I realized recently that I’ve talked a lot about service dogs, service dog etiquette, and River being a service dog in general but that I’ve never actually acknowledged what specific tasks she does for me, which people may (or may not) be curious about. Though I have Bipolar I, River’s tasks are all related to my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks.
But first, a little background. According to the ADA, “a service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button.” Providing comfort is not considered a task under the ADA.
“Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.”
In addition to being task trained, service dogs should also be completely potty trained, have a lot of public access practice hours logged, and have basic obedience down. River is a full blown service dog (As opposed to a Service Dog in Training or SDiT), but she will always be in training as she will always continue to learn new things. Although all online registries for service dogs are fraudulent and DO NOT make your dog a service dog, some states, including NC, have a voluntary registry. Ours is through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and River has a special tag on her collar acknowledging her status as a trained service animal. You may hang out with me a lot and never see her task or you may hang out with me a little and see her task a lot. It really depends on how I am doing on a given day. Here are some of the tasks River is currently trained to do:
DPT (Deep Pressure Therapy): When I am sitting or lying down and River senses me getting anxious OR when I say “Alert” to her, she climbs up and puts the front half of her body across my lap. It’s like having a really heavy weighted blanket for anxiety and helps to calm me down.
Grounding: When I am standing up and River either senses me getting anxious or I give her the command “ground” she lays her body across my feet to provide grounding for anxiety.
Tactile Stimulation: When I become anxious or give the command “kisses”, River licks the tops of my feet or my hands (depending on what she can reach) to provide tactile stimulation and grounding. When I have a panic attack, River will lick my face until it stops.
Blocking: When I am in a crowded area, River will lay down in front of, next to, or behind me to keep people from getting too close. I am in the process of teaching her to lay down behind me every time I stop walking.
She has recently shown a few behaviors that I would like to shape into tasks, but she hasn’t been formally trained to do them yet. For example, I’ve been struggling with depression for a few months now and this week there have been a few times when I did not want to get out of bed and she licked me until I finally got up. She also got her leash off the ground and went to the front door and waited for me to take her out on a walk. By themselves, these behaviors are not tasks, but they could be shaped to become tasks.
If you have questions, please feel free to comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org .