Labrador retrievers, or “Labs,” are gentle, even-tempered pups who have built a reputation for being the most popular family dogs out there. In fact, they’ve proudly held a top spot in the American Kennel Club (AKC)’s most popular breeds list for over a decade.
But Labs don’t just make great family companions; they also excel as emotional support animals, therapy dogs, and even service animals.
Today, we’ll delve into what exactly a service dog is, why Labs are so well-suited to this line of work, and how you can get your own Lab service dog to help you manage day-to-day life with your disability.
What Is A Service Dog?
A service dog is a working dog who has been specially trained to perform tasks that help manage and minimize disability-related difficulties. A service dog also provides constant companionship, which can help ease feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Service dogs are broadly categorized into groups based on the type of work they perform. The most popular kinds include:
- Psychiatric service dogs: Assist with emotional and mental disabilities, such as depression and bipolar disorder
- Guide dogs: Assist those with impaired vision in navigating day-to-day life
- Hearing dogs: Alert hard-of-hearing individuals to important sounds like fire alarms
- Mobility assistance dogs: Help those with mobility difficulties, with trained tasks such as wheelchair pulling, opening doors, and balance assistance
- Seizure alert dogs: Trained to detect the signs of a seizure and alert their handler; also often trained to find help in an emergency
Service dogs are protected under several federal and state laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Under these laws, service dogs are granted the following rights:
- Public access rights (can enter public spaces such as restaurants, libraries, and shops)
- Reasonable accommodation in the workplace
- Exemption from a landlord’s pet fees and pet policies
- Can fly with their owner in the cabin at no additional cost
These laws are in place to ensure that service dogs can always perform their trained tasks easily, no matter where they are.
What Tasks Can Service Dogs Perform?
A service dog can assist an individual with a disability in many ways. They can be specially trained to detect blood sugar level drops, pull wheelchairs, retrieve medical items in an emergency, or even provide deep pressure therapy (DPT) to those who suffer from panic attacks or elevated stress.
A service dog can even help individuals with impaired vision navigate new, unfamiliar areas and help them cross safely in high-traffic areas. Here are a few more common tasks service dogs perform for those with disabilities:
- Tactile stimulation
- Perform room checks
- Crowd control
- Retrieve dropped items
- Guide to exit
- Interrupt flashbacks
What Makes Labradors Popular Service Dogs?
The Labrador retriever is one of the most commonly used breeds in service dog work — likely because of their even-tempered nature, high trainability, and strong, sturdy stature that allows them to perform more physically demanding disability-related tasks.
Gentle, Loving Temperament
Labrador retrievers are patient, gentle, and nurturing pups who form strong bonds with their owners. They’re also highly adaptable and confident around other people and dogs.
All these traits allow them to shine in service work, where dogs are often required to focus all their attention on their handlers, interact with strangers, and be tolerant of loud noises and busy environments.
Labrador retrievers are also incredibly attuned to their owners’ emotions and can detect sudden mood changes; this makes them particularly well-suited to working as a psychiatric service dog.
Incredibly intelligent and always eager to please their owners, Labrador retrievers can pick up advanced disability-related commands much quicker than other breeds. Their enthusiasm for work also means they can stay alert for long periods without losing focus — a vital quality any service dog must possess.
Large, Sturdy Size
Labrador retrievers are sturdy, medium-large sized pups who are well-built for physically demanding service tasks such as crowd control, deep pressure therapy, item retrieval, and assisting with balance or coordination. Their larger size can also provide a sense of security to individuals who experience anxiety-related conditions.
Labrador retrievers may have high exercise needs, but beyond this, they’re generally low-maintenance dogs. They’re hardy pups prone to few health issues, able to adapt to their owners’ lifestyles and living environments. They also have short coats with minimal grooming needs.
How Do I Get a Lab Service Dog?
Service dogs can significantly improve the quality of life of individuals with disabilities. Not only do they provide a source of immense comfort and alleviate feelings of loneliness, but they can also help mitigate disability-related symptoms by performing specially trained tasks.
If you feel a Lab service dog would help you better manage your disability in your day-to-day life, then your next step is to reach out to US Service Animals. Their team of experts can help you identify whether you’re eligible, what the process involves, and how to find a Lab service dog (or train a current Lab for service work).