Assistance Dog Category Descriptions
Service dog, assistance dog, guide dog, seeing-eye dog, hearing dog, mobility assistance dog, seizure-alert dog, police dog, search-and-rescue dog, drug-detection dog, bomb-detection dog, working dog, therapy dog, visitation dog, emotional support dog, sport dog, show dog, hunting dog, companion dog, and pet are all examples of various labels given to dogs in our society.
Dogs have been used by humans throughout history for companionship, hunting and herding, sport and recreation, security and protection, military support, emotional support, and assistance with physical and psychiatric disabilities. The following chart illustrates how dogs are categorized in society.
The first documented reports of assistance dogs described dogs used for people with vision impairment. These dogs are typically referred to as guide dogs, leader dogs, or seeing-eye dogs. As methods were developed and dogs were trained to assist individuals with hearing impairment, the labels hearing dogs, signal dogs, hearing-ear dogs, and alert dogs emerged.
The label psychiatric service dog has been used for dogs trained to help individuals with psychiatric disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
Confusion seems to arise more often when the labels do not clearly specify the assistive function of the animal. In these cases, the labels may be either too generic (i.e., can refer to more than one kind of assistive function) or misleading (i.e., specifies an unrelated function).
For example, the label guide dog is most typically used to refer to a dog that assists an individual with vision impairment, but it has also been used to describe a dog that assists an individual with Alzheimer disease or a dog that is specially trained to assist an individual with hearing impairment.
Dogs used to assist individuals with mobility impairments are often labeled generically as service dogs, assistance dogs, and support dogs, but in these cases, the labels do not provide sufficient information to identify the assistive function.
Service dogs have been described as a mobility assistant only or any type of dog that provides assistance for a disability other than for vision or hearing impairments. Because these category labels do not specify the dog’s specific function, they can refer to any dog that provides service, support, or assistance to people, such as police dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs, military dogs, and emotional support dogs.
As another example, the label therapy dog is used by some to identify a dog that visits individuals in a nursing home or hospital, but it has also been used to identify dogs used within the scope of a healthcare or allied healthcare treatment plan.
Society’s increasing recognition and acceptance of the wide range of assistive functions that dogs can provide is a positive development, perhaps reflecting our longtime collective concern for and desire to help individuals with physical and emotional challenges and the important roles that canines have played in the evolution of mankind.
A revised taxonomy of assistance animals:
Source: Rehab Research VA.Gov
Lindsay Parenti, MA, BCBA;1 Anne Foreman, PhD; B. Jean Meade, MD, DVM, MPH, PhD; Oliver Wirth, PhD. Health Effects Laboratory Division, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, WV; Office of the Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, WV; and Division of Animal and Nutrition Sciences, Davis College, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV