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The Many Different Roles of a Service Dog

Service dogs have a positive impact on sick children in hospitals, elder people living in retirement or nursing homes, and so many more.  Our wonderfully gifted Canis Lupas (dogs) make it possible for people with disabilities to live as normal life as best they can. 

A Service Dog is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a physical or mental disability. The role of a service dog includes: Hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, seizure responsive dogs, psychiatric/emotional support service dogs, allergy alert dogs, and the list goes on. It can take up to two years for a Service Dog to be fully trained. 

The training process is rigorous, hence the long time it takes for a dog to complete the training. Service Dogs need to be fully focused and free of distractions. Read on for a full list and description of each type of service dog

Types of Service Dogs

A guide dog rests after a long days work in this photo.
Guide Dogs Assist Blind and Visually Impaired People

The Guide Dog is the most commonly known service dog. It assists the blind and visually impaired by helping them get past daily obstacles like curbs, crowds, and steps. Guide dogs even help them cross busy intersections, which is an amazing feature. You can understand why they need such special training.

Guide Dogs have been helping the visually impaired for a very long time, and may go back as far as the Roman Empire times as per the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. 

Hearing Dogs

A mixed terrier is shown looking into the camera on this file photo.
Mixed Terriers are used as Hearing Service Dogs

Hearing dogs assist hearing-impaired by alerting them of things they cannot hear like doorbells, alarms, infants crying, people calling their name, door knocking, oven timers, cars approaching.

PADS, in British Columbia and the Lions Club, in Ontario, are the only two official hearing service dog training program providers in Canada.  The wait time is two-plus years to get a dog from one of these programs.

The dog should receive daily and continuous training, as well as lots of affection. Therefore, the dog’s abilities will be maintained.

Daily dog hearing training is essential as this will make sure the dog does not forget what it is supposed to be doing, along with love and affection. 

Small mixed breeds from shelters, such as Terrier mixes, Chihuahuas, and Shih Tzus, have been selected for their personality and temperament. As such, they have been great in the role of hearing dogs.

Mobility Assistance Dogs

This is an illustration of a woman in a wheelchair with her accompanying service dog beside her.
Mobility Assistance Dog

The Mobility Assistance Dog is tasked with assisting those with spinal cord injuries, arthritis, brain injuries, and muscular dystrophy.  There are many breeds that are selected for this role. But it depends on the handler’s size, so, it is essential that the dog is large enough to support their human handler.

This type of service dog will bring things to their handler, as well as press buttons on automatic doors, help pull a wheelchair up a ramp and act as a brace for those that suffer from balance and strength issues. These dogs can assist with transportation like getting into a car, or bus, even airplanes.

While the dog is there to help you in your day to day activities, a handler must give them lots of love and affection.  It is very important to reward the dog with treats, reassurance, playtime, and encouragement. Praise them for their assistance and continue with consistent training. Most importantly, make sure the dog gets plenty of time for fun games and affection.

The Mobility Assistance Dog typically benefits those people who suffer from the following disabilities

  • Arthritis
  • Brain injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Coordination problems
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gait difficulties
  • Impaired balance
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • A neurological, cardiac or metabolic disorder
  • Spina bifida
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Vertigo

Diabetic Alert Dogs

The DAD (Diabetic alert dogs) are trained to detect low blood sugar levels before they become dangerous to their handler. They do this through smell. There are different distinct smells that come with different blood sugar levels. The training takes about 3-4 months.

The dog will let their handler know if something is wrong with the blood sugar by touching them with their nose or putting a paw on their lap, therefore a person will know to test their blood, inject insulin, or to consume a dose of glucose before his or her blood levels get dangerous.

Seizure Alert Dogs

Girl laying down with her dog in a  garden is shown in this photo.
Seizure Alert Dogs will lie down next to their handler to prevent injury

These service dogs are trained to be able to react to a specific type of behavior right before someone is about to have a seizure. The seizure alert dog is somewhat controversial as some neurology experts say there is no real evidence proving that these dogs can predict seizures. 

There are several families, trainers, and patients that are adamant that their dogs accurately predict their oncoming seizures.

The SAD has a list of things the guide dog can do when someone is about to have a seizure.

  • Lie next to their handler to prevent injury 
  • Activate a preprogrammed device like an alarm with a pedal 
  • Break their handlers fall by placing themselves between the floor and their handler
  • Alert family members 

Seizure Response Dogs

A Golden Retriever looks into the camera in this photo.
Golden Retrievers are used a Seizure Response Dogs

Seizure response dogs assist their handlers in dangerous and frightening events that are associated with a seizure.  They also provide constant companionship with unconditional support, love, and friendship to their handler. 

Numerous people with epilepsy and people that experience seizures cannot live normal lives and these dogs provide just that and more to their handlers.  You can safely say that these dogs are life changers and savers for those who suffer from seizures. 

All Dogs Are Not Created Equal

Not all dogs can be trained to be a seizure response dog. Luckily, there are many that can.  The nature of these dogs should be calm, gentle and highly trained in obedience, like a German Shepherd.  The dogs should not be aggressive or shy as they are dealing with people all day and taking care of their handlers.  

The seizure response dogs are trained to assist their handler during and after he/she had had a seizure.  Their jobs include pulling wheelchairs, turning lights on and off, taking clothes off by tugging at them and retrieving and open/close doors.  That being said, the dog must be big enough to do the job, but not too big so that the handler has difficulty with their service dog.  

These dogs are also trained to stand beside their handler during a seizure to catch and break their fall. Seizure response dogs can be trained to press alarm buttons or other pre-programmed devices that call for help, bark to alert caregivers that their handler is having a seizure. 

Psychiatric/Emotional Support Service Dogs

A soldier kisses the head of a black companion dog in this picture.
PTSD Dogs provide support people who have served in combat

These are the dogs that help support people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  This is a relatively new service dog, and they are known to speed up recovery and reduce the use of medications. 

These types of service dogs assist people who are suffering from issues like anxiety, depression, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and most often post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can affect people after they’ve served in combat, worked as a first responder, or experienced abuse, natural disasters, terrorism and other life-altering events, such as accidents. 

People with these disorders can now feel hyper-vigilant about their safety, and service dogs can make them feel safer by doing things like entering the home before their handler and turning on the lights with a foot pedal. These dogs can also help PTSD sufferers who feel overwhelmed in public places by creating a physical barrier between the handler and others, giving the handler more personal space.

Many PTSD sufferers find that having a service dog to care for forces them to also take care of themselves, by getting exercising with their dog and getting out into the world again. To sum up, they really help their human.

Autism Support Dogs

A boy is carrying his support dog in this file photo.
Children with Autism can really benefit from a Support Dog

Children with Autism need support and companionship.  This support dog gives children companionship and a strong bond. Autistic children have a very difficult time being social with other people, especially those with Asperger Syndrome.  These dogs will accompany them to school, be the icebreaker and, to sum up, make them feel more comfortable in social situations.  

These children have a very hard time sleeping at night and if they do fall asleep they can wake up in the middle of the night and become scared.  Having a support dog will help with that as the dog will sleep with the child and be there if he/she wakes up in the middle of the night. Therefore, this gives the child comfort and helps them with anxiety. 

The Autism support dog is highly trained to stop children from running away, wandering or leaving the house without telling their parents.  Autism support dogs are trained in tracking so they can find their handler. The dogs are also trained in disruption, and interruption of certain behaviors.

FASD Service Dogs

Little girl walking her dog down the road with her service dog in this photo.
Dogs Assist children who have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum

FASD what is that?  FASD is a disability and a birth defect. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, is caused by alcohol being ingested during pregnancy. Sadly, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder service dogs are on the rise. 

These children can have mental, physical disorders, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. FASD can help them in many ways. The training includes behavior disruption and interruption.  The child’s parent gives the dog-specific commands. They ask the dog to interact with their child. The dogs assist the child by disrupting a specific behavior, repetitive behavior and coming in between their compulsive thought patterns.  

These children can have the same characteristics as a child with autism, like running away, wander, leaving the house without telling anyone, and have limited to no sense of danger that may be waiting for them. FASD dogs have highly trained abilities in both tetherings as well as tracking. They also have intense scent training and are therefore able to locate indoors and outdoors. 

Allergy Detection Dogs

Picture of a dog's nose as the dog rests in this photo.
Dogs can sniff out ingredients that people are allergic to

Allergy Detection Dogs are a good thing, with allergies on the rise. These dogs are used by people with severe allergies, which will often cause them to go into anaphylactic shock.  These dogs can sniff out ingredients like nuts(all types), gluten, milk, eggs, soy, wheat or any other ingredient.

In short, the highly-trained dog can search the environment and alert to any residue that can cause its handler to go into anaphylaxis. These dogs are often assigned to children. And they accompany them to school so they can alert them of any allergy inducing smells. Therefore, this makes the parents more at ease knowing that the dog is looking out for the child, and it also makes the child feel more independent.


What breeds make good Service Dogs for physically disabled people?

Labradors and Retrievers make great Service Dogs. These dogs fall under the category of working dogs and are easy to train.

What breeds make good Hearing Dogs?

Mixed breeds make up a majority of Hearing Dogs. Most people request small to medium dogs. Service hearing dogs are often terriers and mixed terrier breeds. Along with various combinations of Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and Chihuahuas.

Why shouldn’t a Service Dog be Protective?

The Service Dog is there to help people get through their day to day activities, not to be protectors but rather, assistants.  They take their handlers out in public where there are a lot of people. Distractions such as attempting to protect its handler could actually cause a life-threatening situation for the handler.

Are Guide Dogs Required to Wear a Vest?

Guide dogs are not required to wear a vest as a part of their duties, by the letter of the law that is. However, you will see them wearing a special harness with a handle. The harness is easily identifiable. It is quite different from a standard harness and leash you might find at the pet store. It is therefore like having a special dog uniform.


  • The Lions Foundation of Canada-Dog Guides-
  • Epilepsy Foundation
  • Service Dogs Canada-

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