For many of us, a dog is more than a pet. A dog is a lifelong companion who loves us unconditionally and is just as much a member of our families as, well, the human lifelong companions are.
But for a large part of the population, dogs are much, much more than lifelong companions—they’re life savers, serving their handlers in ways that not only keep them safe and healthy, but calm and comforted, too.
Programs that employ reading dogs are popping up all over the country—and for good reason! For students who have difficulties reading, doing so out loud can often be not only uncomfortable, but detrimental to their self-esteem.
The fear of being judged for stumbling over words might feel unsurmountable at first, but with a dog by their side, the level of self-consciousness diminishes considerably.
A dog not only calms the child by giving them something to love and pet, but also acts as a non-judgmental audience who supports them every step of the way. And when you’re reading to an adorable furry friend who encourages you every word of the page, it’s hard not to get excited about reading.
Marked by their U-shaped harness, guide dogs (sometimes called seeing eye dogs) assist blind and visually impaired handlers, helping them navigate various obstacles such as curbs and steps and traffic signs.
The duo works together, the human providing directional commands and the dog guiding them from point A to point B in a safe and efficient manner.
The presence of a guide dog dramatically changes the way a blind or visually impaired handler lives their life, offering a sense of mobility that may have previously seemed—or been—daunting.
Known as K-9s, police dogs are trained to help police and other law-enforcement officers in their work, whether it’s sniffing for bombs, arson, drugs, crime scene evidence, or missing persons—all thanks to their impressive sense of smell.
German shepherds are the most common breed of police dog thanks to their availability, but breeds can vary—as long as they’re intelligent, strong, aggressive, loyal, and have a top-notch sense of smell.
Much like the reading dog, the autism dog helps autistic children gain self-confidence through increased social interaction and simply having someone to constantly count on.
An autism dog is trained to provide a wide variety of comforts and services, including calming a child during mood swings, interrupting disruptive or harmful behavior, and finding a lost child.
Medical Alert Dog
Medical alert dogs do just that—alert their owner of a medical emergency before it occurs! From detecting blood sugar that’s too high or low in owners with diabetes to nudging their handler at the first inkling of an oncoming epileptic seizure, medical alert dogs’ jobs run the gamut.
Because of a dog’s skilled senses, they’re often able to detect changes in a person’s odor, breathing, or even behavior before their human counterpart even realizes what’s happening and give the trained signal to let their pet parent know what’s coming (a bark, a nudge, etc.) or even fetch medicine or a phone.
Medical alert dogs are also trained to learn their human’s name, so that in the event of a medical emergency, they can seek help and guide someone to them. If, for instance, the pet parent is epileptic, a medical alert dog also provides a sense of comfort—they snuggle up close to their handler during an episode to serve as a calming presence.
But in reality, a medical alert dog is always a calming presence. The comfort and security they provide their handlers is life-changing.
Simply petting a dog is enough to not only strengthen the feel-good bond between man and dog, but it’s healthy, too: Studies show it lowers both heart rate and blood pressure. So it’s no surprise a dog trained to just be there can be extremely therapeutic.
Therapy dogs are trained to provide love and comfort to people in disaster areas or after tragedies, and in hospitals, senior care homes, schools, etc.—there’s no shortage of places a therapy dog can lend a helping paw.