Updated: Oct 17, 2021
All the amazing ways dogs improve human life
Dogs have many amazing abilities that surpass what we humans can do, and dogs can use these abilities to help us overcome disabilities, keep us safe, solve crimes, make us feel better and so much more. Read on to learn about all the different ways dogs improve our lives.
A service animal is any animal that is trained to do specific tasks for its handler that the handler can not perform themselves or that would be difficult for the handler to perform (ADA National Network). Service animals can have different facilitators (the person who gives the dog commands and cares for them). A service animals facilitator can be the person for whom they are performing tasks, a parent or caretaker if the person benefiting from the animal cannot take care of the animal themselves (a child or mental disability), or the service animal can be facilitated by a professional in a workplace, such as a physical therapist or forensic interviewer offices, where the dog performs tasks for many different people that utilize their services (Canine Companions for Independence). The term "service dog" also encompasses guide dogs, hearing dogs, medical alert dogs, and more!
A guide dog performs the task of sight for its handler to guide the handler to certain objects (such as chairs, doorways, stairs, elevators, curbs, etc.), maneuver around objects, and protect the handler from situations like walking into the road (without the all-clear determined by the handler’s hearing) or walking into the path of a moving car. Guide dogs learn something called ‘intelligent disobedience’ which means the guide dog will disobey a command given by the handler if it would put them in danger such as walking out into traffic. Guide dogs also learn to stop for all changes in elevation such as at the top and bottom of stairs and for overhead obstacles like branches. A common misconception about guide dogs is that they ‘guide’ themselves. The handler actually gives commands to tell the guide dog where to lead them to in terms of objects or to follow a sidewalk or person that is leading the way. Guide dogs also cannot read traffic signals so they rely on the handler to tell them when it is safe for them to lead the way across (Guide Dogs for the Blind).
Hearing dogs provide the task of hearing for their handler. Hearing dogs are trained to physically alert their handlers to sounds like doorbells, fire alarms, a crying baby, alarm clocks, ringing phones, and timers. In appropriate situations, they will also lead their handler to the noise. Outside of the home, a handler can observe more detail about their surroundings through their hearing dog’s cues which can alert them to threats like oncoming cars (American Kennel Club).
Medical Alert Dogs
Medical alert dogs are trained to smell chemical changes in the human body. They can be specifically trained to detect certain chemical changes specific to the handler’s medical needs. In the case of allergy detection, the dog is trained to smell harmful substances to their handler’s health.
Handlers with diabetes benefit from their medical alert dog through the dog’s ability to sense chemical changes through scent, specifically the raising or lowering of their blood sugar. When the handler’s blood sugar gets low the alert from their dogs allows them to consume food to raise their blood sugar and if their blood sugar gets too high the alert allows them to take an insulin shot. These diabetes alert dogs allow their handlers diabetes to be more manageable and work to prevent hyper and hypoglycemia in their handlers which can be deadly (Canine Partners for Life).
Handlers with epilepsy have medical alert dogs who through scent detection alert to oncoming seizures through chemical changes in the body. These alerts allow the handlers to prepare for the seizure by getting into a safer position or area and prevent injury related to falls. An amazing fact is that dogs can detect seizures up to an hour before they occur (Canine Partners for Life)!
Cardiac alert dogs are able to detect impending blood pressure drops which allow the handler to prepare or try to prevent loss of consciousness by taking medication or laying down (Canine Partners for Life).
Allergy detection dogs do not detect a chemical change in a person’s body like other medical alert dogs which makes them their own subsection. Allergy detection dogs actually detect the odor of the allergen, not the onset of anaphylactic shock, which allows the handler to avoid the substance and prevent anaphylactic shock (Allergen Detection Service Dogs).
Mobility service dogs assist handlers with physical disabilities. Their tasks can include pulling their handler in their wheelchair, retrieving objects from counters or that were dropped on the floor, opening and closing doors, drawers and fridges, pressing buttons for things like elevators and even things like transferring money and receipts during a purchase! Basically, a mobility dog can complete many tasks that are difficult or impossible for their handler to complete to increase their independence and reduce their reliance on others (Canine Companions for Independence).
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Psychiatric service dogs are able to help a variety of conditions including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, autism, panic attacks, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder through tasks that prevent and treat a range of symptoms of these conditions. These tasks include waking up their handler who is having a nightmare, facilitating social interactions for their handlers who may feel distress or anxiety in these situations, calm down and ground their handler who is distressed, create safe personal space, balance assistance, disruption of emotional overload, and many more. An example of preventing symptoms is a PSD can interrupt signs of stress and anxiety-like fidgeting and tapping of the foot to reduce the
chance of it rising into a panic attack. An example of treatment of symptoms is tactile stimulation and deep pressure therapy that dogs can be trained to do to calm their handler who is experiencing distress from things like flashbacks and panic attacks. PSD’s tasks are very specialized to their handlers specific condition, symptoms, and needs (Medical Mutts).
Other Jobs for Dogs
The below jobs can be a dog’s original goal, or some dogs who are training in programs to be service dogs can be career changed to these types of jobs for various reasons. A dog may be unable to fulfill the duties of a service animal because of a medical condition, behavioral issue it cannot overcome, or conflicting personality. Many dogs in the career paths below started out as puppies in training for different service dog pathways!
Law Enforcement Dogs
There are tons of different scents that dogs can detect that humans cannot. We have already talked about the medical alert dogs that are trained to detect chemical changes in the body and that smell allergens, but there are many other smells that dogs detect that help humans enforce the law and rescue people. Dogs can use their amazing sense of smell to alert their handlers to bombs, accelerants that started fires, dead bodies, drugs, hiding persons, different species of endangered animals, dried blood, and so much more. Dogs can also use their smell to follow trails to track suspects, missing persons, or other targets. Search and Rescue dogs smell out survivors and alert personnel to free them or if able, the dog is trained to free the person themselves (Dog Law Reporter)
Therapy dogs provide psychological and physiological therapy to people but differ from service dogs because therapy dogs are encouraged to be petted and interact with people other than their handler whereas a service dog should be interacted with because their job is to solely focus on their disabled handler and interference could cause harm to their handler. Therapy dogs provide comfort to people in places like nursing and retirement homes, schools, and hospitals. Therapy dogs receive less training than service animals but are registered with a therapy dog program that certifies them to enter establishments to provide their therapy. Therapy dogs can help give children the confidence to read aloud at school, give comfort to a terminally ill patient in a hospital, or bring happiness and companionship to a lonely resident at a nursing home (Alliance of Therapy Dogs)
Last but not least, dogs have the ability to be our best friends! Pets bring joy to our lives. They make us laugh, give us responsibility, allow us to feel love as a caregiver, and comfort us. They give us companionship. Some owners enjoy bringing their dog to every pet-friendly place they go, on runs, hikes, to the beach, etc. And some owners benefit from their beloved pet by having them as someone to come home to and enjoy spending time with after a long day at work. Dogs are always happy to see us, they make us feel needed. They all around make our life better even if they aren’t performing specific tasks because they bring happiness.