The Value of a Service Dog for a Loved One with Special Needs

A service dog can fulfill many purposes for an individual with special needs. This type of dog provides a calming presence, contributes to the person’s safety and is an ever-present companion.

If you’ve ever considered getting a service dog for a child or other loved one with autism or other special needs, it’s best to learn all you can about them before making a decision. Checkout the facts on these amazing dogs!

What is a Service Dog?

A service dog is specially trained to be of assistance to its owner. This dog goes through months or sometimes years of training with a professional service dog trainer. Oftentimes, a trainer has the service dog from the time it’s a puppy until it’s about two years old. The dog lives with the trainer and is being trained simple lessons from a very young age.

After completing instruction with a trainer, the dog goes through a period of time working with its new owner under the guidance of its trainer. The new owner is able to ask questions and learn how to handle the service dog. Also, this period of time spent with both the trainer and dog gives the new owner the opportunity to get to know the dog. All of this happens to ensure the dog and its owner are a good fit before the dog goes to its new home.

The Benefits of a Service Dog for an Individual with Autism

A Calming Influence

Sometimes people who are autistic or who have other specific needs experience anxiety especially when their daily routine is disrupted. They may become nervous in a new environment or when they are in the company of unfamiliar people. A service dog is trained to sense when their owner is upset or anxious. Sometimes the calming presence of a service dog can help a child to avoid a meltdown or help them to feel less overwhelmed in a new situation. The dog knows to remain close to its owner and may nuzzle or lick the person’s hands in an effort to soothe anxiety.

Helps with Social Interaction

A service dog can help a person with unique needs to interact more confidently with others. For instance, the person can answer questions from friends and schoolmates about their dog. New friends can get to know one another while they pet the service dog. In short, a service dog can be a great icebreaker for people with unique needs.

Staying Safe in Busy Areas

A service dog can be tethered to a young child who is autistic to keep him or her from running away or getting into a dangerous situation on a busy street. Alternatively, a teenager or adult may simply feel more at ease in busy areas while holding the service dog by its leash.

Service dogs are sometimes paired with people who have Alzheimer’s. The dog is able to safely guide the person around stores, parking lots or other places. This helps a person with Alzheimer’s to be more independent while on an outing with family or friends.

Finding a Child Who Has Wandered Away

Some kids with autism have a tendency to wander away whether it’s to a different floor in a home or to another aisle in a grocery store. This can be upsetting for both the individual and his or her loved ones. A service dog can find its owner by scent and bring the person back to safety.

May Prompt More Speech

Some children who are autistic have been known to speak more when they have a service dog. This dog can bring out emotions and reactions in both children and adults. While building trust with a service dog, parents or caregivers may see an uptick in a child’s verbal skills.

Nurtures a Love and Respect for Animals

Some kids who are autistic are sensitive to particular sights and sounds around them. They may be wary of neighborhood dogs and cats because they can do unexpected things at times. A service dog is trained to remain calm and even tempered. Furthermore, it’s trained to bark only during certain instances. So, spending time with a specially trained dog like this can help a child to nurture a love for dogs and other animals.

Gives Parents Peace of Mind

Looking at it from a parent’s point of view, a service dog can provide valuable peace of mind. For instance, parents are likely to feel more at ease walking down the street with their child as long as the service dog is present. In fact, this peace of mind may encourage parents to take their child out more to experience different environments. As parents and caregivers, we want our loved ones to build on positive experiences in different environments and gain more confidence as they grow older.

Not surprisingly, many parents think of a service dog as a member of their family! When they hop into the car to take a trip to the park or to the grocery store, they wouldn’t think of going without their service dog. Of course, it would have its own Dog Seat Belt to keep it safe in the vehicle like all of the other passengers! This is not just a pet, but a dog that serves a significant purpose in a household.

Learning More About Service Dogs

If you want to learn more about service dogs, 4 Paws for Ability is a good place to start. Before starting the process of getting a dog, it’s best to determine if this option is a good one for you and your family. The FAQ section of 4 Paws for Ability has a lot of helpful answers for parents and caregivers.

Lastly, once a child or adult has a service dog, that animal is going to be with the person for many years. The trust that’s built between a service dog and its owner can play an important part in the confidence level and happiness of a person with special needs.