When you think of service animals, most people still imagine seeing-eye dogs or maybe hearing dogs for the deaf. But the reality is, there are many different conditions that leave you eligible for service dogs. The trick is finding just the right provider and just the right dog.
The right dog can depend largely on your condition, and your living situation. You can put your name on lists for service dog providers for a number of different conditions. But training a dog as a service animal is not as difficult as you may think.
Forming a bond from your dog’s earliest puppyhood can help with training. It’s important to develop that relationship early, and give it time to strengthen. After all, a service animal is a furry partner in many aspects of our lives.
Though you can choose many different dog breeds as your ideal service animal, in many ways, Labradors make the perfect choice for a service dog. This intelligent and loyal breed is easy to train for work and provide great companionship.
If you’re looking for a service animal, a lab might be the choice for you
Why Would You Need A Service Animal?
As we’ve already mentioned, seeing-eye dogs, or hearing dogs, are some of the more common conditions to make someone eligible for a service dog. But that’s just the beginning.
You may be eligible for a service animal if you suffer from any of the following conditions:
- Mobility issues, like paraplegia or arthritis
- Sensory issues like blindness and hearing loss
- Bone and Skeletal conditions like scoliosis, osteoporosis, and others
- Mental health issues, including anxiety, agoraphobia, OCD, or PTSD
- Chronic conditions like diabetes, MS
Any disability which limits your ability to perform major life tasks may leave you eligible for a service animal. Current guidelines by the ADA enforce that service animals must be able to perform three separate tasks at minimum to help with everyday life or one life-saving task.
This is true even if you have concurrent conditions. Examples include:
- Training your dog to notice the signs of seizures before they happen, and alert you.
- Helping carrying, lifting, and opening doors
- Providing a distraction from panic attacks
- Helping agoraphobes and those suffering from PTSD perform daily tasks and run errands outside of the home.
What’s the Difference Between A Service Dog and An Emotional Support Dog?
Service dogs are legally recognized by the ADA. Your service animal is trained to perform specific tasks, like those listed above. You can take a service dog anywhere in public, include shops, restaurants, and airlines.
Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort to those in hospice, disaster areas, hospitals, nursing homes, and even in court during trials.
Emotional support dogs provide companionship for those struggling with mental illness. They don’t necessarily need to be officially registered. But they aren’t always covered by ADA.
Why Choose a Labrador As A Service Animal?
Once you’ve established whether you need a service animal, you’ll want to assess your own needs. You can do this with the help of your doctor, specialist, or therapist.
As we’ve outlined, you’ll need to train your dog for specific functions. There are several important traits to look for when you’re looking at pups to train for service.
Labs have great senses. They have exceptional sniffing abilities and can hear remarkably well even for dogs. They’re eager to please, and that makes them very trainable. They love mental challenges as much as physical and will thrive the more they can do for you.
2) High Energy
Service dogs need to be high-energy dogs. They spend most of their time out of the house. Labs are known for being high energy dogs, who won’t tire out even on a long day of errand running.
Their exercise needs are also a great choice for those struggling with anxiety or agoraphobia. Dogs make a great motivator for getting out of the house, and the exercise is proven to benefit overall mental health.
3) Good Temperament
Labs are notoriously calm dogs. They’re not prone to pining, whining, hypersensitivity, or aggression. They’re also very loyal. That makes them great at picking up on your needs. They’re sensitive to their owners.
That makes it easy to train them to look for everything from seizures, to panic attacks, to tough pain days.
4) They’re Healthy Dogs
Apart from some bone and joint problems that can affect them in later years, labs are relatively healthy dogs throughout their lives. They’ve got a short puppyhood, which means they settle into calm by about the end of the first year.
That makes early training essential. But it also gives you a devoted companion for a decade or more. Labs live on average between 10-12 years, with living as long as 15 years.
Though there are many breeds that work well as service animals, some work better than others, due to their more laid-back nature. Labs are loving and loyal. But they’re not aggressive, or territorial.
They’ve got great manners and it’s easier to put them through basic obedience. It is possible to register with a special vest, but many people aren’t clear on the boundaries and rules for a service dog.
Depending on your condition, it might also be important for your dog to approach strangers. If you’re having a seizure, and your dog needs to bark to alert someone, or you’ve taken a fall, and your dog must approach someone to ask for help, for example.
That means it’s to get a dog that handles crowds and is comfortable with strangers and kids.
6) Easy To Care For
Obviously, if you’re someone who struggles day-to-day when meeting your own needs, you don’t want a high-maintenance dog. Labs have short hair coats and are easy to groom. They’re also adaptable in many climates, which makes them great all-weather dogs.
They do shed throughout the year, so if you have germaphobia or are otherwise a neat freak, this might not be the dog for you. Otherwise though, as long as you keep them occupied, are consistent with the training you’ll have a happy and loyal companion.
What to Look For In Your Puppy
If you’re choosing your own service dog, check out the breeder. Make sure the pups are being socialized, interacted with, and handled. If you’re working with a breeder, ask if any of the previous generations have been service animals.
Shelter dogs can be trained as service animals, but they should have experienced at least the following by 12 weeks of age to ensure they’re socialized and up to the task.
- Gone for car rides
- Be comfortable with household noises
- Have been handled frequently
- Have climbed and walked on a variety of floors and services.
This ensures your training will begin on the right foot.
Other traits to look for when you’re choosing a lab puppy to train as a service animal.
Retrieving: A dog that will run after a wadded up piece of paper, or a toy, is eager to please and willing to work with you for training.
Recovers From Being Startled: A skittish dog makes a terrible service animal. Drop a metal pan on a floor, or open an umbrella near the pup. He should run away and then come back.
If he comes back and sniffs curiously at the item, it means he’s quick to recover and will learn to adapt quickly in an emergency.
Look For Loyalty: Loyalty can be tough to spot in eager puppies. Labs are known for their loyalty, but you don’t want to mistake an over-eager pup for a loyal one. Instead, choose the puppy who approaches with a bit of caution, but is willing to stay by you.
You want to be able to pick up this dog and let them settle into you, instead of wriggling to get free. Try pinching the toes a little. Not enough to hurt, just to startle. The dog will turn away, but eventually, allow you to comfort it.
You don’t want a dog too sensitive or easy to scare away.
Register A Service Dog
Once you’ve settled on your breed, and your puppy, and have outlined your needs, there are steps to take to train and register your lab for service. For some breeds, this may take extra paperwork. That’s another reason to choose a labrador.
Labs are a very popular breed for a service dog, so you shouldn’t have any trouble registering your lab pup as a service animal. But there are steps to take. Follow these directions to register your lab as a service animal.
Put Your Dog Through Training
This is the bulk of your time. Dog training is all about consistency. If you’re not physically able to train your dog, you may look into a professional trainer. But it is no longer necessary to pay thousands of dollars for a pre-trained dog.
That means you can choose your own breed, and train the dog yourself, from puppyhood.
The first stage is regular obedience training. Though you are legally allowed to bring a service dog anywhere in public, provided you have the papers, you’re still responsible for your dog’s behavior in public. Basic obedience isn’t just a good base for training.
It also makes your life a lot easier. Even loyal breeds like labs need consistency. You want to make sure your dog has mastered no biting, snapping, marking territory, eating or pulling while you’re out.
That means you don’t have to worry about them getting distracted while working. Make training the specific tasks you want part of your obedience training. It may take longer, and you might consider talking to an expert on how best to train a dog to spot the precursor to a seizure or panic attack.
If you’re not looking to train your lab to specific tasks, you may want to look into registering as an emotional support animal instead.
Emotional support animals also get a vest and are allowed in many public spaces, including airlines, at the company’s discretion.
Register Your Lab As A Service Animal
After training, your lab should be able to pass the public access test. This means you see no aggressive behavior, no curious sniffing, or searching for food or waiting to be petted, and no hyperactivity in crowds.
Practice with a training vest, or backpack, to see how your dog responds to being released from duties. After this, you can register for certification.
There is a fee for certification. Though it is not a requirement, some places you travel with your lab will still ask to see certification that you have a real service animal.
Register and pay the fee to receive an ID badge for you and your dog, and a distinctive vest. The ID is important for those times when you might be challenged. The vest helps signify to others that your dog is working, and shouldn’t be disturbed.
It’s also a great training tool. It can help signal to your dog when he is and isn’t working. After your dog has passed obedience training and you’ve paid the registration fee, you’ll be able to take your lab anywhere with you.
Service dogs are a great asset to a variety of health problems. From sensory problems like deaf or blindness to seizure detection to helping prevent panic attacks and PTSD, service dogs can help you live a fuller life in your community.
Labs are some of the most popular options for service dogs. Their loyalty, trainability, and calm temperaments make them fantastic choices for service dogs.
They’re also easy to look after, no matter your medical condition, and they’re great when it comes to companionship. If you’re considering a service animal, a lab is a great addition to your home.