In the United States, a service dog is a dog that has received special training so that they can help out their dog owners with something connected to said individuals’ disabilities. For example, a dog that has been trained to help people with visual impairments to avoid physical obstacles can be considered a service dog. Likewise, a dog that has been trained to help people with obsessive-compulsive disorder by interrupting their repetitive behaviors can be considered a service dog. In contrast to these examples, an emotional support dog isn’t considered to be a service dog, though an emotional support dog is also a legal status that needs to be granted via the prescription of a licensed mental health professional.
How Did Service Dogs Come to Be?
The basic concept of a service dog isn’t a particularly innovative one. After all, humans and dogs have had a very close relationship for thousands and thousands of years, meaning that we have received a wide range of support from our canine companions under a wide range of circumstances. As such, it seems reasonable to say that there have been plenty of people in pre-modern times who received assistance from dogs for their disability-related issues. With that said, it is important to note that such relationships should be distinguished from the formalized institutions that exist in the present time, which were very much not a thing until very recent times.
Some interested individuals might have heard of the use of seeing eye dog as a synonym for service dog. Of course, this is rather misleading because a seeing eye dog is a very particular kind of service dog. However, the use of the term in this context makes some sense because seeing eye dogs were one of the first kinds of service dogs to receive formal recognition from their users as well as the rest of society. In fact, it is interesting to note that seeing eye dogs existed in the late 1920s in the United States, which was decades and decades before other dogs started being trained for other roles as other kinds of service dogs. Even then, said dogs didn’t receive much formal recognition, which in turn, meant that there was very little in formal organization and thus in formal training.
Still, as service dogs became more and more popular, the relevant organizations became more and more interested in making sure that service dogs could be of proper service to their dog owners. However, this wasn’t something that happened all at once but rather something that happened on a case by case basis. For example, NEADS started up in the mid 1970s for the purpose of finding dogs that could help deaf individuals notice important sounds such as babies crying, phones ringing, and police sirens sounding. With that said, the piece of legislation that formalized the concept of the service dog was the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which didn’t just create an official definition of what a service dog is supposed to be but also introduced a whole slew of other rules and regulations that are relevant to how service dogs are used by their dog owners.
Are Service Dogs Good For Their Recipients and Their Families?
There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that service dogs are good for their recipients and their recipients’ families. For instance, the fact that the concept of the service dog has become more and more popular over time suggests that service dog owners have gotten a great deal of usefulness out of them. This is particularly true because the concept of the service dog has spread from sector to sector of society, thus further strengthening that line of thought.
On top of this, the usefulness of the service dog seems to be rather logical as well. For example, it isn’t hard to imagine how a dog that has been trained to pick up objects can prove useful for people who either struggle to bend their knees or have other issues that make it either difficult or ill-advised for them to reach objects that have been dropped on the ground. Likewise, considering how dangerous navigating from place to place can be for people with serious visual impairments, it isn’t difficult to imagine how a seeing eye dog can increase their independence while also minimizing their chances of running into something with potentially very serious consequences for themselves as well as the other individuals involved in such incidents.
However, what has been missing is quantifiable evidence that service dogs are beneficial for service dog owners. Fortunately, said situation has been remedied, seeing as how a Purdue University study has produced some very useful information for interested individuals. It isn’t the first study to reveal that service dogs are beneficial for service dog owners, but it is the first study to reveal very specific ways that service dogs benefit service dog owners using numbers. In particular, the study revealed things such as better psychosocial health, less impact on families because of the disabilities, and better emotional states, thus saying much about the importance of service dogs.
Some people might wonder why having a study that confirms the usefulness of service dogs is so important. The answer is that having numbers is much more informative than not having numbers, not least because it makes it much easier for interested individuals to contextualize the relevant information. For example, imagine someone saying that the weather is bad versus someone saying that the weather is bad because temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit and there is a 90 percent chance of precipitation. By having number-based information, the relevant organizations will have a much easier time coming up with new rules and regulations for service dogs in the times to come, which in turn, should help service dogs become that much more useful to service dog owners. Ultimately, sound policy is based on sound information, which is why research is so critical even for things that seem obvious.