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Thousands of people all throughout the United States and the world use service dogs. Service dogs are dogs with special training that are able to assist people with various medical conditions or disabilities. Any breed of dog can be trained as a service dog, but the most common breed is the golden retriever. Service dogs have been used since the 1700s, but the first modern training school for these special dogs appeared in the U.S. in 1929, focused on guide dogs for the blind. Since the 1970s, guide dogs have been trained for dozens of applications. A single dog may take thousands of hours to train but will generally serve as a companion to its owner for the rest of the dog's life. These dogs make an immense positive impact on the lives of their humans.

Seeing Eye Dogs
Seeing Eye dogs are dogs that assist those with visual impairments, including the profoundly blind. These dogs guide their owners while outside, using gentle cues to help the person recognize a hazard or barrier. Owners remain in contact with the dog at all times, gently grasping a harness so they can perceive the dog's changes in speed and direction. The dogs are trained to enhance the owner's safety in a variety of common situations, including while crossing the street and navigating buses or trains. Though these dogs are the most common service dogs, only about 2% of the blind have access to them. It is important not to pet a service dog while it is working, as distraction can be dangerous for the owner.

Dogs for the Hearing Impaired
Like those with visual impairments, people who are hard of hearing face a number of potentially dangerous obstacles when traveling outside. Dogs for the hearing impaired are trained to alert their owners to environmental cues such as oncoming vehicles, people approaching or trying to get their attention, and so on. Although this type of service dog doesn't always need to physically guide the owner by use of a harness, the dog still provides a highly alert and protective presence that greatly increases the independence a hearing impaired person experiences. This is the second-largest category of service dog and is also growing the fastest in the United States.

Assistance and Therapy Dogs
Therapy dogs are available to people suffering from a wide variety of psychological issues. They are perhaps most commonly paired with those who are coping with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapy dogs are intended to provide a warm, loving presence in a person's life. A therapy dog may also serve as an assistance dog capable of performing certain basic tasks. For example, an assistance dog may be able to open unlocked doors and even operate light switches at an owner's verbal command. This helps people who have limited mobility manage the tasks of their daily lives more effectively. Last, but not least, therapy dogs have sometimes been shown to have beneficial physiological effects, such as reducing blood pressure.

Medical Detection Dogs
Medical detection dogs can be thought of as the newest and most unusual form of service dog. These dogs are trained to use their acute sense of smell to detect various medical issues so they can be acted upon promptly. For example, medical detection dogs may be able to sense cancer, blood sugar changes related to diabetes, and even high blood pressure. Medical detection dogs frequently live in long-term-care facilities where they can develop a relationship with a number of residents who have different needs. The process of understanding how to best train and equip these dogs for their service has only just begun compared to the other types of dogs. In time, their role is sure to grow in both preventive and palliative care.
Article written by Lexi Westingate

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