Recognizing the Important Work of Service Dogs

Service dogs are special companions. They help people with disabilities, they provide comfort in times of crisis, they support our country’s police force and military, and they do so much more. At Atlantic Veterinary Internal Medicine & Oncology, we understand just how important these dogs are, especially to the people they serve. We’re proud to be able to provide internal medicine and oncology services to keep them in the best of health so they can go on to do great things.

So, what are some of those great things service dogs do? Not all service dogs wear a vest, meaning many of them are doing extraordinary work in plain sight. Let’s take a look today at the essential roles service dogs play in our communities, and how they help their human companions.

What Kinds of Service Dogs Are There?

To understand what service dogs do, it’s first important to understand what they are. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as dogs that are individually trained to perform specific tasks and to work with people with disabilities. The ADA defines disabilities as “physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” It’s important that the work of the service dog be directly related to the handler’s disability, which grants them status as an official service dog. Service dogs have legal rights that other trained dogs don’t have including full public access rights with their handler and acceptance on flights and other forms of public transport.


Types of service dogs include:
Guide Dogs – Guide dogs, or “seeing eye” dogs are one of the most well-known type of service dog. These dogs help people with blindness or visual impairment navigate the world safely and independently.

Hearing Dogs – Hearing dogs alert people who are deaf to sounds such as an alarm, a knock on the door, or someone entering a room.

Psychiatric services dogs – Psychiatric dogs assist people living with a mental disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression. These dogs can help lessen the frequency of psychiatric episodes and can help their humans feel safer in the world. Those with PTSD can often be hyper vigilant about their safety, but their dogs can help them feel safer by entering a room before them and turning on the light, accompanying them to public places, and more.

Mobility assistance dogs – These dogs help people with mobility limitations, such as needing to use a wheelchair, prosthetic, or other assistive device. Mobility assistance dogs perform tasks for their people such as fetching things their handlers can’t reach, opening doors or cabinets, and carrying items.

Seizure alert/response dogs – While somewhat controversial, seizure alert dogs are trained to predict the onset of a seizure in their handlers, although there is no clear scientific evidence that they can do this reliably every time. Seizure response dogs, on the other hand, are trained to stand guard over their handler when they are experiencing a seizure, bring them medication or a phone after an episode, or even go for help.

Autism assistance dogs – These dogs help those on the autism spectrum more easily navigate their surroundings. They can help distinguish important sensory input (like a smoke alarm) from other sensory input, act as icebreakers in social situations, and can even alert their handlers to repetitious behaviors or overstimulation.

What’s the Difference Between Service Dogs & Working Dogs?

Working dogs are those that are trained for a specific purpose such as detection, herding, hunting, search and rescue, police work, or military service. These dogs do not have the same legal rights as service dogs because they are not assisting someone with a disability—therefore they are not covered under the ADA. However, whenever and wherever they are performing their job, they are not often subject to legal ramification.

Types of working dogs include, but are not limited to:
Search and rescue – these dogs are trained to find missing persons, whether from a kidnapping, a natural disaster, drowning situations, avalanches, or other dire situations. They often either use a scent in the air or the scent of a specific object to find what or whom they’re looking for.
Police K9 units – These dogs have a variety of roles in the police department from sniffing out drugs, criminals in hiding, or contraband to patrolling, or actively attacking a suspect.
Military dogs – Military dogs serve with our armed forces in many different roles similar to police dogs, but the ante is upped significantly. These dogs are trained to endure harrowing combat experiences while still performing their duties, which might include explosive detection, patrol, search and rescue, and attack.

Are Therapy Dogs Considered Service Dogs?

Therapy dogs are not considered service dogs. While therapy dogs do go through training to become certified, they are not trained in a specific role to help someone with a disability, and so are not covered by the ADA. Therapy dogs often work with their owner to provide comfort to people in nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, schools, and mental institutions. These dogs need to be comfortable in new environments and unfazed by unfamiliar sounds and movements. They also need to be happy with being handled and loving people is a huge plus!

We Support Working & Service Dogs

At Atlantic Veterinary Internal Medicine & Oncology, we are proud to provide services to our community’s working and service dogs that help them do their best jobs yet. These dogs must be at the peak of physical fitness to be able to fully perform their duties and serve their handlers. We also recognize the deep bond these dogs share with their handlers, and we’re dedicated to strengthening it with our specialized medical care. If you or a loved one works with a service or working dog who needs internal medicine or oncology care, please reach out to us at (410) 224-0121 and we’ll be happy to help.