I always thought helper dogs were
for blind or hearing impaired people. As I
began to learn more about these dogs, I realized
they also offered a variety of assistance to
people with physical limitations.
Service dogs can be trained to retrieve objects
that are out of reach; pull a manual
wheelchairs; open doors and turn on lights;
retrieve help; assisting with dressing or
undressing; and assist in many other ways.
Some service dogs are specially trained seizure
response dogs and there are dogs trained to
offer a person counter balance when ambulating.
One less tangible benefit is that these dogs can
actually expand your world by giving you
opportunities to meet people and get out in the
My service dog, Dottie,
and I take walks around the neighborhood every
evening. Each evening, between 5:00 and
6:00, she brings me her leach wanting to take a
walk. (Unfortunately, rain presents a
problem. Try to convince a dog that you
can’t go for a walk because it is raining.)
We never come home that we have not socialized
with people we encountered. Interactions
are usually prompted by Dottie and then switch
How Do I Get a Service Dog?
There are various programs throughout the
country. Some programs serve only a
particular region and others do not have a
defined territory. Costs vary; as do
lengths of waiting lists. To help you
assess if a program meets your needs, here are
some questions to consider when choosing a
service dog program:
- Does the
organization offer to train your dog or does it
train only their dogs?
- What kind of
assistance is their service dogs trained to
- Does the organization
provide services only to a certain territory?
You want to make sure you are in their service
- What are the costs to the
- Is there an age
Some programs take
children and adults and other limit how young
the recipient can be.
- How long is the
wait to get a dog?
- How long is the
training camp for you with your dog?
- What are the costs to you for the camp?
Some programs pay for training camp costs
such as room and board and, others, leave these
expenses up to the recipient.
there support after the training camp?
Many organizations will allow you to apply
online; however, if the website does not answer
all your questions, there is usually a number to
The website referenced
below lists many of the service dog groups:
Check out this inspirational video about
What’s a Training Camp
camps are a time when the recipient learns to
work with their dog. The dog is trained -
now you need to be. Service dogs know many
commands before being paired with the physically
limited person. Camp teaches you how to
train your dog to perform tasks specific to your
After leaving camp it did not
take me long to realize one of my specific
needs. My dog left her toys all over the
floor and, being in a wheelchair, this made it
very difficult for me to get around. Using
the command “clean up”, I taught Dottie to pick
up her toys and put them in her toy basket.
Her little trick really impresses young visitors
AND their parents.
Is a Service
Dog Right for Me?
An important question to
ask yourself is if you are prepared to be a
responsible dog owner? These animals are
wonderful companions but they are still large
dogs that need to be let out to toilet; managed
for fleas; brushed to control shedding; and
taken to the veterinarian for routine health
maintenance. Additionally, training
reinforcement is an ongoing responsibility.
A service dog can help a person become
more independent - feeling happier and better
about their life. There is a lot to
consider before making the leap in that
direction but, if you decide this path is right
for you, it can be life changing.
Suzanne Ponciroli has lived with the challenges
created by MS for over 20 years. She has
created a website,
http://EmpoweredLivingToday.com and a blog,
Both websites contain ideas and aids to help
people overcome physical challenges.