First, lets hear it for all the dogs out there who assist people on a daily basis with personal physical issues, plus those dogs who provide support in hospitals and nursing homes.  This article touches on the different types of service dogs and what they do.

At anytime in my life when I heard the words “dumb dog” whether on t.v. or from an actual person, I thought that I would just lose it. With all the things that dogs do when given the chance, I can’t imagine why anyone would question a dog’s intelligence.

We all know what a difference dogs make in the everyday lives of those of us without limitations. But, I wanted to share with you the difference that assistance dogs make in the lives of those with disabilities including special needs children.

From what I understand, there is a distinct difference between the categories according to the ADA (American With Disabilities Act of 1990):

  • Therapy Dogs are trained to provide comfort and affection to those in nursing homes, hospitals, disaster areas, etc. These dogs do not have the same rights as Service Dogs.
  • Service Dogs a.k.a. Assistance Dogs are trained to to provide assistance and perform tasks for a person with a physical or mental disability. However, according to there were several key revisions made to the definition of “service dog” and “service animal” on July 23, 2010.

These furry helpers are so impressive!

The Different Categories

  • Seeing Eye Dogs or Guide Dogs – These dogs are literally the eyes for the blind. They are trained to guide and navigate blind and visually impaired people, providing them easier access to the world around them. The most popular breeds that serve as seeing eye dogs are Labrador retrievers and Golden Retrievers. These dogs learn to ignore distractions, avoid obstacles and maneuver sidewalks, stairs and streets. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal to deny seeing eye dogs for the blind access to ANY public place. This holds true for Britain, Canada and most other countries as well.
  • Signal and Hearing Dogs – Trained to assist the deaf by alerting them to a large range of sounds such as doorbells, smoke alarms, alarm clocks, timers, babies and even peoples names. Here’s and example of how the hearing dog signals his owner: If someone rings the doorbell, the dog will approach his owner, then run to the door alerting him that someone rang the bell or knocked. He will do this until his owner reacts to the sound. Yep, amazing!

Hearing and signal dogs also have the same rights as guide dogs here in the U.S. and they are permitted in any public place with their guardian.

  • Mobility Assistance Dogs – O.k., now these guys are really incredible too! They are trained to do things like push buttons, pick things up, pull wheel chairs, open and close doors, retrieve items, load and unload the washing machine, call an ambulance and many more tasks.
  • Seizure Alert/Response Dogs – a.k.a. Medical Alert Dogs, these guys are trained to alert the person to an oncoming seizure. They are trained to respond by either staying with the person or getting help.
  • Medical Alert Dogs – These support dogs are trained to alert to approaching medical problems such as heart attacks, seizures (as mentioned above), diabetic issues such as hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic attacks, panic and anxiety attacks, post traumatic stress attacks and more.
  • Autism Service Dogs – These incredible assistance dogs can be a real blessing to those with autism and the parents of autistic kids. They can be trained to find help, keep kids from wandering into streets or traffic, alert the child when his name is being called, guide the child home should he become lost. Plus, the relationship between child and dog offers the capability of controlling outbursts such as anger, mood swings and aggression. shares great detail on how service dogs can help autistic children.

Do you have a dog that you think could be a therapy dog?

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Showing 9 comments
  • Tyler Bressem

    im anemic and i have occasional bouts of exhaustion that cause me to pass out anf/or fall over. i have a dog currently, but he is not a qualifying service dog. if i were to look for a place to get a service dog, where should i look? do i qualify for a service dog?

    • janie

      Hi Tyler:

      I wish I could positively say that you qualify for a service dog, but I can’t. I would start by calling some place like Medical Service Dogs and see if they can help or at least point you in the right direction.

      I hope this helps and good luck to you.

      Warm regards,

  • Ashlyn

    i am anemic and i frequently pass out due to my anemia although i do take my iron supplements i still have issues with passing out also i have been raised with dogs and i absolutely love them i also believe that one would help me emotionally but everywhere i search i cant find a straight answer do i qualify for a service dog?

    • janie

      Hi Ashlyn:

      I’m really not sure if you qualify for a service dog or not. I’m not the one to ask.

      I would get in touch with one of the service dog agencies and ask them.


  • gerald kiefer

    There is a lady that frequents a restaurant with a service. It is not an assistance dog. She feeds it on a blanket on the floor. Sometimes she holds it up by the table. Not very appetizing.The restaurant allows assistance dogs. Is she right in doing this. Thanks

    • admin

      Hi Gerald:
      I guess because I’m a huge dog lover (not that my dogs eat from the table of course) it probably wouldn’t bother me giving that she is probably extremely close to her dog. Restaurants can’t discriminate against service dogs and it’s the law that they allow the disabled and their service dogs into their establishments. I’m not quite clear on what you mean when you say “she holds it up by the table”. Do you mean she’s holding the dog on her lap and feeding him from a plate on the table?


  • MaryBeth

    I have a beautiful 4 year old black Labrador service dog named Tanner. I am a wheelchair user and Tanner assists me with daily tasks such as retrieving dropped items, light switches, closing doors and more. He is quite sociable. I have begun to wonder if we could make visits to hospitals and rehabilitation facilities to bring encouragement. I think that could be an activity we would both enjoy.

    Would it be too confusing for Tanner to switch roles between being “my service dog” and a “therapeutic greeter”?

    I also have an interest in producing a book to teach children about service dogs. Do you have any ideas about resources that might assist with publishing?

    Any advice or assistance you could offer will be appreciated.

    Thank you very much.

    • admin

      Hi Mary Beth:
      Although I’m not real familiar with the actual training involved for training a personal service dog to work as a therapy dog, I’m sure it can be done.

      Dogs are so intelligent and I’m certain that with the right training, you can eliminate any confusion on the part of the dog. I think it would be a good idea for you to check out the following article since this dog owner’s personal service dog is also a therapy dog in classrooms, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.

      In reference to publishing resources, I would highly recommend checking out this article:
      6 Ways To Publish Your Own Book.

      Hope this helps.
      Janie 😮

pingbacks / trackbacks
  • […] Sixth on the list of 10 best dog tricks: Seeing eye dogs are the eyes for the blind, while signal and hearing dogs alert the deaf. Mobility assistance dogs are really incredible by helping dial phones, load/unload washing machines, retrieve items, pull wheel chairs, etc. Seizure alert dogs actually alert dog owners that a seizure is coming on. Medical alert dogs alert dog owners that a heart attack, seizure or diabetic attack is approaching. Autism service dogs keep autistic children from wandering from home; they get help if the child does, let the child know that his name is being called and so on. Read more about service dogs. […]

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