A service dog rests by the train tracks.

Honoring Working Dogs on Labor Day

Though it’s unofficially recognized as the end of summer, Labor Day’s official role is far more significant. Oregon celebrated the first Labor Day in 1887 and by 1894 the rest of the country was doing the same. Today, the first Monday in September provides an annual opportunity to honor the nation’s workers and commemorate the immense contributions of trade unions and labor organizers throughout our history.

Dogs are workers too (and not just the ones from the Working Group). While your dog may be a full-time companion, canines around the world serve a number of vital roles in the workforce. Take some time to read up on working dogs while you and your pup enjoy the day off.

Service Dogs

The most well-known and readily available of the working dogs, service dogs also perform the broadest range of jobs. These carefully-bred and trained canines help people with a variety of conditions and disabilities throughout their daily lives. This essential role affords them a number of special privileges. Regulations enforced by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensure that service dogs (and other service animals) are permitted in public places that wouldn’t otherwise allow animals. Obedient and personable breeds like Golden and Labrador Retrievers tend to make especially great companions and aids.

Some common types of assistance dogs are:

That’s just a fraction of the roles a service dog might play. The ADA’s definition is notably broad, stating that a service animal is “any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”

Medical Alert and Response Dogs

Another broad group of working dogs, medical alert and response animals can recognize the signs of a disease or medical emergency and ensure the patient takes the necessary action. Since their work is specific and medically-necessary, these dogs are considered service dogs by the ADA.

Dogs have also been known to sniff out Parkinson’s and certain types of cancer. Researchers in Philadelphia are hopeful that they can identify COVID-19 by scent as well.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

The ADA also recognizes psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) and permits their handlers to bring them nearly anywhere. In addition to providing comfort and communicating a sense of well-being, these dogs assist individuals with mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

PSDs support their handlers in a number of ways. They can recognize the signs of a panic attack, wake their handler from a nightmare, and even intervene to stop repetitive and compulsive behaviors.

Detection and Search & Rescue Dogs

Like other working dogs, detection and search & rescue dogs put their super-powered senses of smell to good use. Law enforcement officers count on these dogs to identify substances like illegal drugs and bomb-making materials. You’ve probably seen them at the train station or airport.

Bomb and drug-detecting dogs mostly serve a precautionary purpose. Search & rescue dogs, on the other hand, go out into the field to help solve active cases. Some track escaped criminals, help locate missing persons, and play a vital part in locating human remains.

Therapy and Emotional Support Animals

The training process for therapy animals and emotional support animals (ESAs) is less formalized than the process for service animals. Rather than learning to perform specific tasks, these animals are trained to project a general sense of calm and offer therapeutic benefits through their presence alone. They’re a fixture at hospitals, schools, nursing facilities, and other institutions where stress levels and loneliness may run high.

Therapy animals and ESAs typically aren’t granted the same ADA privileges as service animals. You’ve probably heard of ESAs joining their handlers on flights and causing a scene. It’s true that most airlines will allow well-behaved ESAs to board, but they’re never guaranteed a seat. Landlords, however, are generally expected to permit ESAs under the Fair Housing Act.

On the bright side, a less formalized process means that dogs of any age and breed could be perfect candidates to become therapy animals or ESAs. If you’ve got a personable, affectionate pooch, why not consider getting them certified?