Choosing labs as service dogs is common for families with family members that have disabilities. There are many types of working dogs that serve people with disabilities, but the versatility of a lab makes them a common choice.
Some of the more common types are autism service dogs, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) dogs, dogs for the blind and deaf, or diabetic service dogs, among others. Service dogs can remind patients to do things like take their medications, or they can calm their companions when they’re having an anxiety attack. Many companion service dogs also help guide the blind or alert the hearing impaired of sounds their owners cannot hear.
Though there are several different kinds of special needs animals, labrador retrievers are very common companions to those who need of a little help. Because labradors are so easily trained, are very stable and trustworthy dogs, and are the perfect size for an ideal service dog, many people looking for a service animal choose labs. Labs are one of the friendliest dog breeds, interacting with anyone and everyone that crosses their path. The breed rarely, if ever, exhibits any signs of aggression toward humans. Who wouldn’t want such a friendly, furry companion that can both comfort and protect?
This article walks through the different types of services that labrador retrievers can provide, specifically as trained service animals for people with disabilities.
Autism service dogs
Those who have an autistic child may know that autism and pets go hand in hand. Pets give autistic children something to focus on outside of themselves, a companion for tough times, and someone to talk to who can’t argue with them. In addition to this crucial companionship, service dogs can protect autistic children by making sure they don’t wander off from their parents. Often times, service dogs can perform tasks that children with autism cannot do.
Labradors are especially good animals for those with autism. These working dogs are stable, loyal, and easy going, which are often hard feelings for autistic children to feel themselves. Guide dogs for autism can provide an important stability in otherwise unfamiliar situations. Autistic children respond well to routines and often exhibit the same reactions when dealing with a hard situation, such as shutting down completely or placing their hands over their ears and shaking.
Working dogs can be trained to recognize these repeated reactions in their companions and can respond by placing a paw on the child or putting their body next to the child for comfort. Labs are especially effective in calming down autistic children or shifting their focus away from the person or thing that is upsetting them.
Labs also have a great sense of place and direction, so it’s hard for a lab to get lost. Labs are very intelligent dogs, and they can usually find their way back home if they’ve wandered a little too far. They can sense when a child is in danger, or when a parent is worried.
These are just some of the many reasons why guide dogs for autism can be so effective. It can be hard to find comforts for those with autism and pets are often a great place to start. For someone with autism, a labrador can act as a protector, friend, and comfort system.
One of the most common symptoms of PTSD is anxiety. PTSD dogs are trained to help those suffering from the disorder when their anxiety becomes severe. Flashbacks, triggers, and distrust are also common symptoms. Because labradors have very steady personalities, they are very trustworthy and predictable animals. Though lab puppies exhibit the same heightened energy and curiosity as any dog breed, once they become adults, labs are loyal and dependable.
For example, if someone with PTSD suffers with flashbacks or triggers, and loud noises set off this trigger, having a PTSD dog who is not easily alarmed can quickly calm the person and make them realize that everything is ok and there is no threat. Labs are also very good at following commands and being trained, which may be a comfort to someone who has left military service and is used to giving instructions.
People with PTSD may have other injuries after leaving the armed services, and labs can be trained to assist these patients with picking things up or doing other physical tasks that the owners can no longer do.
If someone suffering from PTSD has trouble communicating with other people or is depressed and can’t shake negative feelings, working dogs have proven to help these symptoms just by being present. Labradors, with their friendly demeanor and loyalty, are especially good at bringing out loving feelings in humans. Having a companion that is with you solely for comfort and support is never a bad thing to have, especially for those who have trouble participating in society after leaving the military.
Diabetic service dogs
Because the symptoms of diabetes can vary so much, you may wonder, can diabetics have service dogs or more specifically how do service dogs help people with diabetes?
It may surprise you to learn that labradors can actually alert humans when their blood sugar is too high or too low. These specially trained dogs are typically referred to as Diabetic Alert Dogs. These dogs can actually tell if there is a change in their owner’s chemical balance, which often happens quickly with both low and high blood sugar. Once the dog reacts, maybe by staring down the owner or nudging them, the owner is alerted that they need to check their blood sugar immediately, and perhaps take insulin. Because dogs have a heightened sense of smell, they can sense chemical changes in humans through scent.
Because our human partners do not have these skills–to sense when sugar levels change or to remind diabetics when to take their medication like an alarm clock–Diabetic Alert Dogs are crucial companions for diabetics.
Other psychiatric service dog breeds
Although dogs are the only recognized type of service animal, according to ADA Requirements, it can be hard figuring out which breed is best for specific needs or conditions. This post discusses the benefits of choosing a labrador, but if you are still looking for the right fit, consider other dependable psychiatric service dog breeds, such as a German shepherd, golden retriever, or doberman pinscher, all known for their alertness, intelligence, and loyalty.
Keep in mind that emotional support or companion animals are not recognized as service dogs by the ADA, though often times labradors have proven to be excellent companions for emotional support. To be considered a service dog, the dog must be trained for one specific task, such as the tasks already discussed above, in addition to protection for someone with epilepsy during a seizure or giving a deaf person cues when there is something going on that the person cannot hear.
Therapy animals are also different than service dogs–though therapy animals are often dogs, other species can provide therapy services, including cats or rabbits. Labrador retrievers also make excellent therapy dogs because of their pleasant demeanor and tendency toward affection.
Dogs of all types are known to warm the heart. Labrador retrievers are especially effective at bringing out feelings of love in humans because they are so kind. Labs exhibit the traits that one thinks of in a “man’s best friend”–loyal, trustworthy, friendly, and intelligent. Studies have shown that the presence of labs create feelings of joy in their owners, so it’s no surprise that labs are one of the most common dogs chosen as service dogs for conditions such as autism, PTSD, and diabetes.
Though there are many other types of animals that act as special needs animals, labrador retrievers are always a solid choice when looking for a service companion.