Many people are surprised to discover that there are over a dozen specializations for service dogs. When it comes to a service dog certification, the one clear agreement is the base definition. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, any dog trained to perform specific tasks for a disabled individual that they cannot or have difficulty completing by themselves is a service dog. The 10 most common service dog certifications include:
- Brace and Mobility Support Dogs: BMSDs help balance handlers, retrieve, open and close doors, or other tasks to assist in emergencies and daily life. Most BMSDs wear a specially-designed and fitted harness to help them assist their partner safely.
- Autism Assistance Dogs: Autism Assistance Dogs ground autistic handlers through tactile or deep pressure stimulation. Unless the handler is young and non-verbal, Autism Assistance Dogs don’t wear special vests.
- Service Seizure Response Dogs: Seizure Response Dogs utilize deep pressure stimulation and retrieve medication to end a seizure early or find help. Typically, no special gear is required.
- Hearing Dogs: Hearing Dogs alert deaf handlers to specifically trained environmental sounds, such as their name, cars, phones, knocking, doorbells, or alarms. Bright orange is typically reserved for Hearing Dogs although they don’t require special gear.
- Medical Alert Dogs: MADs alert their handler to critical blood pressure drops or changes in hormone levels. Depending on the visibility of the handler’s disability, the dog may or may not wear specialized gear.
- Allergy Alert Dogs: AADs are keen to allergens such as shellfish, gluten, or nuts, and alert their handlers. A patch on the vest they wear indicates emergency information is in the vest pockets.
- Medical Assistance Dogs: Medical Assistance Dogs support their partner with a medical disability. The gear varies depending on the dog’s job, function, and training.
- Visual Assistance Dogs: Visual Assistance Dogs wear a guide dog harness, typically some part of which is white, to guide their visually impaired handler. White is the protected color used by guide dogs and visually impaired individuals.
- Wheelchair Assistance Dogs: Wheelchair Assistance Dogs retrieve dropped objects, open doors, or anything else their partner may need. The handler is in a wheelchair and may or may not be ambulatory at times. No special gear is required, but many wear a harness designed to assist in pulling a chair or opening a door.
- Psychiatric Service Dogs: Psychiatric Service Dogs help partners with diseases such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety. No special gear is required. They are protected under the same federal laws that protect other service dogs and must receive the same access and treatment rights.
While a universally accepted list of types of service dogs does not exist, service dogs for any disability are allowed anywhere members of the general public might go, including businesses and transportation.
Obtaining a Service Dog Certification
While any dog breed is eligible to become a service dog, some are more appropriate for specific disabilities. A service dog certification from USA Service Dogs requires clearance from a vet, spaying or neutering, and personality testing. You can either train him yourself or find a reputable trainer. The final step is the Public Access Test to prove your dog is not aggressive or hyperactive. Then you can register your dog and receive an official service dog certificate.