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A photo collage of Dr Kwane Stewart and a service dog


6 qualities of great service dogs, according to Dr. Kwane Stewart

With the proper guidance you can train a service dog at home.

You probably know a service dog when you see one — they’re usually wearing harnesses or vests, signifying that they’re working. These pups are trained to help people with medical conditions perform everyday tasks. 

Knowing how much service dogs benefit their people, it’s no surprise that a lot of work goes into becoming one. We spoke to Dr. Kwane Stewart, a veterinarian and member of Fetch’s Advisory Board, to understand more about these incredible pups. 

How do service dogs help their people? 

We’ve realized the potential is almost unlimited. From assisting with vision or hearing impairment to sensing low blood sugar for people with diabetes, alerting a parent of an eminent seizure, assisting with obsessive-compulsive disorders, turning on lights or pulling wheelchairs. Dogs are simply amazing!

Can any dog become a service animal? 

Technically yes, but not every dog may be best suited for certain services. 

What qualities should a dog have to become a service dog? 

The best service dogs are intelligent, friendly and sociable but focused and alert. And importantly, they should be comfortable in many different environments. 

Are certain dog breeds more commonly considered service dogs than others? If so, why is that? 

Yes. Because of certain dog breeds’ versatility and history of servicing disabilities, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are the most popular. But any breed has potential to become a service animal. 

What does service-dog training entail? 

There are a number of avenues, but ultimately the dog is trained by either their parent or a professional to perform a specific task that assists with either a mental or physical disability. 

RELATED: A day in the life of an emergency room veterinarian

How long does it take for a dog to become a service animal? 

It varies. Because dogs can be trained in a number of ways by several people and trained for many specific actions, there’s not a one-size-fits-all timeline. Also, depending on the dog’s temperament and intelligence, it may speed up or slow the process. 

Do people have to go through courses to be a parent to a service dog?  

Not officially. Legally, pet parents can train their own dog, though it’s advised to take courses or seek professional assistance. 

Is there anything about service dogs that might surprise people? If so, could you please share? 

Service dogs are in a special class that’s distinguished from therapy and emotional support animals. They’re recognized by the Americans with Disabilities act (ADA) and therefore granted certain rights and privileges. 

Do you have any tips for interacting with service dogs? For example, is it OK for people to pet working animals?

When seen in public, service dogs are typically "working," and you should always ask if you can approach or pet one before assuming it’s OK. They’re focused on their job, no different than a police dog, and should be respected as such. 

Are vet visits different for service dogs than for other animals? 

Not really. I give these pets the same professional care and service that I would to any dog. I will say, because of their training and socialization, they’re always a pleasure to work with. 

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash and @drkwane Instagram

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