Could a Service Dog Improve Your Senior Independent Living? New Jersey Service Dog Providers

Could a Service Dog Improve Your Senior Independent Living? New Jersey Service Dog Providers

At Barnegat 67, we know that it can be difficult for some seniors to transition to a new home and a new lifestyle in retirement,  at our community for senior independent living in New Jersey, for example. Our goal is to provide a community with like minded interests, security, peace of mind, and enrichment to help residents enjoy an active, healthy, and fun retirement.  That’s why we are always happy to share information and resources that can help our residents meet those retirement goals.

Today’s topic is service dogs and guide dogs – have you ever considered the possibility of sharing retirement with a new, furry, helpful companion? You may think that service dogs are only for the blind, but the world of service dogs has come a long way in the past two decades.

What is the Difference Between a Guide Dog, Service Dog, Therapy Dog, and Emotional Support Dog?

Today, there are many classifications of dogs that fill a role bigger than  a pet – so many, in fact, that people are often confused at the differences between them. Therapy dogs, service dogs, emotional support dogs – each plays a very important role, though each has a very different job.  

A seeing eye dog, or guide dog for the blind, is classified as a type of service dog. A service dog is any dog trained to assist a specific individual with a specific limitation or disability.  Service dogs include diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, seeing eye/guide dogs, alert dogs for the deaf, dogs that pull wheelchairs and retrieve dropped items, open/close doors, turn on/off lights, etc.  

These dogs are trained from the time they are puppies. They receive thousands of hours of training in various scenarios, and they are eventually assigned to a specific handler for the remainder of its life. The handler must work together with training the dog as well. The dog is almost always with their handler and ‘on duty.’There are many levels of certification, identification, and licensing for service dogs, which allow them to go anywhere their handler goes. Service dogs, by US law, are exempt from all otherwise pet-banned public places, including restaurants, public transportation, and pet-free housing.

A therapy dog, on the other hand, is a dog that has a part-time job bringing joy by visiting the elderly and the sick.  A therapy dog is not required to be handled by a specific person – a therapy dog could be the pet of one person and go on therapeutic visits with another trained handler.  These dogs go through several levels of training in order to be malleable and calm while strangers handle and pet them. Therapy dogs do not fit the requirements for service dog access to all public places, so they must abide by standard pet policies in public places.

An emotional support dog is one that provides comfort to its owner simply by being around. Emotional support dogs do not undergo any special training to offer specific support or assistance to their handlers. A typical example of a reason for having an emotional support dog is for people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  When a panic attack is triggered, the person might sit and hold their support dog tightly or stroke its fur slowly while focusing on matching their breathing to the dogs’. They don’t need special certification, and therefore do not fit the requirements for service dog access to all public places. Though they are allowed exemption from no-pets policies in housing, they do not gain public access to pet-free public places.

What Are the Benefits of a Service Dog?

If you or a loved one is faced with failing eyesight or limited mobility, you could consider the option of having a guide dog. Guide dogs offer a level of independence and activity by avoiding obstacles as they travel. Not only can they help make someone with poor vision feel safer in his or her ability to get around independently, they also help make traveling quicker and more accurate. Additionally, guide dogs provide companionship, helping seniors feel more comfortable in their apartment and on the streets, as well as reducing dependence on others for simple errands and trips.

According to the Guide Dogs of America organization, “Guide dog partners are trusted friends that offer new opportunities for social interaction and greater independence. Finding the right partner, forming a strong bond, and maintaining a solid support system are the keys to a successful guide dog partnership. Our guide dog program might be right for you if . . .

. . . you are legally blind.

. . . you are at least 18 years of age.

. . . you are confident in your orientation and mobility skills.

. . . you are able to navigate three or more routes independently.”

However, you may not have realized there are service dogs that provide other assistance than just for the visually impaired. Some are trained to help anyone with physical or hearing impairment by alerting their handlers to everyday household sounds such as the doorbell, telephone, or smoke detector. Service dogs might also be trained to assist wheelchair-bound individuals by opening doors, turning on lights, retrieving dropped items, and even pulling a wheelchair as needed.

So, if you’re considering moving into a community for senior independent living in New Jersey, such as Barnegat 67, a service dog could be just what you need to maintain your independence and active lifestyle.

What are the Requirements& Responsibilities of Having a Service Dog?

Just as you might imagine, obtaining a service dog isn’t as easy as simply calling the local pet store.

As stated in the Guide Dogs of America prerequisites, to have a seeing eye/guide dog, an individual must be legally blind.  Additionally, prospective handlers must complete a series of training courses to learn to work with their dog over the course of a few weeks. An individual must have adequate health and stamina to work with the dog and keep their dog healthy through routine exercise and activity.  He or she will also be expected to meet their dog’s grooming and hygiene needs.

Additionally, the Guide Dogs of America website states:

“. . . you must have the financial means to appropriately care for a guide dog.

. . . you understand that the training and development of a guide dog partnership is continuous.

. . . you recognize that partnering with a guide dog may attract the interest and attention of those around you.”

There’s good news for residents considering Barnegat 67 community for senior independent living in New Jersey – not only do we love and respect pets and their bonds with their owners, we also have made sure to include convenient pet-friendly touches in our community. From a rooftop dog run to a dog fountain, residents with pet dogs or service dogs will find accommodations.  

How Do You Introduce a Service Dog to Your Life?

Most service dog providers will come to your home to provide an initial interview and assessment of your needs and lifestyle.  They’ll discuss your home life, work or hobbies, and social style in order to determine what type of dog and services will be the right match.

Once approved for training, prospective handlers complete a series of training at the service dog facility – learning training cues, gestures, and movements that his or her dog has been trained to follow. Over the course of a couple of weeks, the dog and handler will be partnered for training as a team in a variety of environments and places. The handler will also learn about the daily needs and routines of owning a dog in general.

Once you’ve graduated from “training together,” your new companion will be yours to take so he can explore his new home. For our residents of Barnegat 67 community for senior independent living in New Jersey, drop by the office to update your paperwork with your new roommate and introduce all of us to our newest resident! We’ll be happy to give you and your companion a tour of our pet-friendly amenities to help you with the transition into life with a service dog.

What Breeds are Best for This Work?

There is no specific breed requirement for a dog to be a service dog. A wide variety of purebred and mixed breed dogs have been shown to be successful as working dogs. In some cases, a dog’s size might limit its ability to fulfill certain functions, such as reaching a doorknob or light switch or being strong enough to pull a wheelchair.

Most guide dogs are Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, as their size is the right height for a handler to rest upon, and their tractability and eagerness to please make them outstanding candidates for this type of work.  Other common breeds include standard poodles, curly-coated Retrievers, and labradoodle mixes.

However, not just any dog can be trained for this type of work, so picking out a puppy and bringing it to a facility for training is not really an option. Typically, highly experienced trainers use a meticulous selection process with puppies. They also work closely with the dogs throughout adolescence, during which period some must be removed from the training process. Only a very small percentage of dogs initially selected for service dog work ultimately become a fully-fledged service dog.

Are There Locations in New Jersey that Provide Service Dogs?

If you’re interested in taking your research to the next step, there are two facilities within our region that specialize in service dog training.  The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ trains guide dogs for the visually impaired. Puppies Behind Bars is located in nearby New York City and works with prison inmates to train service dogs for wounded veterans.  

And, if you’re looking for the right place to call home in your retirement years, consider Barnegat 67. Our community for senior independent living in New Jersey looks forward to assisting you in any way we can to make your retirement dreams a reality!