Most people are familiar with guide dogs that assist people who are blind or have partial vision loss. There a variety of service dogs that also help those impacted by hearing loss, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, psychiatric illnesses, diabetes and many more medical conditions. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “service dogs are specially trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities.”

Seizure alert/seizure response dogs respond to epileptic seizures. They can be trained to pull emergency cords, lick their owner’s face to arouse their owner or retrieve their phone or push the call button for 911. Dogs can be trained to help with other chronic medical conditions such as heart attacks, stroke and panic attacks. Some dogs have the ability to predict a medical event such as seizure and detect changes in blood sugar. These dogs will become restless or push against their partner to warn them.

Service dogs provide true companionship and an invaluable sense of security. Assistance dogs have a long history. It was Florence Nightingale that pioneered the idea of animal-assisted therapy. She started using dogs to relieve the anxiety of patients with psychiatric issues. Sigmund Freud also used dogs in his work to put patients at ease and help them open up.

Elaine Smith a registered nurse working in an English hospital noticed that visits from a chaplain’s Golden Retriever was lifting patients’ spirits. That memory stayed with her when she returned to New Jersey. In 1976, she founded Therapy Dogs International — the world’s first organization for testing and certifying dogs and their volunteer handlers to visit hospitals, nursing homes and disaster relief shelters.

If you have a medical condition, think about a service dog.

The ADA mandates that service dogs must have full public access rights, which means they are allowed to go places where other animals are not allowed. They can be brought into restaurants, stores, libraries and other public spaces. They must be permitted in housing, even if other pets are not allowed. Service dogs are also allowed on airplanes and other public transport. Each airline has its own rules regarding service dogs. Most require that the dog sit on the traveler’s lap or at their feet. Dogs cannot block the aisle or sit in the emergency exit row. Service dogs are exempt from the pet fees that airlines charge. Check with your airline. There is no uniform state or national rules that regulate and certify service dogs. Every organization has different guidelines. As a general rule, service dogs should be trained, insured, and licensed by the nonprofit that’s offering their services.

Emotional support dogs (ESA) are not considered service dogs under the ADA. “They may be trained for a specific owner, but they are not trained for specific tasks or duties to aid a person with a disability, and this is the main difference between ESAs and service dogs. Unlike service dogs owners, ESA owners have only limited legal rights and those typically require a letter of diagnosis from the owner’s doctor or psychiatrist. While they don’t have unlimited access to public spaces, the Fair Housing Act mandates ‘reasonable accommodations’ for emotional support animals even in buildings that don’t allow pets. As of January 2021, airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals.”

The best breeds for assistance dogs:

Labrador retriever

Golden retriever



French bulldog




German shepherd

Border collie


Yorkshire terrier

Cavalier King Charles




Great Danes

Bernese mountain

Portuguese water

{h3}Some types of service dogs{/h3}

Allergy detection. These dogs are specially trained to detect and alert to the odor of allergens, such as peanuts, gluten or eggs.

Autism service

Diabetic alert



Mobility assistance

Psychiatric service

Seizure alert

What to consider before you bring home a new dog:

Will you own your dog or does the agency retain ownership?

How much does it cost? Some agencies offer the dog for free and the others may charge you more than $15,000.

Can I train my own dog?

Are there application fees?

Do I need a note from my doctor explaining my condition?

How long is the training? It can take weeks to months.

Owning any animal is a serious commitment. Remember there will be daily care and a financial responsibility. This may be pale in comparison to the new freedom, security and companionship you receive or experience with your new friend.



Source:, Vince Faust