If you were to list off the tasks a service dog can do, what would be on that list? For most people unfamiliar with service dogs, that list probably starts and ends with “picking things up off the floor.” While that’s something service dogs do, and it’s an important task for lots of people, it’s just the beginning. Service dogs can be trained to assist with any number of things, depending on what their handler needs. For example, someone with a seizure disorder may not need their dog to pick things up off the floor. No two disabilities are the same, so why should service dogs all be trained the same? When I was going through the process of getting my service dog, Yogi, I was amazed at some of the things the trainer could teach him to do. There are many unique things dogs can be trained to do, some of which are very cool and creative.
Take off socks, jackets, etc.
Many people with physical disabilities have a hard time with getting clothing on and off. Maybe they can’t reach, maybe they lack the strength or dexterity required, or maybe it’s a combination of the two. A service dog can assist by tugging your jacket sleeve or pulling socks off. It’s a simple thing, but it means independence for many people. This is something I love to tell people about when they ask what Yogi can do, and it’s often followed by a demonstration. The only issue for me is, sometimes Yogi and I end up playing “keep away” with my socks!
Pay at the cash register
Shopping independently is something that is a huge deal for a lot of people. It’s hard to just pop over to the grocery when you have to wait for someone else, especially if you only need help checking out. Having your service dog be able to help you with this task is an empowering thing, and one many people never think of when it comes to service dogs.
My trainer blew me away when he brought this one up. How can a service dog pay for my purchase? I didn’t believe it was possible but let me tell you it’s a lifesaver at times. I have a hard time reaching the counter at lots of shops, and this “trick” makes shopping easier. My wallet is one that’s just a zipper and one pocket for cards and/or cash. I keep as few things in there as possible, usually just my card and ID. When it’s time to check out, I hand my wallet to Yogi who puts his front paws on the counter. He either gives the wallet directly to the cashier, or if they prefer, drops it on the counter for them to pick up. From there, I tell the cashier to use the card that’s in the wallet, describing which one if necessary. They run the card, and the process is reversed.
One thing I want to mention about this is to read your cashier. Not everyone is okay with dogs, so always ask them if it’s okay that your dog helps. There have been a few times where a cashier has been too scared of Yogi, so I didn’t have him help me. Most of the time though the cashier is very impressed.
Grab items around the house
There are items you grab for every day, because you use them every day. Important items, like your keys or your shoes. Having mobility issues can make retrieving these items difficult and time-consuming, and even energy-draining. For people with service dogs, these tasks become easier and more manageable.
Back when we had a landline, Yogi knew where it was and could retrieve it if there was an emergency. Once my household changed to only using our cellphones, I thought about how that task could be tweaked rather than forgotten. There are multiple things around my house that I use on a daily basis, so what can Yogi grab for me? Last christmas I got a remote-controlled ceiling fan, and the remote is never somewhere I can get it when I need it. But Yogi can!
Clean up their toys
A service dog is still a dog. They still run, roll, and play. Playing with toys helps keep their brains stimulated when they aren’t working, which is good to keep them happy and healthy. But when those toys all get pulled out and are scattered around the house, it can be difficult to maneuver. Stuffed animals and balls can get caught under wheelchairs and can become a tripping hazard.
For whatever reason, this is Yogi’s favorite task. He often will pull out all his toys from his box just so I will have him clean them up. I don’t mind, though. This was the first task I taught him on my own, without the trainer, so I’m glad he likes it as much as I do.
Open automatic doors
Automatic push buttons can often be too high or too low, depending on your height, and can be in difficult to reach places. This can be even harder for people with limited mobility or strength issues. Having a service dog who can push the buttons for you allows you to enter and exit buildings independently.
There are all kinds of things service dogs can be trained to do. It really is incredible hearing what other people have taught their dogs. These dogs want to help, which makes training them really simple. You just have to get creative. Oh, and treats help too!