Assistance Dogs: Service


A service dog is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.14 Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, or trained or untrained, are not considered service animals. Although the terms assistance dogs and service dogs are often used interchangeably, assistance animal is considered the more encompassing terminology that includes service dogs and emotional support dogs.15 An assistance dog is defined by the US Department of Housing andUrban Development, and service dogs are defined by ADA regulations. Service dogs are not considered pets; they are trained to perform specific tasks related to their handler’s disability.15–17 Because of a lack of universal guidelines and enforcement, the current knowledge of the numbers and types of assistance dogs is evolving and only more recently becoming standardized.18,19


Examples of service dogs include guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, seizure alert or response dogs, psychiatric service dogs, diabetic alert dogs, autism support dogs, and allergy detection dogs.

Relevant Information for Practitioners

Service dogs are required to be trained. Many come from organizations registered through Assistance Dogs International (including Canine Companions, The Seeing Eye, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and Guiding Eyes for The Blind) or can be privately trained.20,21 Medical considerations when working with assistance dogs include recognizing that pain and certain drugs and anesthetic procedures will temporarily impact cognitive ability to make decisions and therefore the ability to work, particularly in service dogs. Antihistamines, anxiolytics, epileptic medications, and analgesics or some pain medications may alter work performance. A service dog should refrain from work or be closely monitored when getting adjusted to these medications. Clients with assistance dogs should be given the opportunity to be present during medical exams and the communication with the handler needs to be adjusted to the handler’s disability. Certain medical conditions can be incompatible with an assistance dog’s job if a particular disease results in performance deficits.

These guidelines are supported by generous educational grants from the AAHA Foundation,
Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, Merck Animal Health, and Zoetis.