Ser­vice dogs can be trained to as­sist with a va­ri­ety of tasks

The Progress-Index - - AMUSEMENTS - DR. ELIZABETH KO & DR. EVE GLAZIER —Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an in­ternist and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an in­ternist and pri­mary care physi­cian at UCLA Health.

Dear Doc­tor: I’ve seen a lot of dogs re­cently in gro­cery stores and restau­rants wear­ing those yel­low ser­vice dog vests, but some of them can’t obey even sim­ple com­mands like “sit” and “stay.” They seem to re­ally be pets. What do trained ser­vice dogs do? Whom do they help? Dear Reader: It’s a shame when dog own­ers mis­rep­re­sent their pets as ser­vice an­i­mals. No doubt some are le­git­i­mate “emo­tional sup­port” an­i­mals, nec­es­sary com­pan­ions for their own­ers to be able to spend time in pub­lic spa­ces. But fed­eral law states that a ser­vice dog is one that has been spe­cially trained to phys­i­cally as­sist a per­son with a dis­abil­ity, in­clud­ing — and we’re quot­ing the law here — “a phys­i­cal, sen­sory, psy­chi­atric, in­tel­lec­tual or other men­tal dis­abil­ity.”

It is on that ba­sis that th­ese de­voted an­i­mals are granted ac­cess to venues and ar­eas not open to other pets. With their rig­or­ous train­ing and spe­cial­ized skills, ser­vice dogs open up the world for their han­dlers, and keep them safe within it.

Ser­vice dogs per­form hun­dreds of tasks for more than a dozen types of dis­abil­i­ties. We’re all fa­mil­iar with guide dogs, which help peo­ple with im­paired vi­sion. They lead their han­dlers around ob­sta­cles like a park bench, a lowhang­ing awning or a hole in the ground. They warn them of changes in el­e­va­tion, like a curb or the edge of a sub­way plat­form. They can fol­low a des­ig­nated per­son, like a waiter in a res­tau­rant, or find their han­dler an empty seat in a pub­lic space. And though their han­dlers are the de­ci­sion-mak­ers in the part­ner­ship, guide dogs have been taught “in­tel­li­gent dis­obe­di­ence.” When given a com­mand to walk for­ward, if dan­ger is present, like a sud­den drop-off or on­com­ing traf­fic, they will refuse.

For peo­ple with im­paired hear­ing, spe­cially trained dogs be­come their ears. With a touch of their nose or a gen­tle paw, they can sig­nal a ring­ing tele­phone, a cry­ing baby, a smoke alarm, an alarm clock, a fam­ily mem­ber call­ing the han­dler’s name, com­puter beeps, cell­phone alerts and a per­son’s ar­rival.

Peo­ple with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties or miss­ing limbs rely on their ser­vice dogs to help with mo­bil­ity. Th­ese dogs can pull a light­weight wheelchair, of­fer as­sis­tance by brac­ing their han­dlers as they get up or down, and help their han­dlers rise if they should fall down. They can open doors, turn light switches on or off, and pick up ob­jects as small as a dime.

Seizure dogs, which are trained to rec­og­nize their han­dlers’ phys­i­cal symp­toms, can sum­mon help by call­ing 911 via a spe­cial life-alert sys­tem, or pro­vide phys­i­cal stim­u­la­tion. Like many ser­vice dogs, they are trained to re­trieve med­i­ca­tion. Di­a­betic alert dogs use their sense of smell to de­tect episodes of high or low blood su­gar and warn their own­ers. Se­vere al­lergy alert dogs let their han­dlers know about life-threat­en­ing al­ler­gens nearby.

Ser­vice dogs are re­mark­able in their train­ing and ded­i­ca­tion. And though it’s tempt­ing to give them a pat or say hello, please don’t. Ser­vice dogs out in pub­lic are at work. Cor­rect eti­quette is to ig­nore them, so they are not dis­tracted from their job.

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