Dogs are a great all-around addition to many households and are especially beneficial to people with disabilities. Life with a dog offers many benefits, including reduced cortisol and an increased release of oxytocin. These furry companions help keep loneliness and stress away while also making their families healthier. For people with mobility issues, visual impairments, and a wide variety of health issues, the advantages of having a canine companion can be life-changing.
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The Benefits of Having a Service Dog
Service dogs provide support for people in wheelchairs by opening doors, retrieving objects that are out of reach, and helping with many daily chores. People with epilepsy rely on their service dogs to alert them to the onset of a seizure. Expertly trained service companions increase independence in many aspects of daily life.
The benefits don’t end there. Service dogs provide companionship, alleviate stress, and provide a sense of confidence and security. A person with visual impairment has less stress when crossing the street with a service dog, and a person with hearing loss receives notifications through their service animal.
The Traits Necessary in a Service Companion
Choosing a dog as a service companion is a top priority, and the relationship between person and animal is crucial to the success of this partnership. Many breeds of dogs can be successful companions, but the prospective dog must display the following traits:
- Calmness and emotional composure, especially in new and chaotic situations
- Alertness to their companion and not distracted by other sights, sounds, smells, people, and animals
- Desire to please and a willingness to bond
- Willingness to learn and a strong memory
- Friendliness and well-rounded socialization
According to regulations from the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal has been specifically trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The training and tasks must directly relate to the abilities of the individual. With all of this information in mind, several breeds are more common as service animals: golden and Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, poodles, and Pomeranians. Other popular options include boxers, border collies, and Bernese mountain dogs. It is also important to check with local and state laws regarding service animals.
Preparation and the Adjustment Period
Naturally, there must be time and energy devoted to adjusting to life with a dog. Four-footed service companions have all the same needs as other dogs: a safe place to live, regular nutrition and exercise, health care, and training. Service dogs also need to bond with their human companion in a non-stressful environment. It’s important to spend lots of time with your dog and designate a space where he can rest and relax. The dog’s trainer may have specific recommendations for this introductory period, and training classes may be ongoing for the first few weeks.
Maintaining a Nutritious Diet
A service dog needs proper nutrition to remain in optimal health and provide the best care possible to their owner. Be sure to feed your service dog a high-quality diet that is rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals, with the correct balance of carbohydrates, fats and fiber for sustained energy levels throughout the day. Look for grain-free kibble, as grains can be harder for dogs to digest and may cause stomach upsets. This could help maintain your service dog’s health and energy.
Adding a Fence for Outdoor Safety
Other preparations should include creating a dog-friendly atmosphere inside the home and outside. Fenced yards increase the dog’s safety. If installing a fence is necessary, new owners should contact at least three local fencing contractors for quotes and to discuss specific needs. The quote should include installation costs which will be affected by the type of materials and the size of the yard. When choosing a fence company, it’s also important to verify licensing and insurance.
Beyond the Pet/Owner Relationship
Once a service dog and person have bonded, the ensuing relationship opens many doors for independence and improved quality of life. A well-trained service dog provides companionship that goes beyond the bonds typically between pet and owner. When you’re ready to take in a service animal, make home preparations, purchase nutritious food, and take steps to ensure your dog is free of stress.
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