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The ways dogs make a difference to our lives: various types of assistance dogs

Updated on March 25, 2013

Picture this: a dog lies patiently under a bus seat. At the next stop, a man prepares to get off. With one motion, the service dog guides him quietly, and skillfully off the bus.

Sounds like a scene out of Hachiko, but dogs like these certainly ARE out there.

The dawning of yet another year has made me think about how some people would go the extra mile to make a small difference in the lives of others. Then I remembered my pet love, dogs, and how these winsome paragons of loyalty ( and yes, smelliness) effortlessly and wholeheartedly can make significant differences in our lives as well.

Indeed, dogs can make a difference in our lives. They complete people in so many ways, with their keen senses, intelligence and most of all, hearts of gold. As a matter of fact, many would find it very difficult to cope without the assistance of these dogs.

Dogs render their help in many ways. Here are some examples of how dogs lend an oft taken for granted hand to us. This writer will also make some suggestions as to how we can get a pet dog to assist us if we need help in certain areas.


Making the distinction

There are many types of assistance and service dogs and it is quite important to make the distinction between these great canines.

Assistance dogs

Assistance dogs is the umbrella term to describe dogs who provide assistance in various ways. As defined by Wikipedia:

An assistance dog is a dog trained to help a person with a disability in daily life. Many are trained by a specific organization, while others are trained by their handler.”

There are three types of these:

Guide dogs : Like the dog in the introduction of this article, these dogs are trained to provide assistance to the visually impaired.

Service dogs : As defined by the ADI website:

”Service Dogs assist disabled people by retrieving objects that are out of their reach, by pulling wheelchairs, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking for alert, finding another person, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance and many other individual tasks as needed by a disabled person.”

Hearing or Signal Dogs : These dogs are trained to provide assistance to the hearing impaired in matters like retrieving objects when they are dropped or in answering the phone.

There is another category of dogs that provide us with much needed help, and these are therapy dogs. However, whereas assistance dogs such as the ones above receive legal protection a therapy dog does not provide direct assistance in the ways stated above.

As defined by Wikipedia:

“A therapy dog refers to a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools, and stressful situations such as disaster areas.”

A therapy dog provides emotional help to those with mental impairments, but is not specifically trained to render assistance as such.


Police dogs

Often referred to as K9s, these dogs are of course trained specifically to assist the police and other law enforcement personnel in their work. Favorite breeds of choice for police dog service are German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers, Pinschers, Pitbull Terriers ,Staffordshire Terriers and Bloodhounds.

They serve in various areas like Search and Rescue, Explosive Sniffing and Cadaver detection - to sniff out decomposing bodies.

Arson or Fire dogs

These dogs assist the fire department by picking up the scent of accelerants at the scenes of suspected Arson.

Dalmatians are a very popular choice as Fire Dogs.

Customs and Border Protection

These dogs help the Border Patrol by sniffing out drugs or illegal items that passengers may bring in.

Popular choices are the labrador retriever and any sporting breed - Spaniels Barbets, and the Irish Setters usually make the cut.

Guide and Hearing Dogs

As mentioned before, these dogs are specially trained to guide the visually impaired of f buses or retrieve objects when they are dropped. They may even indicate to someone with hearing impairment that the phone is ringing. Popular guide dogs are Retrievers and German Shepherds.


Seizure Alert Dogs

These dogs assist patients with Epilepsy or any seizure disorder with matters like:

  • Summoning help by activating pre programmed phones or alerting another person
  • Putting dangerous objects away from a person’s body
  • Attempting to rouse the unconscious owner
  • Providing physical and emotional support
  • Carrying information regarding the owner’s medical condition.

Some dogs are so well trained that they can sense impeding seizures. A seizure response dog has to be absolutely perfect for the job, so the rarity of these traits make them fewer in number. Samoyeds, Border Collies, Retrievers and German Shepherds make popular seizure alert dogs.

Classroom Dogs

Classroom dogs are paired with social workers to help children with different impairments either physical, emotional or developmental. They are an innovative teaching tool for children. Again, the German Shepherd and Retrievers make popular choices because of their even temperament.

Dogs for diabetics

These dogs are trained to help people with type 1 diabetes. They are trained to detect the scent that blood glucose has on body chemistry.

Dogs for Diabetics is an institution dedicated to improving the lives of diabetics, empowering individuals to live quality lives in spite of the disease.

Military Dogs

These dogs are specifically trained for battle. They serve mostly as sentries or even make arrests.

Dogs that served the Romans in battle even wore mail - spiked collars and hard armor! The “Canis Molossius dog of Epirus was the strongest known to the romans. Rottweilers and German Shepherds make good military dogs because of their obedient, yet aggressive temper.

Service dogs at work

Training your pet dog to be a service dog

Service dogs come from many backgrounds. Some dogs are career change dogs, previously bred for other work. Some are specifically bred service dogs. Others indeed started out as pets. You may have a need for a service dog or may have a dog you want to prepare as one.

If you or someone else has a need, or if you have a pet you would like to train as a service dog, there are steps you can take to get him prepared. Note that these are suggestions and service dogs do require advanced training.

Is your dog comfortable in stressful situations?

See results

Is your dog comfortable around all people and dogs?

See results

Is your dog non aggressive and not overly protective?

See results

Ascertain if your dog can be a service dog.

The odds of a dog having the right stuff to be a service dog is rare, although not unheard of. If you want to prepare your dog as a service dog, there are some questions you can ask yourself in the poll in this article.

If he fulfills the requirements, you could get him trained to assist you in areas that you or others may need help with. You may also enlist the help of a vet who can help you determine if your dog can be a service dog.

Neuter or spay your dog.

Neutered dogs are less likely to be distracted by the opposite sex being in heat. They will not mark territory or exhibit aggressive, territorial behavior. This is an important trait service dogs need to have.

Train basic obedience

Train the dog to obey the basic commands of sitting and staying. He also needs to be able to come on cue.

Get a Clicker. Use clicker training to instill basic commands. A clicker marks what behavior is correct. It is a small noise maker that makes a click when the dog exhibits the correct behavior. The clicker is loaded or pressed and the dog given a treat when he exhibits the correct behavior.

Train your dog to behave as well unleashed as it is leashed.

Your dog should be able to perform basic obedience skills when it is unleashed. Only then can it respond to more difficult commands as a service dog.


Teach your dog not to greet other people.

The dog will have to be focused on the handler. If it is running around greeting other people, it will miss the need for immediate help.

Train your dog with agility.

Put your dog through obstacle courses and bring him to dog runs. It tests his ability to respond to commands. He socializes with other people and dogs as well.

Train your dog not to be distracted.

Use the Clicker to remind the dog that he is not supposed to focus on other dogs, cats, or food on the ground. The only thing he should take note of is you.

Have a few sessions with a dog handler.

For situations that require some advanced training, have a few individual sessions with a dog handler. A dog handler will use techniques like associative learning to pair the correct response with the behavior. Reinforced by you, the dog will learn to pick up seizure related cues.

Train the dog with simple tasks that he can help with.

You may need help with retrieving your keys. Use the clicker and treats to reinforce this simple behavior and others like fetching a newspaper or the mail.

Certify your service dog.

Get the dog certified if he is needed to go where dogs usually cannot go. A few things to remember:

  • See a doctor and get him to write a letter stating the need for a service dog.
  • Read the instructions of the certifying body and meet any of their requirements. One such association that provides this service is the National Service Animal Registry.
  • Enlist the help of a veterinarian to see if the dog is qualified to be a service dog.


Indeed, dogs can help us in many ways. Their keen senses can help us in little ways or even save lives.


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    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Alexadry!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, like fetching the mail in a backpack, Nancy! Thinking of training my dog with that. Thanks for coming by!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      8 years ago

      Wonderful hub! Voted up! I also love, love love the formatting and the decorations added. Kind regards!

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      8 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      These dogs are truly amazing. If we use are creativity, there are many more things that dogs can help you with.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Eddy! Yourself too, & happy weekend!

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      A wonderful hub Michele and I vote up and share.

      Have a great day.


    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      8 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      I can't think of a time, growing up, that we didn't have a dog. One of them even saved me from a baby rattlesnake. I would love to get Collin a service dog...I bet it would work wonders for him. Wonderful hub, Michelle! Sharing. :)

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Paula, dogs of all kinds are really amazing! And don't ask anything in return except for a little attention. Animal Planet and the Dog Whisperer are my favorite shows too. Thanks for sharing!

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Carson City

      midget...Service dogs never cease to amaze me! I am always intrigued at what a dog can be trained to do, with such focus and discipline....always alert and extremely dedicated.

      Have seen several shows on the Animal Planet that simply blow me away, watching these dogs go through their training and then performing their job. Being a huge dog lover, these are enjoyable and educational stories. Thank you!...UP+++

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Ho michyoung. Yes, they are our best friends.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Hi HL Phoenix! Oh! Those dogs will certainly make great therapists. Thanks for sharing about them! Thanks for sharing!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, Martie, I remember that too! They can actually tell, between 2 petri dishes, which is the one with cancerous cells. That's how intelligent they can be! Thanks for sharing, Martie!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Nell! It's fun to watch a dog learning something, like when you first teach them to sit and they finally master it. Thanks for sharing, Nell!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, I agree, Sherry. These doggies certainly know when to expect their dinners! But being by our sides is service too. Thanks for sharing, Sherry!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Dogs are awesome already when they simply stay by you, but are truly at their best when they are helping others! Thanks for sharing, Mary!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Nithya!

    • michyoung profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Interesting hub! I love dogs. They can be your friend no matter what.

    • HLPhoenix profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for writing on this very important topic. Excellent information... I plan on reading the rest of your 'dog' related Hubs.

      One type of Assistance dog has recently been in the News, as they are now being prescribed for Military Personnel with PTSD... but before the Military 'discovered' and began training dogs for this duty, therapists and physicians had been prescribing... Emotional Support Dogs for folks with Clinical Depression and/or PTSD. These dogs have no training... they come with all the abilities they need. I can personally attest to the magic these dogs work on the people prescribed them. Keep up the great work!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      One would think that this kind of intelligence is only to be found in Primates, and here come dogs and beat them, except for Homo sapiens. I've read an interesting article the other day about dogs now able to detect certain types of Cancer.

      Midget, this is a superb summary of dogs and their value to the human race. Voted up and awesome!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      8 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      None of my 4 dogs could ever be a service dog, in fact they think I am here to serve them. They do bring a lot of love and j0y to my life though, and that is a great service in itself. Voted up and shared.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      This was so interesting, our dogs are certainly one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and it always brings a smile to my face when I see the new recruit dogs learning their skills, wonderful hub, and voted and shared, nell

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      8 years ago from New York

      We owe so much to our good friends. Their abilities and devotion are insurmountable. This was a great hub Michelle! You covered so many different types of assistance dogs and gave thoughtful information. There will probably be people training there dogs after reading this!

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      8 years ago from Dubai

      Great information, dog is a true friend in every way. Great hub. Voted up.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, they have enriched our lives, but in some cases are sadly taken for granted! Thanks for sharing, Jo!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, they are, BIll. Say hi to your three for me!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks Mary. It's not easy to fulfill service dog requirements.....very specific!! Yes, retrievers and shepherds are great for service work. Thanks for sharing!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      8 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Michelle, what a wonderful tribute to man's best friend, they are indeed our friends, in so many ways as you have illustrated above. All our dogs have in their own unique way enriched our lives and we will always be thankful. Another gem.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dogs really are incredible animals. This was quite interesting; thanks for the info. Now I'm going to go pet our three. :)

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      8 years ago from Florida

      Dogs in general are just amazing creatures, aren't they? My little Schnauzer, Baby could never be trained as a service dog, I'm afraid. She is just good to love.

      The Retriever seems to be an ideal dog for service work. I really enjoyed reading this Hub cause you know I am a dog lover.

      I voted this UP, etc., will share, Pin and Tweet.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      8 years ago from New York, New York

      Beautiful and knew a bit about this, but you truly delved deeper into and explained the different types of service dogs as well how to to go about getting them to be these types of dogs. Voted way up and shared all over, too!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      An article on how dogs can make a difference in many ways and preparing a dog as a service dog.


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