March 4, 2022

Mobility Service Dogs and Physical Disability: A Preferred Cooperation

Written by: Omnia Tantawi, MSc

We all enjoy dogs’ companionship, often think of them as our best friends. With their kind eyes, loyal nature, and irresistible cuteness. Increasingly, science is now linking them to powerful physical and mental health benefits.

Mobility assistance dogs are of great value to people suffering from severe ambulatory disabilities, and this was proven by several research studies that were conducted to determine its impact. 

Evidently, they have shown a positive impact on the quality of life of physically disabled patients within the aspects of social participation, psychological, functional effects, and career-related benefits.

 

Social Participation 

Unfortunately, many individuals feel awkward or uncomfortable around patients in wheelchairs. It’s not because they hate them or feel negatively towards them. But rather, they feel uneased about how to act or say around them. This is where the existence of mobility service dogs’ shines. 

Studies have confirmed that service dogs attract community members to socialize and mingle with people in wheelchairs. They influenced social interactions that, when measured, found that those who own service dogs receive more social greetings and are comfortably approached by other people than those who don’t.1

In one said research, the authors claimed that the reason behind this is owed back to shifting the focus away from the disability and towards admiring how competent their owners are in handling a highly trained dog.1

 

Psychological Effects 

On a similar note, having an ambulatory disability can be very self-destructive and bring out feelings of loneliness, depression, and lack of confidence. In an effort to see the impact of service dog companionship, other studies measured their complementary psychological effect.

They found out that those who owned service dogs reported feeling a boost in their self-confidence, a feeling of ownership, strong will, and independence.1

Additionally, these results also revealed that they were less depressed and experienced a more positive outcome in life.1

 

Functional Impact 

Another encouraging effect that service dogs have that people with physical disabilities can benefit from is their capacity to help in daily functional tasks. If trained right, service dogs can help in impractical situations like getting out of reach items, opening doors, or getting around the house.1

Other more serious situations can be when a dog barks to grab attention from strangers and get help if its owner is in an emergency.

Looking at it from the practical point of view, if you calculate it, you will find that owning a service dog to help you daily will be much cheaper than hiring a caregiver to accommodate your needs. This is exactly what scientists did.

Via the numbers, if you switch a caregiver to a service dog, you’re guaranteed to save around 600$ a year.1

 

Career-Related Benefits

After all the positive effects previously mentioned, it will come as no surprise that assistance dogs have significant benefits for career-related status. 

Multiple research studies showed that service dogs’ companionship at work could raise positive energy and increase motivation. It can also make its owner feel secure if they’re working the night shift.2

Aside from employment status, it can also increase recognition at work. After all, if you’re happy, you’re guaranteed to produce great results and keep your employer happy as well.2

 

Challenges of Owning Mobility Service Dogs

Because expectation sometimes doesn’t meet reality, we must mention some of the challenges next to the outstanding benefits that may face service dog owners today. 

Statistically, there’s a reported 7% discrimination against service dog owners, according to a recent study. Upon analyzing the reasons behind this discrimination, it included general fear or nuisance from the dog ranging from sudden attacks to health risks and cultural beliefs.2

Another study conducted on discriminatory behavior revealed that 78% of business owners wouldn’t hire someone with a service dog.2

While this may be disappointing to hear, it articulates the need to spread awareness on the necessity of mobility assistance dogs to all physically disabled individuals.

 

What It All Comes Down To

Yes, it significantly improves the quality of life, and yes, it substantially reduces the degree of reliance needed with a physical disability.

But at the end of the day, it’s still a rehabilitation process for both disabled individuals and mobility service dogs solely based on the mutual relationship between man and dog. 

Nevertheless, when the right physically disabled individual is matched with the right mobility assistance dog, it can be the start of a new chapter where anything is possible. 

Where they can achieve a level of independence that is otherwise unattainable, and even though we were unable to report back intelligible comments on the whole situation from the dogs themselves —due to language barrier and all— we can safely assume that their kind nature and friendly demeanor answers with their satisfactory compliance to this transaction.

 

References

  1. Winkle M, Crowe TK, Hendrix I. Service dogs and people with physical disabilities partnerships: A systematic review. Occupational Therapy International. 2012 Mar;19(1):54–66.
  2. Lindsay S, Thiyagarajah K. A Scoping Review of the Benefits and Challenges of Using Service Dogs for Finding and Maintaining Employment. Vol. 32, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. Springer; 2022. p. 27–43.

 

Article written by Omnia Tantawi, MSc
Omnia is an Assistant Lecturer and Medical Researcher from Egypt. She’s an integral part in many research projects that proved promising in revolutionizing the future of Medicine. As a Research Scholar, she’s particularly interested in Personalized & Molecular Medicine because she believes that this is the prospect of the healthcare industry and can be applied to all medical and pharmaceutical specializations. But at heart she remains a wordsmith, so she currently works as a Medical Writer. This transition was fairly easy with an Academic Medical background, ability to adapt to different audiences and passion for research and creation. She always takes the most complex or mundane topics and turn it into a must-read with an unparalleled style. In her free time, she likes to read books, tunes in Netflix or enjoys the outdoors.

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