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A service dog is specifically trained to help people who have disabilities including visual difficulties, hearing impairments, mental illness, seizures, diabetes, Autism, and much more.
Desirable character traits in service animals typically include good temperament or psychological make-up (including being open to learning) and good health (including physical build and endurance).
Labs, German shepherds, retrievers, and American pit bull terriers are the most common breeds used as service dogs. While any breed or mix of breeds is capable of being a service dog, few dogs have all of the health and temperament qualities needed.
The typical working life of a service dog is usually eight to ten years, depending on the owner’s needs and preferences.
Most service dogs don’t work all the time, but are taught to identify work versus free time by whether or not they are wearing their gear. Exceptions to this rule include seizure alert dogs, which must not ignore an impending seizure at any time.
Due to the strict behavior expected from a service dog, it is considered bad manners for people other than the owner to pet the animal.
When service dogs retire, they may remain with the owner or sometimes with a family member as a pet. Not all owners are able to care for the retiring dog and a successor dog at the same time. Usually, the family that raised it as a pup is given the first opportunity to keep him as a pet.
A number of retired service dogs are adopted out to carefully screened homes. These dogs are highly desirable pets because of their manners and obedience training; waiting lists for such placements can be years long.
Working dogs take on different responsibilities than service dogs. One noble job is a Department of Defense Military Working Dog.
Dogs that have been identified as good prospects are sent to one of only a few boot camps in the U.S.
They go through a 12-week boot camp. The camp is broken down into five phases: basic obedience, obstacle courses, getting used to gunfire, controlled aggression and searching for an individual through sight, sound, and scent.
The K-9’s training instructors use rewards—toys not treats—to teach the dogs basic commands such as sit, no, down, out, heel and stay.
If the dog obeys its trainer and follows the command given, it will get its reward. Toys are not the only rewards bestowed upon the hounds. One phase of the course, the controlled aggression phase, allows the dogs the opportunity to work with a bite suit.
The bite suit exercise is where a person gets into a protective suit that shields them against a dog’s bite. After the decoy suits-up the dog is allowed to chase, attack, and guard the suspect.
Because of its natural animal instinct, the dog will catch a suspect running from authorities and know who is a threat to their human companion.
The dogs must learn to be aggressive on command. Therefore, the dogs are allowed to be as mean as they want – however, the dogs still have to be aware of the commands given to them by their trainers and under control at all times.
After graduating from the course, the dogs become the newest members of the Department of Defense as field-trained dogs. But their training doesn’t end there.
The DoD is also helping with their training by introducing the electric collar, which could help the dogs who have trouble releasing a suspect on command.
Training across the DoD never stops for service members, even if they stand on four legs. These four-legged warriors spend months, sometimes even years, in garrison and on the battle field, just like everyone else who wears the uniform.
Service men, women, and dogs alike stand vigilant along one another prepared for the situations they may face in the future.