By Christy Gardner, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Member of VetriExperts
Many people have seen a service dog in public but very few know much about them. While certified service dogs have public access rights, therapy dogs and emotional support animals do not. This is because service dogs generally go through about two years of training to ensure that they can help their disabled handler while also being safe and under control when on or off leash in public.
Here are five fun facts about certified service dogs that everyone should know.
1. On the Move
Unlike pets that get to lounge on the couch or bed while you’re at work, service dogs are often on the go all day with their handler. Service dogs are trained from a young age to be able to stay up all day and go with their handler wherever they go. Sometimes that means they get all 10,000 recommended steps a day.
Despite being a double amputee, me and my Golden Retriever service dog, Moxie would often get between 10,000 and 22,000 steps a day. One thing that helped Moxie keep up with me for years was taking VetriScience GlycoFlex Plus every day. This joint support chew helped her stay on her feet for hours and run 5K races with me until her retirement.
2. Retirement Life
Now that we’ve mentioned it, yes, service dogs eventually retire. Some may retire early due to health issues but many work with their handler up to 10 years old. Moxie and I were fortunate that she was able to work until 12 years old when her veterinarian decided it was time for her to retire.
While most humans love retirement, it’s sometimes a hard adjustment for the dog to stay home while their person leaves without them. Moxie definitely struggled at the beginning but is now loving the retired life. She’s getting spoiled with her favorite snacks and even sleeps in while I get going in the morning.
3. Keep Them Clean
Service dogs are required to be clean and hygienic at all times in public. While my goofballs love to jump in the mud on hikes or when playing in the yard, all service dogs have must be fresh smelling and presentable when they’re at work beside their handler. It was always a point of pride for me when a friend or stranger would mention how nice Moxie looked in public. My whole pack even has great smiles thanks to VetriScience Perio Support powder on their meals once a day. Even at 12 years old, Moxie’s teeth are clean and healthy and she doesn’t have dreaded “dog breath.”
4. Doggie College
While many amazing pets pass obedience training and even the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) training, service dogs do much more to become certified assistants for their handler. Service dogs like Moxie are trained for mobility assistance as well as seizure alert and response. They often learn more than 100 commands before graduating from their training programs.
Moxie was trained to recognize the chemical or electrical change before a seizure and to alert me so I could lay down in a safe place. She was also trained to roll me into the recovery position if I became unconscious from the seizure and to remove objects from around me that could be harmful. She could even remove the pillow and blanket from my bed if I had a seizure at night so that I didn’t suffocate.
She was also trained to call 911 on the house phone and ring a neighbor’s doorbell if I needed help. As an assistance dog, she was trained to fetch specific items on command, carry things so I can hold onto hand railings, push handicapped access buttons, and turn lights on and off.
In total, dogs like Moxie get over 450 hours of structured training sessions to make sure they are sharp on all of their skills before they take public access and skills tests to become certified service dogs. No class bullies make it through graduation either. Service dogs are required to be quiet, unobtrusive, and never aggressive when working.
5. All Work and No Play?
Yeah, right! Service dogs are still dogs and live the best of both worlds. While they do work for a disabled handler a lot of the time, they still get plenty of time to be dogs and have fun.
Moxie’s favorite activities include hiking and diving off the dock at camp. She absolutely loves hockey practice too. I play sled hockey on the U.S Women’s National Team and often train on my own, so Moxie likes to challenge me on the ice. She runs sprints and races me for conditioning and is really good at defense too so I have to fake her out and get around her with the puck before I can shoot. Safe to say she loves chewing on a puck when she wins, but she might just be bragging!
Retired Army Sergeant Christy Gardner is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and the founder and president of Mission Working Dogs. The nonprofit trains and matches service dogs with individuals with disabilities to help them live more independent and fulfilling lives. Gardner is an accomplished para athlete having competed for the U.S. Women’s National Sled Hockey Team, the USA Para Surfing Team, and is world-ranked as a shot put and discus thrower.