A canine companion can make all the difference for those with physical disabilities, trauma, or emotional support needs. A conservative estimate puts the number of service dogs in the US at 500,000. A number of organizations license, train, and track support dogs, but this number is likely even more significant since it doesn’t consider dogs trained by their owners or not officially registered.
Service, therapy, and emotional support dogs greatly benefit their owners. This article discusses things you can do to make your home more welcoming and accessible for your service dog to navigate.
What is a Service Dog?
Dogs that assist with daily life can be classified into three main categories, depending on their purpose and the needs of their owners:
- Service Dog — Service dogs are trained to provide support and help to those with hearing, eyesight, mobility, or psychiatric issues and those with autism. These dedicated puppies are chosen for their patience, dedication, and learning ability. They undergo intense training and emerge ready to help their new owner navigate life.
- Therapy Dog — Therapy dogs differ from emotional support dogs. They generally don’t live with those they’re trained to help. Instead, they live with their handler and are taken to places like hospitals, schools, hospices, and nursing homes to visit with and provide welcome companionship.
- Emotional Support Dog — Emotional support dogs are not classified as service dogs because they don’t undergo the same task-assistance training. Service dogs are trained to help with tasks like guiding their owners who are blind or visually impaired. Emotional support dogs provide a calming presence rather than help with tasks related to physical safety.
Modifying Your Home for a Service Dog
Service dogs are trained and eager to help their new owners, but there are some things that you can do to make their transition to your home easier. The best practices for making your home service dog-friendly come down to good lighting and lack of obstructions. Your dog needs to move easily from room to room, which is especially pertinent if you have a service dog to help with disabilities.
Inside the home
- Hallways — To make your hallways easy for your new service dog to get through, clear away any furniture and install adequate lighting. There’s no need to hire an electrician — a couple of strategically placed, low-profile LED nightlights will do.
- Kitchen — In your kitchen, make sure items you use daily are accessible and place any potentially toxic items out of reach. Handle tugs for things like your refrigerator, cabinets, and easy access to pots and pans is key. Move toxic cleaning products to higher shelves.
- Doors and Doorways — Most standard doorways should be great as-is, so long as they’re clear of obstructions. If your mobility is limited or you’re in a wheelchair, your dog should be trained to lead you through standard-size doorways.
- Living Room —Living rooms often have many obstacles for service dogs. Using baskets and bins for commonly used items like blankets is a great way to keep them off the floor and make it easier for your canine companion to navigate.
- Bathroom — The slippery bathroom surfaces make things difficult for your service dog. With non-slip flooring and organized bathroom items, your dedicated pup can traverse this space more smoothly. Like the kitchen, it’s important to ensure that cleaners and other toxic products are stored up high or in locked cabinets.
- Bedroom — Your doctor may recommend your service dog sleep on the floor next to your bed or in the bed with you. This depends on if you have any medical conditions - like nighttime seizures - that your dog may need to monitor. If your dog doesn’t need to sleep at your side, designate a place on the floor for them with a comfy dog bed. Create this spot wherever you think your dog will like it most, but keep it out of your path to avoid a fall.
Outside the Home
- Driveway and Garage — Garages can be notorious for collecting debris and random items. When you have a service dog, it’s important to ensure these items don’t pile up. Keep your garage clear of obstructions. If you live in a spot with icy winters, add non-slip flooring in areas where you and your service dog will be regularly. Your driveway should be wide enough for you and your service dog to navigate, and always keep it clear of snow and ice in the winter. If you’re moving to a new home, consider hiring a contractor to do this to make moving with your dog easier.
- Sidewalks and Paths — For your service dog to happily lead you in and out of your home, trim any hedges along pathways and clear paths of rocks and other obstructions.
- Yard — Fence in your yard to protect your service dog from predators and keep them contained if a rogue squirrel commands their attention. Service dogs are trained to stay close to you and resist the temptation to chase, but you can prevent any slip-ups by fencing your yard.
Other Considerations for Planning for a Service Dog
Here are a few more things you can do to show your appreciation and make your new canine companion feel loved and cared for:
- Grooming Supplies — If your mobility allows, light grooming is a great way for you to bond with your service dog. Brushing and being groomed is a part of the training for service dogs, and ensuring they’re well-cared for means that they’ll be there for you for years to come.
- Regular Grooming Appointments — Even if you groom your service dog regularly at home, professional grooming appointments are a great way to keep your pup’s coat and skin looking and feeling great. Keeping their coat healthy and shiny helps to prevent matting, keeping them comfortable.
- Comfy Beds — While your service dog will spend most of their time with you, they still need a relaxing place to sleep. Memory foam beds with a washable cover let you keep them looking fresh long-term.
- Treats — We all love a treat, and your service dog is no exception. It’s always nice to have treats for when they’re off-duty.
- A Space for Downtime — Make sure your service dog has a comfy place to relax when you're sleeping. While they’re trained to help you, they still need rest. Giving them a cozy place close to you will help them to rest while still knowing they’re doing their job.
Dogs are indispensable companions for many people, whether for physical impairments, emotional support, or therapy. Service dogs allow you to have independence and freedom. The steps above will help you optimize a home for your service dog, allowing them to use their training to the best of their abilities. Help and grants to get a service dog is available online and in person, so don’t hesitate to investigate your options.