Like humans, dogs are highly intelligent and social animals, which makes them fit for many jobs. From hunting to herding to bomb detection, we have been working side by side with our four-legged friends for centuries. Our relationship with dogs has always been and still is reciprocal. When our ancestors were hunting for food they had the help of canines, and their services were rewarded with nourishment. As domestication advanced, jobs became more specific, and some are highly advanced. You may have heard of service and support animals, you may have even seen some in uniform! But what is the difference between service, support, and companion animals?
Service dogs provide a wide range of help for people with disabilities, illness, or ailments. They can provide mobility assistance, guide those who are visually impaired, and even alert diabetics of blood sugar spikes! There are dogs who help people who are hearing impaired, dogs who detect allergens, and dogs who can help individuals who are prone to seizures. If you’re not convinced that dogs are really capable of life-saving support, look no further than Roselle the guide dog. On September 11th, 2001, she guided her dad, Michael Hingson, down 78 smokey flights of stairs right before the building went down. Can you imagine the level of trust and the bond they must have shared to keep each other calm and safe during such a catastrophic event?
Support dogs provide emotional help for individuals who struggle with mental health disorders, like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The difference between these dogs and service dogs is that they generally aren't trained to perform a specific task. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are dogs who provide psychiatric help that do count as service dogs. These dogs are trained to do things like detect and prevent panic attacks, for example. These types of therapy dogs may be trained to provide services in specific settings such as schools, disaster areas, or retirement homes.
Dogs who only provide comfort are considered support animals, but don’t underestimate the value of these amazing dogs. Just last month, a woman contemplating suicide on a bridge in England changed her mind after the local fire department called in Digby, the department’s three year old therapy labradoodle. Support dogs may not require advanced training, but their impact is profound. The fact that these dogs lack specialized training, yet make such an invaluable difference in our lives, only serves to highlight the mysterious essence of our deeply-felt connection with dogs.
Companion dogs are just that— companions. Their only job is to provide companionship, whatever that might mean for you! They provide us with snuggles, playtime, and many, many memories.
Remember that not all ailments are visible, and we may not know what someone is going through. Having a service, support, or companion dog may be a source of comfort or matter of life and death. And to the dogs, all jobs are important. Try telling your little furball she is patrolling the kitchen for scraps in vain, or that the squirrels in the backyard are not out to get us, I double-dog dare you!