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What Disabilities Can A Service Dog Assist With?

Updated: Jun 26

Understanding Service Dogs

A service dog undergoes specialized training to assist individuals with disabilities by performing tasks that alleviate the impact of their condition.  These tasks are directly related to the individual's disability and are tailored to meet their specific needs. In many countries, including the United States, service dog handlers are granted legal rights and protections under the law, ensuring that their handlers can access public spaces and accommodations without discrimination.

We have a variety of articles about service dogs available in our blog, including insight into the differences between service dogs and other support animals, service dog etiquette, and traveling with service dogs

Service dogs play a vital role in assisting individuals with disabilities, offering invaluable support and companionship. But did you know that service dogs can help their handlers with many different kinds of disabilities? Understanding how service dogs can help people with all kinds of disabilities is essential for those in need of assistance and for the broader community to appreciate the diverse ways these remarkable animals can improve lives.

To understand which disabilities a service dog can be trained to help with, we first need to understand how a disability is defined. According to the ADA, “An individual with a disability is defined … as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” So, the type of disability isn’t really the point, but rather how much the disability impacts the person’s ability to live a normal life. This means service dogs can be trained to assist with all kinds of disabilities!

A woman wearing a black t-shirt and floral pants walks beside a pond with her service dog on a leash.

Different Types of Disabilities

Physical Disabilities

Individuals with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, amputation and loss of limbs, spina bifida, acquired brain injury, cystic fibrosis, and more benefit from the presence of a service dog. Service dogs can help individuals with various physical disabilities by performing tasks such as barking for help or opening doors, among many other tasks

Visual Impairments

As this article “How Service Dogs Transform the Lives of People with Disabilities” from Maryland Works demonstrates, service dogs for individuals with visual impairments assist by “helping them navigate obstacles and safely move through their surroundings”. As such, they are “trained to recognize and avoid potential hazards, such as low-hanging branches or parked cars”. 

A man using a rolling walker stands on a boardwalk looking down at his labrador-like service dog.

Hearing Impairments

The same article by Maryland Works also elaborates on how service dogs assist individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. For individuals with hearing disabilities, service dogs “are trained to alert their handlers to important sounds, such as doorbells, alarms, or crying babies.”

Neurological Disorders

Individuals with neurological conditions such as dementia, epilepsy, autism, or narcolepsy may qualify for a service dog. Service dogs can assist individuals with various neurological conditions by helping with numerous tasks such as retrieving medication, calming the individual, or alerting the person to potential hazards.

Psychiatric Disabilities

Psychiatric service dogs support individuals with mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, depression, mood disorders, etc. These dogs are trained to perform a variety of tasks, like those listed in the article “Psychiatric Service Dogs for People With Mental Health Disorders” by Alison Yarp, MD, MPH in VeryWell Health: “Tasks may include providing tactile stimulation, distracting or redirecting your attention, bringing you medication, or getting you help when you need it.”

A person in a wheelchair smiles as their service dog licks their face in front of a green couch with patterned pillows.

Getting A Professional Opinion

The process of obtaining a service dog often involves a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified professional, such as a licensed medical provider. The assessment considers factors such as the individual's specific disability, their lifestyle, and their ability to manage and care for a service dog effectively.

More Resources on Service Dogs

The availability of service dogs for individuals with disabilities opens up new possibilities for independence, mobility, and emotional well-being. Whether it's a physical, sensory, neurological, or psychiatric disability, there are trained service dogs ready to provide assistance and companionship. To learn more about service dog services, frequently asked questions, or how to get started with the process of obtaining one of our service dogs, visit Compass Key Service Dogs, explore our FAQs, or take the first step by getting started.

You can also learn more about the world of service dogs by visiting our blog and viewing the different articles we’ve written there. One of our many goals is to make education regarding service dogs available for any and all to learn.

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