Service Dog Facts
Why are service dogs helpful to veterans?
Many heroes have two legs, but some have four. For these brave, specialized working dogs, the greatest joy in life comes from partnering with a veteran who needs them. Service dogs make a real difference in helping a veteran cope with Flashbacks, bad dreams, difficulty sleeping, guilt, depression, fear and worry which plague roughly one-third of the men and women who have spent time in war zones from all wars. Many veterans dealing with the crippling effects of PTSD experience hopelessness and fear with no viable solution. In fact, less than 40% of veterans ever seek treatment, and countless others face wait times at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that can stretch into months or years. We believe there is a simple and relatively inexpensive solution that is changing veterans’ lives for the better. This solution comes with four paws, a wet nose, a happy tail and some very specialized training: a veteran service dogs. Veterans who utilize service dogs report lower levels of depression and anxiety, fewer hospitalizations, decrease in medications and numerous other benefits.
What is the difference between service, therapy and emotional support dogs?
First service dogs are very different than emotional support animals, which are different than therapy dogs. Neither, Therapy or Support dogs are allowed the full access protected by the ADA. Therapy dogs can have a variety of jobs, including giving learning-disabled children support to read out loud or visit with people in hospitals or nursing homes. Support animals provide emotional comfort and support to people with psychiatric or other mental health conditions, but have no formal task or skill. Service dogs help people with disabilities perform tasks, which helps the handler attain safety and independence that cannot be achieved by any other means.
Why develop a service dog program specifically for veterans?
An estimated 20% of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have PTSD and/or depression. When Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) are factored into the equation, the percentage of veterans suffering is much higher. Veterans of all past wars have suffered from debilitating symptoms such as severe social anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares and hypervigilance. It is pretty easy to see how a dog can help our brave men and women when so many treatments have failed. Loyalty and trust are the most significant bonds in the military and nothing comes close to that same kind of devotion than that of a dog.
How can a service dog help me?
Life with your four-legged battle buddy will be very different from before. You will find you can enjoy life and activities that you withdrew from before your service trauma. You will go out to dinner, enjoy family and friends without the anxiety that prevented you before. Nightmares will dissipate and you will sleep through the night with a warm K9 partner by your side. You will learn to have fun and live again with your K9 partner. The benefits of partnering with a service dog extend beyond the tasks they perform watching your back, turning on lights, waking from nightmares, picking up items, bringing medications, etc. Beyond the training, these partners offer unconditional support, love and understanding. They help veterans establish schedules and routines through their basic care, feeding and walking requirements. They get them out of their heads and funk, off the couch and participating in life again. And best of all they offer a great distraction through playtime.
What tasks can PSD be trained to perform?
♦ Remind handler to take medication on time
♦ Turn on lights & search a room for intruders
♦ Warm handler’s body during a panic attack
♦ Interrupt repetitive behaviors
♦ Attend to handler during emotional distress
♦ Accompany handler outside of the home
♦ Alert to mania, panic attacks or dissociation
♦ Interrupt dissociative episodes or flashbacks
♦ Hallucination discernment
♦ Mitigate hyper-vigilance and fear
♦ Provide a safe grounding presence
♦ Mitigate paranoia w/reality testing
What makes a service dog different?
Working dogs partnered with veterans aren’t pets. Their specialized status as service dogs permits them to accompany their veterans anywhere general members of the public are allowed, including supermarkets, restaurants and places of entertainment. Service dogs must meet minimum standards of behavior to act appropriately in public and possess training to mitigate their veteran’s disability.
What type of dog makes a good service dog?
Service dogs are chosen for their solid temperaments, calm demeanor, intuitive nature, ability to serve under pressure and focus on their handler/partner. It is often not just the dog that is assessed but the dog and handler to see how deeply they bond so they can more easily alert their veteran to issues such as seizures, migraines or debilitating shifts in mood before the veteran even knows what’s happening. In order to be a service dog with public access, the dog must possess specialized training. Very few dogs are suitable for work as a service dog, and it is difficult to predict a dog’s aptitude or success in a training program. Potential service dogs must be unshakable and calm in all scenarios and situations; dark or crowded or loud environments or intense emotional situations, especially if they will be paired with veterans. They must have a high drive and want to work. Finding the right dog is very difficult, it takes experience, extensive behavioral and temperament testing and often a good amount of luck.
What are the requirements of service dogs?
Service dogs—and their ability to work in public—are protected by federal and state laws. While there are several pieces of service dog legislation, the most well-known is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It defines service dogs, disabilities, public accommodations and many other associated terms. It also provides an exact breakdown of where service dogs may accompany their handler, what businesses may ask of the team if they’re concerned about their legitimacy and basic standards for behavior. Per the ADA, anyone with a diagnosed disability that affects their quality of life in one or more major ways can partner with a service dog, as long as the service dog has individualized training to mitigate the person’s disability. There are two primary requirements for a veteran to have a service dog:
- The veteran must have a diagnosed disability.
- The veteran must receive or train a dog that possesses the proper temperament and aptitude for service dog work to alleviate the effects of that disability.
IMPORTANT: That means a pet dog without proper training is not a service dog. And, people who can have their needs met via other accommodations are also not eligible for a service dog.
How much will this program cost?
Nothing, but owning a dog is costly. You are required to pay for food, treats, veterinary care, medicines, grooming and routine care and gear items/equipment necessary in proper K9 care.
How long will it take?
The length of time depends on several factors:
- Age of dog, temperament of dog, dog’s history
- You and your dog’s ability to learn/train
- Amount of time you spend daily in training (homework)
- Type and complexity of tasks you require your dog to perform to mitigate your disability
- Challenging nature of your home, work, school and other complex environments the K9 team will be exposed to