- Ahlaysia Benders
How Can A Service Dog Be Helpful
Updated: Mar 2
Service dogs do more than perform tasks! They can change the outcome of people's lives.
The Purpose of a service dog
When considering a variety of treatment plans, the use of a service dog is not often considered because there is not always clarity on the ways in which they can be helpful. Overall, service dogs provide their handler with a source of support and reliability while they manage their health and wellness. But the ways in which they do so are important to understand in order to make a smart decision on if having a service dog is right for you.
If your disability leaves you needing help with everyday needs that a dog can reasonably perform for you given the right training, then a service dog might help you. In fact, this is called task work. Tasks are essential services that are different from regular tricks or commands because they serve the direct purpose of managing a disability. Examples of tasks include guiding, alerting to sounds, or retrieving items. If you find yourself needing assistance day to day, then a service dog might be helpful in this department.
Fortunately, The abundance of jobs service dogs can be trained for allows them to be helpful to someone regardless of their specific disability, and because of this, all tasks are different and serve different purposes. There are mobility tasks, psychiatric tasks, alert tasks, and medical tasks, ensuring that there is virtually always at least one task guaranteed to aid you in managing your disability.
Structure and Purpose
Having a sense of purpose and structure in life is important, but having a disability can make it difficult. This is because ableism often makes everyday life inhospitable for disabled people due to the lack of accessibility. However, the accessibility that having a service dog provides, often helps open up the number of opportunities disabled people have to participate in aspects of life that were formerly difficult or impossible. This can include, jobs, relationships, or simply the ability to go outside and run errands. This helps provide a sense of purpose for many because they are finally able to curate a life of their choosing.
Additionally, for those with psychiatric or emotional impairments, having a service dog in itself often provides a sense of structure and purpose because of the amount of care and training required to have one. Struggling with mental health issues often leads to isolation and a lack of motivation and this can be difficult to overcome even with the use of other medical aids such as therapy or medication. However, we often overcome our own issues when it is time to provide support or resources to another living being because it provides us with motivation that is outside of our own needs ( especially if we love dogs). For many, this means being able to get out of bed in the morning because you need to walk your service dog, or keeping a consistent routine during the first two years of training because your dog's success in training depends on you being consistent and reliable. While this is not task work, it is one of the pros of having a service dog.
Alternative / adaptable approach
Being disabled often means needing more traditional forms of medical care such as medications, nurse aids, or other medical resources. However, these are not always the best options for everyone. Traditional treatment plans are not always reliable or comprehensive enough to fit the needs of all people. This can be due to a number of issues such as side effects from medications that require extra treatment, lengthy time commitments due to extensive medical appointments, or a lack of privacy or independence due to the support you need from others. And sometimes, there simply are not enough medical resources at your disposal due to a lack of understanding of your condition. A service dog can provide an alternative solution for these issues.
Examples of this are often seen in service dogs who perform tasks such as alert work and can sense oncoming episodes that the handler otherwise would not have been able to accurately prevent or manage without the dog's warning. For those with psychiatric needs, their service dog can manage their episodes in a way that therapy and medication can not do day to day through the use of tasks such as pressure therapy, or by simply keeping the handler safe during periods of distress. And for those with medical or mobility needs, such as deafness, POTS, arthritis, or Ehlers-danlos syndrome, that may require physical help that is usually provided by another person, a service dog can fill in and perform physical task work that replaces the constant need of relying on others.
Most importantly, service dogs can be trained to meet the specific needs of an individual handler whereas other forms of traditional medicine are usually a catchall that focuses on solving the larger issue at hand instead of day-to-day issues caused by the disability. The ability to curate a service dog's training helps the handler tailor their treatment plan in a way they feel suits their lifestyle best.