Dogs can be incredibly smart and comforting animals. While most dog owners depend on their dog for emotional support and companionship, others look to dogs for assistance with disabilities, such as blindness or hearing loss.
Service dogs are specially trained to assist with many types of disabilities. As defined by the American Disabilities Act, a service dog is any dog assisting a person with a disability and the animal must be trained to do a task for the person. Because service dogs are so highly trained, they are allowed to go in many public places, such as restaurants, busses, bathrooms, and even on school and university campuses.
On the other hand, therapy dogs are not considered a service dog by law—nonetheless they still help people. Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and affection to people and are often used in caring facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. While therapy dogs certainly require training to behave in public, service dogs are known for their incredible obedience and multi-step training programs that help shape them into the perfect assistance dog.
“Service dogs have to learn that even though a person who is blind told them to go through a door, they should not go if there is a hazard that could injure their owner,” said Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, clinical assistant professor and faculty advisor for the Aggie Guide Dogs and Service Dogs (AGS) student group at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “The dog disobeying the owner to prevent injury is called ‘intelligent disobedience.’ If a blind person tells the dog to step off the curb because they want to cross the street, but the dog sees a car coming, the dog has to refuse to go. This high-level training makes service dogs unique from other dogs, including therapy dogs.”
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