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Service dogs perform in a wide range of fields

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Dogs have special job titles, just like people. The confusion that surrounds these titles can lead to misunderstandings about the jobs they perform, the training they are required to undergo, the necessary licensure their owners receive, and how they can be restricted in public settings.

The following are brief job descriptions of various working dogs to help differentiate the categories and roles they perform:

Therapy dog

  • Accompanies a health care professional or trained volunteer
  • Visits hospitals, nursing homes, schools, or other selected areas for the purpose of fulfilling a treatment plan
  • In most cases, therapy dogs are not allowed access to public places.
  • These dogs are not protected by federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; however, it is always suggested that owners refer to their specific state regulations for their legal requirements.
  • Access to certain areas can be more restrictive than that of a service dog, assistance dog, or working dog.

Service/assistance dog

  • Trained to assist persons who are blind, deaf, suffering from multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or subject to seizures.
  • Desensitized to situations where they will encounter medical devices (e.g., wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, walkers, canes).
  • Legally covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and are therefore allowed in public places, such as offices, public transportation, restaurants, elevators, washrooms, and other common areas.

The following are examples of the duties that service/assistance dogs perform:

  • Carry groceries from the car
  • Open refrigerators or cabinets to retrieve water, food, towels, or medicine trays required by their owner
  • Alert a deaf person that the phone or doorbell is ringing
  • Anticipate seizure onset in a person and alert health care providers or family members

Police or K-9 Dogs

  • Used as "sniffer dogs'' to detect narcotics or other substances deemed illegal before being imported into the United States
  • Detect potential bombs
  • Detect use of accelerants/propellants identification in arson investigations
  • Assist in deterring crime in public settings, such as public transportation areas
  • Track missing persons; discover bodies

Military Dogs

Military dogs have an honored place in history. They have been used since World War I and continue to perform their duties to this day. The following are some of the heroic duties they perform to ensure the safety and rescue of other military personnel, as reported by the United States War Dog Association:

  • Scout: Walks out front for the unit, looking for booby-trap trip wires, ambushes, hidden caches of food, weapons, or snipers.
  • Combat Tracker: Acts much like the old Indian scouts to "track" by following ground (blood trails, body odor) or airborne scent to locate missing personnel (e.g., downed pilots, wounded soldiers, or the enemy).
  • Sentry Dog Teams: Walk the wire on the outskirts of a location, usually at night, to detect, detain and destroy.
  • Mine/Booby-trap/Tunnel Dog Teams: Detect mines, booby-traps, trip wires, tunnel compiles and any other casualty-producing devices. Also assist in searching villages or suspected areas of supplies, weapons and ammunition built up by the enemy.
  • War on terror: Used in the war on terror in various overseas locations.

For more information on job descriptions of working dogs, click here.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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