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What is a Service Dog?

I recently saw a dog wearing a vest, a special harness and its handler had a white cane. They both went into a restaurant together where the aroma was very inviting. When the door opened and tried to enter, the hostess told me, “I’m sorry, only service dogs are allowed.” That’s when I decided to do some research on these service dogs!

A service dog is a dog that has been trained to assist a person who has a disability. The purpose of the service dog is to help their “person” live a more independent life. A “disability” may be a mobility issues such as paralysis or a sensory loss such as blindness or hearing loss or something such as diabetes, autism, PTSD, or a variety of other neurological, physical or mental diagnoses. In order to qualify for a service dog, an individual must have a disability that limits the ability to perform at least one major life task independently. The service dog for that person must demonstrate that it is able to assist with the performance of that life task. The American Disabilities Act mandates that an individual and his/her service dog are allowed access to places that are off limits for pets. This means that they are allowed on public transportation, in apartments, hotels, restaurants, medical facilities, schools, and other public and private buildings.

dog sitting next to person in wheelchair
Image courtesy of Google Clip Art

The training for a service dog is a lengthy and arduous process. Each service dog is highly trained to complete specific tasks, to stay focused on their “person” and to ignore all distractions. Training can require as long as 1-2 years. This is a factor in why obtaining a service dog can be expensive and also why there is typically a waiting period to get a dog. Several nationally recognized organizations are known for their programs in training service dogs. Some of the better known include: Guide Dogs for the Blind, Canine Companions for Independence, and National Hearing Dog Center. Click this link to learn more about a local reporter, Monica Laliberte, and her involvement with Canine Companions for Independence.

dog helping a person in a wheelchair go shopping
Photo courtesy of

There are many other training centers and experienced trainers in all 50 states including North Carolina. You can research the Internet for specific types of training and locations.

If you are considering training your dog to become a service dog, check this link to get some basic information about how to go about that process.

For some additional reading about service dogs, the roles they have, and their lives, go to the Lesson Overviews page on the Kids 4 Critters web site and look for the Recommended Reading List which includes books about service dogs.

Just a reminder, if you encounter a service dog and their “person”, REMEMBER, the service dog is working and you should not pet the dog or do things to distract the dog. Their purpose is to stay focused and be ready to assist their “person” at all times.

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