Many people are surprised to learn there are over a dozen different specializations for Service Dogs. There are Diabetic Alert Dogs, Severe Allergy Alert dogs, Visual Assistance Dogs, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, Wheelchair Assistance Dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs, Brace/Mobility Support Dogs, Medical Alert Dogs, Seizure Assistance Dogs and more. What are all of these types of Service Dogs — and what do they do?
When it comes to different types of Service Dogs, there’s one thing that’s clear: the base definition of a Service Dog. According to the ADA, a Service Animal is any dog which is specifically trained to perform tasks for a disabled individual that they would otherwise have difficulty completing on their own.
All of the titles, distinguishing categories and types of Service Dogs have no bearing under federal law — a Service Dog is a Service Dog is a Service Dog. However, the various types of Service Dogs make breaking down the dogs’ functions, jobs and tasks a little easier and can make a trainer’s life less stressful. For example, a Service Dog trainer may have a ton of experience training Diabetic Alert Dogs, but may not be qualified to train and place Visual Assistance or Guide Dogs.
Some Service Dogs perform two or more functions for their disabled handler so you might hear someone say, “Oh, she’s a brace/mobility support dog and a seizure assistance dog.” There isn’t a clear way to classify all types of Service Dogs, nor is classification particularly important. The dog’s type, function, title or classification is usually left up to the dog’s handler. Finally, there’s no universally accepted list of types of Service Dogs.
Here’s a brief overview of several common types of Service Dogs:
Service Dog: Severe Allergy Alert Dogs (AADs)
Job: To alert their handler to life-threatening allergens that may be in the area, especially tree nuts, gluten or shellfish
Handler: May or may not have visible signs of disability
Gear: Allergen Alert Dogs typically wear a vest with pockets for emergency information, medical information and/or medication. For their handler’s safety in the event of an emergency and to ensure fast and accurate medical care, AADs should sport a patch that says, “IN EVENT OF EMERGENCY CHECK POCKETS.”
Notes: Often partnered with children, but can be seen partnered with any person with a life-threatening allergy. Most Allergen Alert Dogs carry medical information and emergency protocol in their vest or on a USB key attached to their collar.
Service Dog: Autism Assistance Dogs
Job: To assist in calming and grounding an individual on the autism spectrum via tactile or deep pressure stimulation. May also assist in teaching life skills, maintaining boundaries or finding a “runner.”
Handler: Likely to be a child, but could be older. May or may not show visible signs of disability, and may or may not be verbal.
Gear: Autism Assistance Dogs don’t have distinguishing gear. If a dog’s partner is young and non-verbal, the dog should carry emergency protocol and contact information in his vest.
Notes: Autism Assistance Dogs and Sensory Processing Disorder Dogs fall into the same category and usually perform identical task work.
Service Dog: Brace/Mobility Support Dogs (BMSD)
Job: A Brace/Mobility Support Dog works to provide bracing or counterbalancing to a partner who has balance issues due to a disability. Many BMSDs also retrieve, open/close doors or do other tasks to assist in day-to-day life or in an emergency.
Handler: Will vary in presentation depending on disability. Could be any age.
Gear: Most Brace/Mobility Support Dogs wear a specially-fitted and designed harness to help them safely assist their partner. However, just because a dog isn’t wearing a brace harness doesn’t mean he may not be a brace dog
Notes: Brace/Mobility Support Dogs must be large enough to safely support their human partner. In general, BMSD must be at least 23″ tall and 55 pounds to perform brace/counterbalance work safely, and must be proportionally larger if their human is larger than average.
Service Dog: Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs)
Job: To alert their handler to dangerous or potentially deadly blood sugar highs and lows. Many dogs are trained to call 911 on a special K-9 Alert Phone if their partner cannot be roused.
Handler: May show signs of visible disability, but likely will not. Could be any age from very, very young to a senior citizen.
Gear: Diabetic Alert Dogs typically don’t wear special gear. DADs should carry emergency protocols in their vest if the dog would ever be the first point of contact with an emergency medical team.
Notes: Diabetic Alert Dogs are also known as “Blood Sugar Alert Dogs.”
Service Dog: Hearing Dogs
Job: To alert their deaf or Deaf handler to specifically trained environmental sounds, including, but not limited to, alarms, doorbells, knocking, phones, cars or their name.
Handler: Likely won’t show signs of disability. May or may not speak verbal English.
Gear: Hearing Dogs don’t require special gear, but many state laws designate bright orange as reserved for Hearing Dogs.
Notes: Hearing Dogs can be trained to respond to any environmental sound or cue their handler needs to know about. Just because you can’t see what a Hearing Dog is responding to doesn’t mean he’s not working.
Service Dog: Medical Alert Dogs (MADs)
Job: To alert their handler to dangerous physiological changes such as blood pressure, hormone levels or another verifiable, measurable bodily symptom.
Handler: May or may not show signs of disability.
Gear: Depending on the handler’s disability, the dog may or may not have specialized gear.
Notes: Medical Alert Dogs’ jobs and functions can vary widely. Also, all DADs are Medical Alert Dogs, but not all Medical Alert Dogs are DADs.
Service Dog: Medical Assistance Dogs
Job: To assist their handler with a medical disability via trained, specific, mitigating task work.
Handler: Can vary widely in presentation of disability and age.
Gear: Can vary widely based on dog’s job, function and training.
Notes: “Medical Assistance Dog” tends to be a catch-all category for a Service Dog that doesn’t “fit” anywhere else. It’s also commonly utilized when the handler doesn’t feel like going into detail.
Service Dog: Psychiatric Service Dog (PSDs)
Job: To assist their handler with a psychiatric disability such as anxiety, depression or PTSD via specific, trained tasks.
Handler: Can vary widely in presentation but often appears to not have a disability. Often cited as having an “invisible” disability.
Gear: No special gear required.
Notes: Psychiatric Service Dogs are protected under the same federal laws that protect other Service Dogs. They must be given the exact same treatment and access rights. Note: Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Therapy Dogs are NOT the same as Psychiatric Service Dogs and are not covered under the ADA, and nor do they have any public access whatsoever.
Service Dog: Seizure Response Dogs
Job: To respond to their handler’s seizures via trained tasks. The dog may retrieve medication, utilize deep pressure stimulation to end a seizure early, fetch a nearby person to help or call 911. Other trained tasks are common as well.
Handler: May or may not show signs of physical disability.
Gear: Typically no special gear required.
Notes: Seizure Alert Dogs fall under this category. Please keep in mind that you cannot train a Seizure Response Dog to alert to seizures — it must be something the dog comes to do naturally via association with their human partner and an intuitive nature.
Service Dog: Visual Assistance Dogs
Job: To guide their visually impaired or blind handler.
Handler: May or may not show signs of visible disability.
Gear: Visual Assistance Dogs will wear a guide dog harness, typically of which at least some part is white. White is the color protected for use by guide dogs and visually impaired individuals.
Notes: Visual Assistance Dogs are commonly called “Guide Dogs” or “Leader Dogs.” Most are Labs, Goldens or German Shepherds, but they can be any sturdy, even-tempered, medium or large breed dog.
Service Dog: Wheelchair Assistance Dogs
Job: To assist their partner by retrieving dropped objects, opening doors, retrieving the phone, helping with transfers or anything else their partner may need.
Handler: Is in a wheelchair. May or may not be ambulatory at times.
Gear: No special gear required, but many wear a special harness to assist in pulling a chair or opening a door.
Notes: Wheelchair Assistance Dogs can vary widely in trained tasks and actual job.
If you think we left a type out or you’d like to see something added or changed, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Did you find this information helpful? If so, you may also be interested in these articles:
Hospital Access Rights for Service Dog Teams
Service Dog Etiquette
Things Service Dogs in Public Should and Should Not Do
That’s Not a Service Dog
Types of Service Dogs
Minimum Behavior and Training Standards for Service Dogs in Public
How to Tell If a Service Dog is Legitimate
What Is a Service Dog?