What Are The Different Types Of Service Dogs?

Service dogs help countless disabled people live normal lives. With a number of people suffering from different disabilities, you may wonder about the different types of service dogs.

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) website defines service dogs as those who are trained to perform a specific task for individuals with disabilities.

There are more than a dozen types of service dogs.

For the ADA, a service dog is trained with a purpose, so it is irrelevant to categorize it.


It is crucial to know about the different types of service dogs for the trainer as well as its future owner. Different service dogs are trained differently to help with different disabilities.

A Mobility Support Dog may not qualify as a Diabetic Alert Dog. This does not mean that one dog cannot be trained in two disciplines, but it is unusual.

Service dog trainers also have distinct specialties.

Types Of Service Dogs: Brace/Mobility Support Dogs (BMSD)

Brace/Mobility Support Dogs typically wear a special brace harness to help them assist their handlers. Their job is to help handlers suffering from a disability that causes balance issues.

Not all Brace/Mobility Support Dogs wear a brace harness. The most important thing is size. The dog needs to be large and strong enough to safely support their handler.

In general, these service dogs should be at least 23″ tall and 55 pounds in weight to perform brace/counterbalance work efficiently and safely.

These service dogs can also retrieve, open and close doors, and assist their handlers in everyday lives or in times of emergency.

Service Dog Project, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that donates Great Dane service dogs for the mobility-impaired. So far, they have placed over 100 service dogs to individuals who have severe balance and mobility limitations.


Types of Service Dogs: Hearing Dogs

Hearing Dogs are trained to guide their deaf handler. These service dogs alert their deaf handler to specific environmental sounds like:

  • Alarms
  • Knocking
  • Doorbells
  • Ringing phones
  • Cars

Their handlers typically don’t show any signs of disability. They may or may not have problems communicating.

  • Hearing Dogs often do not wear a special gear, but certain state laws recommend bright orange as the reserved color for such dogs.
  • Hearing Dogs are trained to respond to a sound that their owner needs to know about.

An amazing organization, Dogs for the Deaf, Inc., has been helping deaf people and rescuing shelter dogs at the same time.

According to their website, “Dogs for the Deaf, Inc.’s mission is to rescue and professionally train dogs to help people and enhance lives, maintaining a lifelong commitment to all dogs we rescue and all people we serve.”


Types of Service Dogs: Autism Assistance Dogs

An Autism Assistance Dog’s job includes assisting in calming and grounding a person with autism via tactile or deep pressure stimulation.

Autism Assistance Dogs also help autistic individuals become independent and perform activities that normal people do. This type of service dog helps boost their handler’s confidence in public, allowing them to go out more often.

Autism Assistance Dog’s are typically assigned to children, but their handlers could be who may or may not show visible signs of disability.

People with autism may or may not be verbal. They are often aloof and not keen on establishing connections and friendships with other people. With the help of an Autism Service Dog, people with autism reportedly learn to interact better with other people.

Autism Assistance Dogs do not typically wear distinctive gear, but if their owner or handler is young and non-verbal, the dog should carry emergency protocol instructions and contact information in his vest.

Paws with a Cause is one of the many nonprofit organizations that offer well-trained service dogs for people with autism.


Types of Service Dogs: Severe Allergy Alert Dogs (AADs)

Severe Allergy Alert Dogs signal their handler to possibly life-threatening allergens – be it an area or food ingredients, including gluten, nuts, or shellfish.

This type of service dog typically wears a vest with pockets for emergency information, medical information and/or medication. They also often have a patch that says, “In the event of emergency, check pockets.” This is to ensure their handler’s safety in the event of an emergency and to ensure fast and accurate medical care.

Severe Allergy Alert Dogs are often partnered with children but it is common to see them with any person with a life-threatening allergy.

These service dogs also carry medical information and an emergency protocol in their vest or on a USB key attached to their collar.

Allergen Detection Service Dogs offers service dogs to sniff out potentially deadly allergens for their handlers. Aside from providing and training service dogs, the organization also educates and raises awareness about allergies through in-depth seminars and kid camps.


Types of Service Dogs: Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs)

Also known as Blood Sugar Alert Dogs, Diabetic Alert Dogs signal their handler to fatally high and low blood sugar levels. They are often trained to use a special K-9 Alert Phone for calling 911 if their handler is not able to.

People with Diabetic Alert Dogs are often young children and senior citizens.

They typically don’t wear any special gear but they often wear a vest with emergency protocols, because the dog may be the first point of contact with an emergency medical team.

Diabetic Alert Dogs of America offers world-class service dogs for individuals of all ages and families affected by diabetes throughout the entire United States & Canada.

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Types of Service Dogs: Medical Alert Dogs (MADs)

Medical Alert Dogs are trained to alert their handler to potentially dangerous changes in their body, including:

  • Blood Pressure
  • Blood Sugar Levels
  • Hormone Levels
  • Or other verifiable bodily symptoms

The people Medical Alert Dogs assist may or may not show any signs of disability.

MADs may or may not have a special gear, depending on the needs of their handler.

Medical Alert Dogs do a wide range of jobs. They could also be Diabetic Alert Dogs, Epilepsy  Alert Dogs, or others. All Diabetic Alert Dogs are Medical Alert Dogs, but not all Medical Alert Dogs are Diabetic Alert Dogs.

The Canines 4 Hope organization trains dogs to be Medical Alert Dogs. According to their website, their mission is “to provide you and your family with assistance and hope to live a fulfilled and fruitful life with the aid of a professionally trained service dog.”


Types of Service Dogs: Medical Assistance Dogs

Medical Assistance Dogs are a different service dog type. Their job is to assist their medically disabled handler through trained, specific, mitigating task work.

Their handlers range from young people to the elderly, who may or may not show signs of disability. Medical Assistance Dogs can vary widely based on the dog’s job, tasks, and training.

Do note that the term “Medical Assistance Dogs” tends to be a catch-all category for a Service Dog that doesn’t really fit anywhere else.

Service Dogs for America is one of the organizations that train Medical Assistance Dogs.


Types of Service Dogs: Psychiatric Service Dog (PSDs)

Psychiatric Service Dogs assist handlers with a psychiatric disability, including anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

The types of people PSD dogs help vary widely, and their handlers do not often have any signs of disability.

Psychiatric Service Dogs do not need to wear a special gear, but are protected under the same federal laws that protect other Service Dogs. This means they should be given the exact same treatment and access rights that other service dogs have.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Therapy Dogs, on the other hand, are not covered under the Americans with Disability Act because they are not the same as Psychiatric Service Dogs.

Canines 4 Hope also offers Psychiatric Service Dogs.


Types of Service Dogs: Seizure Alert Dogs

Seizure Alert Dogs are trained to alert their handlers to an oncoming seizure. On average, such dogs signal their handlers 10-20 minutes before the seizure happens, giving the person an opportunity to move to a safer place, take his or her medication, or call for help.

Seizure Alert Dogs are also trained to help their handlers by:

  • Rolling the person over to create an open airway
  • Clearing vomit from the mouth
  • Retrieving medication
  • Getting help
  • Operating a call button or k9 phone to call 911
  • Blocking a handler with postictal disorientation from stairs and intersections
  • Assisting the handler to get up
  • Leading the disoriented handler to a safe location or a preset person

Seizure Alert Dogs have been very helpful and successful in their job. They are also often trained as Seizure Response Dogs.


Types of Service Dogs: Seizure Response Dogs

Seizure Response Dogs respond to their handler’s seizures by performing trained tasks. This service dog may retrieve medication, perform a deep pressure stimulation to disrupt or end a seizure early, and fetch a nearby person to help or call 911. They may also be trained for other tasks.

Seizure Response Dogs typically don’t wear any special gear.

Seizure Alert Dogs are also Seizure Response Dogs. But the latter aren’t always the same as former, as the Seizure Alert Dogs are not trained specifically to alert to seizure attacks.

Canine Partners for Life is one of the organizations that train Seizure Response Dogs.


Types of Service Dogs: Wheelchair Assistance Dogs

Wheelchair Assistance Dogs assist their handlers by picking up and retrieving objects, opening doors, retrieving the phone, helping with moving, or anything else their handler may need.

They don’t need any special gear, but many wear a special harness to help in pulling a chair or opening a door.

They may be trained to perform more tasks and actual jobs.

Canines 4 Hope also trains Wheelchair Assistance Dogs.


Types of Service Dogs: Visual Assistance or Seeing Guide Dogs

Virtual Assistance Dogs are more commonly known as Seeing Guide Dogs. These service dogs help their blind or visually impaired handlers become more independent by leading them to preset places, warning them of obstacles, and keeping them safe inside or outside their homes.

Seeing Guide Dogs wear a guide dog harness, which typically has some white areas, this is the color reserved for use by guide dogs and visually impaired individuals.

Dog breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, are often the dog breed of choice for training Visual Assistance Dogs. Most are Labs, Goldens or German Shepherds, but they can be any sturdy, even-tempered, medium or large breed dog.

Canine Companions for Independence is the largest nonprofit provider of assistance dogs, including Seeing Guide Dogs. All of the dogs and services they provide are free of charge. According to their website, the organization is funded by private contributions.


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