From providing companionship to keeping an eye-out for medical emergencies, emotional support and service dogs assist their handlers in a variety of ways.
While both roles are vital for the well-being of their owners, their job descriptions are not the same—an emotional support animal is a companion animal that can benefit its owner by providing comfort to the individual for a number of medically deemed reasons, while a service dog is a working animal that has been trained to aid people with disabilities such as visual or hearing impairments, mental disorders, mobility impairment, and diabetes.
As a member of Patriot Paws of Aggieland since 2016, Angelica Frazer, a Texas A&M student and certified service dog trainer, understands the important roles service dogs play in their handlers’ lives. Patriot Paws focuses on training service dogs to assist those who have combat-related disabilities such as mobility issues or post-traumatic stress.
“Our dogs are trained to pick up dropped items; retrieve items such as a phone, prosthetic, or wheelchair; push an alert button; get help in the event of their handler falling unconscious; open and close doors; and help their handler do laundry, among other things.” she said.
According to Frazer, service-dogs-in-training dedicate a significant amount of time practicing in-house manners and going for outings to work on avoiding distractions.
“From the moment the puppies wake up, they work on house manners, and then depending on their age, they go for a public outing,” Frazer said. “Our puppies will do shorter, low-distraction outings, while our older dogs typically spend all day with their trainer going to class, working, and running errands.”
Frazer said their ultimate goal is to prepare the dogs to pass the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test, a certification that evaluates dogs in simulated everyday situations. Once the dogs pass the test, they are considered reliable family and community members and are paired with a veteran during a two-week process that matches fit and compatibility.
According to Frazer, these kinds of dogs are not pets and serve as a medical tool for the veteran.
If you spot a service team on an outing, there are a few important rules to remember, including always treating the service team with sensitivity and respect and never touching the service animal without the permission of its handler. If you happen to have your dog with you, try to keep your distance, and do not allow your dog to approach the service dog without permission. The attention of outside people and dogs may provide an unwanted distraction for the service animal.
“While they are still dogs, they are dogs with an important job,” she explained. “If you see a service dog or a service-dog-in-training, it is important to remember that these dogs are a medical necessity to their handler.”
Emotional support and service animals continue to play a crucial role in the health and well-being of their owners and handlers. This National Service Dog Month be aware and respectful of the purpose, necessity, and benefits of these brilliant animals.