Humans have lived with canine companions for centuries and the relationship continues to be mutually beneficial. From Roman friezes discovered in the ruins of Pompei depicting dogs leading the blind, to Chinese scrolls showing a dog guiding a man through a busy street, it’s clear that our partnership is steeped in history.
These days, service dogs perform a variety of tasks that make our lives both more rewarding and safer. Town & Country Animal Hospital is proud to shine a spotlight on these special dogs.
Seeing Eye Dogs
Guide dogs hold a special place in many of our hearts. Canines have commonly been engaged as assistants to the blind since the 18th century. In the U.S. the first guide dog school opened in 1929 and was called The Seeing Eye.
Guide dog training evolved and formalized over the years and the concept of service dogs was developed. Seeing eye dogs continued to help the blind with daily tasks and activities, and service dogs started helping those with hearing needs as well.
The use of service dogs continued to grow in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Service dog roles evolved to help those with PTSD and autism as well as those with seizures and other medical conditions. The passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990 solidified the role of service dogs as critical to their handlers. It also ensured service dogs would be allowed access to public buildings, airports, and businesses.
The Power of a Service Dog
Today, service dogs are paired with humans to serve in a variety of functions. More than a pet, a service dog can transform the life of their human handler and offer them independence, confidence, and comfort. Any dog can be trained as a service dog, and the training is intense, specific, and unique.
Service Dog Training
International standards require a minimum of 120 hours of training over the course of 6-24 months. A complete knowledge of canine obedience commands is necessary, with recognition and performance of the following:
- Leave it
- Look or focus on handler
A service dog must be able to tune out environmental distractions, pay attention to medical alerts, and provide the necessary guidance and support. They must also be able to pass certain public access tests.
There is currently no mandate for registering a service dog. However, voluntarily registering a service dog makes him or her more accepted by businesses and individuals.
Weapons Detection and Vapor Wake Dogs
One unique area that has evolved in the last decade is that of service dogs who are trained in weapons detection. Well known for their superpower sense of smell, these dogs can be used in high traffic and population dense situations to detect weapons and explosives.
A special class of these dogs, known as Vapor Wake dogs are trained to detect body worn explosives as well. They do this by following a person’s scent thermal plume which is carried behind their body much like the wake of a boat traveling through water. The dogs are trained to detect explosive odors that are caught in the thermal plume and follow them to their source.
Vapor Wake dogs are bred and trained at our very own Auburn University at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The University has spent more than 10 years researching and scientifically breeding these dogs through the Canine Performance Sciences program. The “Auburn Dogs” most often work in large venues that are otherwise difficult to secure, such as amusement parks, sporting venues, school campuses, and tourist destinations.
If you would like more information on service dogs or basic obedience training please contact us.