to cross. But if the dog can see that it is not safe, he will choose to disobey their order because they can see what’s best.
‘The Seeing Eye’ Was Founded In 1929
Stalling founded the first modern guide dog school in 1916, but it would take more than 10 years for the concept to make its way over to America. Stalling’s school had been so successful that many others had opened around Europe so if you lived in North America and wanted a guide dog, it had to be shipped from Europe.
A wealthy American woman named Dorothy Eustis was living in Switzerland and was so interested in guide dog training that she wanted to try training one herself. She personally trained one dog, Buddy, and brought him over to American in 1928 for a visually impaired owner. One year later she opened her own guide dog school, The Seeing Eye, which still operates today.
There Are Some Places Service Dogs Can’t Go
Service dogs are so recognizable because they are seen everywhere. This is because service dogs are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to be able to accompany their owner anywhere covered by the act in order to provide guidance or support. This means that you can take your service dog on the bus, to work, and even to school where they can snag a spot in your yearbook.
But there are surprisingly a few places that service dogs still can’t go. Anywhere not covered by the ADA are a no-go unless they give permission. This becomes very interesting when it comes to churches, because while they’re not covered by the ADA, churches who are publicly funded would be required to comply. Service dogs also aren’t usually allowed into sterile or dangerous environments like intensive care units in a hospital or a chemical laboratory.
It Costs More Than $25,000 To Train A Service Dog
Even puppers have student debt. It takes between 18-24 months for a dog to complete their service dog training and costs more than $25,000. These costs cover the dog’s food, vet bills, and home comforts. The organization covers all of these costs with grants and charitable donations so that anyone can help to train service dogs.
During their training time, the puppy is with a volunteer trainer who is working with them 24/7 and they have consistent follow-up sessions with the organization’s professional service dog trainers. Training a service dog is a full-time job.
There Are Prison Training Programs
While a lot of organizations rely on volunteers to help train service dogs, some have used the American prison system to help with training. There are numerous inmate service dog training programs. Some people may be wary of this, but prison programs actually have a better success rate at training service dogs than volunteers do, likely because they can place 100% of their time and energy on the dog.
The programs don’t only benefit the dogs. It’s been shown that the dogs reduce depression and anxiety in both the prisoners and the guards, which leads to a more productive and safer prison.
Emotional Support Dogs Can Help With PTSD And Autism
Guide dogs are what most people think of when they hear “service dog” but they can be trained to do so much more. Emotional support dogs started out in WW1 so it’s not surprising that they are still used today with veterans. Now that PTSD is better understood, many dogs have been used to help veterans readjust to life back home and retain a purpose. In fact, many veterans actually do the training of their service dogs too.
Emotional support dogs are also used for those with autism. The dog can help the person be more social, have a sense of responsibility, and protect them when necessary.
They Can Sniff Out More Than Just Bacon
Service dogs aren’t just there to help guide or give emotional support, some can train their noses to even save your life. Seizure assistant dogs are trained to smell any dangerous changes in their owner’s blood which can be used as a warning sign. Diabetic assistant dogs can also help sniff out changes in blood sugar levels to help warn their owner if their levels are spiking.
Dogs can even be trained to sniff out life-threatening allergies. Allergy detecting dogs have been known to save the life of children but sniffing out the smallest amount of the allergen.
It’s Not Just Dogs That Can Be Service Animals
Dogs may have been bred to be the perfect service animal, but the job is not exclusive to them. You can actually have a service horse, cat, pig, bird, monkey, llamas, or ferret. Basically, if you can train it and they provide the support needed, they can be covered by the ADA.
Miniature horses have increased in popularity as emotional support animals and look dashing in the service vest. It’s hard to imagine a cat being a good emotional support animal since they are probably plotting to take over the world at the same time.
The Vests Are Optional
Service dogs are known for their vests but it’s actually not a requirement. The dogs are trained to know they are “working” when the vest is on, and that they can kick back and relax when the vest is off. Even though the vest has these strategic purposes, it is not required if the owner does not want it.
The ADA just suggests the owner uses one just to help business owners identify that they are a dog exempted from business rules. The vest also serves as a warning to the public that the dog is working and should not be touched or distracted in any way.
Some Famous Celebs Even Have Service Dogs
Service and guide dogs used to hold a stigma around them but thanks to their increased popularity in recent years, they have become more and more accepted. Emotional support dogs have become so common that a few celebrities are known for taking theirs everywhere.
The most notable of these was the late Carrie Fisher’s emotional support dog, Gary. Fisher got the dog in 2012 from her daughter to help her with her bipolar disorder and Gary took the world by storm. He began joining Fisher everywhere from the red carpet to the Star Wars set. Gary and Carrie were so inseparable that he even got a cameo as an alien in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The Law Is Rock Solid To Protect Service Dogs
We’ve mentioned the Americans with Disabilities Act and the success it has had in protected service dogs, but the ADA is surprisingly new. The ADA didn’t become law until 1990. The section on service animals is actually a relatively small part within the ADA, which covers everything from fair wages to accessibility.
Even though the part about service animals is small, it got a lot of coverage. Many service dog organizations testified in front of Congress for the inclusion of service animals in the act until it was finally added in during one of the later drafts. Service dogs are even tax-deductible!
Service Dogs Can Communicate Sounds To You
If sniffing out allergies and blood sugar levels weren’t impressive enough, service dogs are trained to communicate with us in ways some people could never imagine. Service dogs are able to detect the difference between people’s voices, doorbells, your alarm clock, and even the smoke alarm and then signal to you which one it is.
Their impressive communication skills don’t stop there. Service dogs have also been shown to help kids learn how to read. Even though they can’t read themselves, studies have shown that children who are usually self-conscious with their reading skills feel comfortable reading to a service dog.
They Are Trained To Have ‘Overhead Awareness’
Similar to their impressive intellectual disobedience, service dogs and guide dogs specifically are trained to have “overhead awareness.” This means that even though they are likely much shorter than their owner, they are on the lookout for items overhead which will cause their owner harm even if it wouldn’t affect them.
For example, a guide dog would be trained to avoid a low-hanging branch if they saw it would harm their owner. A normal dog would definitely just try to grab that low-hanging branch for themselves so they could have the biggest stick in the neighborhood.
A Lot Of College Kids Will Train Service Dogs
Prisons are a pretty effective way to train service dogs, but college kids have also been shown to be very successful puppy trainers. Many college kids will choose to become a service dog trainer because it is only a two-year commitment and they often miss having a pet.
College kids have also been shown to be one of the best at socializing the puppy because they bring them along to classes and social events. One of the most important skills a service dog has is being able to stay focussed when surrounded by distractions. What better way to do that then take your service dog to a college party?
They Have To Retire Eventually
Service dogs begin their training at 9 weeks old and usually work for about 7-10 years, but eventually, they have to retire like the rest of us. Reasons for retirement may vary, but usually, the service dog has just done their duty and deserves to spend their final years relaxing and having fun.
If the service dog isn’t imperative to their day-to-day life, the owner can choose to keep the dog as a pet instead. If they don’t do so, the volunteer who trained the dog often has first dibs at adopting the dog. If the original volunteer chooses to pass on the dog, they go up for adoption to the public. When this happens they usually go pretty quick because they are so well trained.
Seeing Eye Dogs Can Basically Do Everything We Can
They probably can’t fly a plane, but service dogs can basically do everything else. Some of the most impressive service dogs are used for people with limited mobility. This means the dogs are trained to turn lights on and off, pull a wheelchair, open doors, push buttons, and even get out their owners wallet and give it to a cashier.
This is all the more reason to respect a service dog when you see them working. Most service dogs wear vests that say “Do Not Touch” and that needs to be respected when they have to do so many duties for their owners. To be honest, these dogs sound more responsible than most high school kids.
Service Dogs Are Carefully Chosen For The Owners
Thanks to the ADA, anyone with a disability or need for a service dog doesn’t have to pay for one. Usually, they just have to apply to an organization and wait for one to become available. This process may seem casual but service dog organizations put a lot of effort into making sure the service dog is perfect for the owner.
Often they will introduce multiple service dogs to the owner to see which becomes bonded. The service dog can also change depending on the owner’s needs and if they have allergies or not. Once a dog is chosen, the owner partakes in the final bit of training so that the two become bonded.
Buddy Was The First American Seeing Eye Dog
Buddy was the dog that Dorothy Eustis specifically to become the first American seeing eye dog. Buddy was a German Shepherd which was the only breed being used for guide dogs at the time. Morris Frank from Nashville, Tennessee, was blinded by two separate accidents as a kid and was excited to have the first seeing eye dog in America.
After bringing Buddy over in 1928, he would go on tour and tell reporters how much he enjoyed being able to travel independently again thanks to Buddy. All this press, combined with Buddy’s good looks, helped Morris raise enough awareness for guide dogs that Eustis was able to successfully open The Seeing Eye.