The Many Roles of Support Dogs

The Many Roles of Support Dogs

by Sarah Leung
Jobs People Do | JobsPeopleDo.com

For many people, support dogs are an essential help in their daily lives. While dogs are man’s best friend, support dogs aid individuals in more ways than just through their fuzzy, friendly companionship. Support dogs help people navigate disabilities, difficult situations and/or emotions. There are three types of support dogs:

  • Service dogs
  • Therapy dogs
  • Emotional support dogs

Service Dogs

Service dogs are specifically trained to help a single person with their disability. Types of service dogs include seeing-eye dogs for the vision-impaired, hearing service dogs for the hard-of-hearing, and mobility service dogs for those with limited mobility. Service dogs work closely with their handlers, helping them with specific tasks.

For example, former Albertan MLA Heather Forsyth received help from her hearing service dog Quill, who first accompanied her into the Alberta legislature in 2013. Quill was trained to alert his owner to certain sounds by performing specific actions. He would alert her if someone said her name by placing his paw on her leg or alert her of a fire alarm by spinning.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs provide comfort to people at all times. They don’t need to learn specific tasks like service dogs, but they need to stay calm during all situations. Their role brings positivity to institutions such as care homes and hospitals. They serve to provide comfort to many people, not just one single owner. 

Service dogs and therapy dogs often wear vests or harnesses that indicate their supportive role. It helps people identify that they are not simply pets and are primarily there to help others. If a support dog is not wearing a vest or harness, sometimes documentation shown by their handler will be enough. In Ontario, showing documentation for service dogs works in place of a harness/vest.  

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs provide mental stability for their owners. Like service dogs, they lack specific training for tasks, but their strength comes from their presence. For example, having a dog provides benefits for many elderly people and/or many people with mental illnesses. 

Interacting with Support Dogs 

Support animals should be treated with respect, as should all animal companions. However, some support dogs, such as service dogs, are classified as working animals and should not be distracted from their tasks. This includes not petting service dogs without their handlers’ permission or giving service dogs other commands. 

Rights of Support Animals in Canada 

Rights of support animals vary across Canada depending on the type of support dog a person has and the province that they live in. In general, service dogs tend to hold the most rights in Canada due to their working status.

Some provinces have specific laws for only service dogs, while other provinces’ disability acts and/or human rights acts may cover support animals already. As each province’s rules differ, it’s always best to check. For example, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission explicitly says therapy dogs and emotional support dogs do not receive the same rights as service dogs. 

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