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  • Writer's pictureDenise Weller

Service Dogs, Our Amazing Four-Legged Friends

Service dogs provide support, companionship, care, and love to their humans, helping them function daily. For centuries, dogs have been our best friends. They’re non-judgmental, devoted, and love us unconditionally. Loyal and obedient, they are protective of their pack and consider their human part of it.

How Service Dogs Help With PTSD

Many innate qualities make dogs the perfect companions to help veterans dealing with PTSD, and they will watch over their partners day and night. When trained to recognize indicators of panic and anxiety, they will act to calm and soothe their human by hugging or snuggling next to them. And if they sense their charge may be hurting themselves, they intervene using their paws or body to protect their human from self-injury.

Our Four-legged Friend to the Rescue.

Let's highlight the service dog's training for PTSD and nightmares. Many veterans experience exhaustion due to sleepless nights caused by reliving traumatic events from the past in the form of nightmares. To escape the nightmares, their choice is not to sleep or take medication that allows them to sleep but also locks them in the nightmare, unable to awake and save themselves from reliving whatever horror haunts them.

Service dogs, as already noted, are trained to detect a veteran's physical signs of anxiety and distress. They also learn to recognize symptoms of sleep disorders, including narcolepsy, sleep apnea, sleepwalking, nightmares, and debilitating night terrors. At night the service dog will lay near to or with the veteran providing comfort and support. When indications are that the veteran is in a full-blown nightmare, the service dog will intervene by waking them so they know they are safe. Waking the veteran in distress is just one of many tasks the Service Dog is trained to execute and will intervene to wake and keep their handler safe by gently nudging or licking.

What's the Definition of a Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, and Therapy Dogs - And What's the Difference?

A service animal has been trained and certified to work with people with disabilities and perform tasks for them as needed.

Many animals bring us comfort, their companionship often filling a void. They may also play an equally important role for someone who needs emotional support. Comfort animals are our pets, and we love them but don't confuse them with trained Service Dogs. Our pets do not receive the necessary training to execute tasks needed by a disabled person. They, therefore, cannot be certified as a support animals.

And By the Way, Only Dogs Can be Certified As Support Animal

Not cats, not pigs, snakes or kangaroos - or any other crazy animal you might come up with.

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) states in Titles ll and lll that effective March 15, 2011, only dogs can be recognized as service animals. The ADA further indicate that:

  • A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.

  • Generally, Title II (which relates to state and local government), and T (which refers to public accommodations and commercial facilities), determines that entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.

When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only two inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask:

#1 Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and

#2 What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

The reply to question #2 must affirm that the service dog has been trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability.

Keep in mind a business can only ask these questions if the need for a service dog is not obvious. A service dog accompanying someone with PTSD would be an example. If the disability is apparent for example, in the case of a dog pulling a wheelchair, the ADA restricts even these questions from being asked.


But My dog Gives Me Needed Emotional Support, Doesn't That Count?

Although your pet provides comfort and emotional support, under ADA rules Emotional Support Animals are not trained to perform a specific job or task for a person with a disability and therefore do not qualify as service dogs.

To Be Crystal Clear - Further clarification from the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section states,

“If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.”

OK, What About Therapy Dogs?

Therapy Dogs provide comfort, affection, and interaction on a volunteer basis in various settings, including hospitals, assisted living center residents, schools, and other situations where well-trained dogs are welcome. Therapy dogs are also used to relieve stress and bring comfort to victims of traumatic events or disasters. They are trained, certified, and wear a vest that identifies them as a Therapy Dog. As such, they are trained and welcome to go anywhere that is dog friendly.

What is the Cost of a Service Dog?

The average cost of a service dog is around $15,000-$30,000 upfront. Some can even cost upwards of $50,000, depending on their specific tasks and responsibilities.

Organizations that Provide Service Dogs for Vets.

Several organizations provide Service Dogs to Veterans and others. One of these is America's VetDogs. There is an application process, and if you meet their requirements, all services are provided at no cost to you including your dog, transportation to and from their campus in Smithtown, New York, instruction, and more.

Click here to see a thorough list of Organizations. There are 62 organizations listed here. I'm sorry to say that I don't know who created this list when it was last updated, but if you are serious about a Service Dog, this is a great place to start.

What Breeds Make the Best Service Dogs? What Characteristics Should They have?

Should be:

  • intelligent and easy-going

  • People pleasers

  • Easy to train

  • Attentive and responsive to their owners’ needs

  • Able to remain calm around crowds, other animals, loud noises, and traffic

  • Capable of socialization in many different situations and environments

  • Reliable to perform repetitive tasks

According to the American Kennel Club, below are the breeds that typically meet these requirements.

  • Collie

  • Poodle

  • Bernese Mountain Dog

  • Labrador Retriever

  • Great Dane

  • Golden Retriever

  • German Shepheard


VA Pilot Program to Provide Service Dogs

Veterans With PTSD

Despite research showing that Service Dogs reduce their veteran's PTSD symptoms the VA has historically declined to include the cost of Service Dogs for PTSD among their veteran services. On August 25, 2021, President Biden signed the PAWS Act, authorizing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program on dog training therapy that will provide dog-training skills and service dogs to veterans.

What Does the PAWS Bill Call For?

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act of 2021 (PAWS) bill, S. 951, sets up a grant program for service dog organizations that provide trained dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD or TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). This bill and its companion bill, H.R. 1022, establish a three-year pilot program administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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