Understanding Service Dogs: Their Functions and Interactions with People and Other Canines

Service dogs are highly trained animals that perform specific tasks to assist individuals with disabilities. Although service dogs are generally well-behaved around other dogs, it is best to avoid distracting them from their tasks by keeping other dogs at a distance during their work.

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Understanding Service Dogs: Their Functions and Interactions with People and Other Canines
9 Min Read May 11th, 2023 Updated:January 24th, 2024

In recent years, service dogs have increasingly become an essential lifeline for countless individuals, offering unwavering support and assistance to older adults and those living with various health conditions or disabilities. These extraordinary canine companions, trained to perform specific tasks tailored to their owner's needs, have transformed lives and redefined the meaning of independence for many.

As the population continues to age and awareness around the benefits of service dogs expands, the number of these remarkable animals working tirelessly to support their human partners has surged. Today, thousands of service dogs across the country devote themselves to tasks such as guiding the visually impaired, alerting those with hearing impairments to important sounds, providing physical support to people with mobility challenges, and even detecting dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar levels for individuals with diabetes.

For older adults and those grappling with health issues or disabilities, service dogs offer more than just practical assistance; they provide emotional support and companionship, fostering resilience and nurturing the human-animal bond. These dedicated dogs alleviate the challenges their handlers face and contribute to a more inclusive and accessible society for all.

Service dogs come in various forms, with some dedicated to working around the clock to ensure the well-being of their handlers. One such example is medical alert dogs, including diabetic alert dogs. These incredible canines use their acute sense of smell to detect fluctuations in blood sugar levels and promptly alert their handler when levels dip too low. For these dogs, there is no clocking out from their vital responsibilities. 

Given the continuous nature of their work, one might wonder if these devoted service dogs ever have the opportunity to engage in play or interact with other dogs. In this article, we will delve into the topic of playtime for service dogs and explore the circumstances under which they can safely play and socialize with other canine companions. Read on to discover the balance these hardworking dogs strike between their essential duties and enjoying their well-deserved downtime.

What Is a Service Dog? 

service dog is a dog that has been specially trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. These tasks are directly related to the disability and help provide the disabled person with better quality of life. 

Most people know of guide dogs for the blind, but there are many types of service dogs. Some examples include a hearing assistance dog, a mobility assistance dog, psychiatric service dog, a medical alert dog, and even a dementia dog. 

Service dogs are not pets; as such, they warrant special treatment. Adhering to a stringent set of rules is crucial, particularly when they are performing their duties. Strangers should refrain from attempting to pet or engage with them in any manner.

When Can Service Dogs Play?  

While service dogs require special treatment compared to pets, particularly when working, it is important to remember that they are still dogs at heart. Like all dogs, they enjoy playtime and attention, but the timing must be appropriate.

Engaging in play during work hours could jeopardize the well-being of the individual they are assisting. However, once their harness is removed, it is entirely acceptable for a service dog to transition from a focused worker to a playful pup.

In fact, playtime is essential for a service dog's overall well-being. It provides exercise, which helps prevent obesity, maintains a healthy heart, and enhances balance and coordination. Thus, ensuring service dogs have opportunities to play contributes to their physical and mental health.

Play is also great for the dog's mental well-being as it reduces feelings of stress and boredom. Playing will also deepen the bond between dog and human, which is especially important for service dogs as love for their handler makes them even more motivated to do a good job. 

Can Service Dogs Play with Other Dogs?

While it is perfectly acceptable for service dogs to engage in play during their off-duty hours, they are generally not advised to play with other dogs for several reasons.

It is important not to encourage your service dog to seek attention and enjoyment from other dogs. Allowing your service dog to play with other dogs might make them more easily distracted by other canines while working, as they have learned to associate other dogs with fun. 

Instead, you should be your service dog's primary source of play and entertainment, fostering their attention and focus while reinforcing the bond between you both.

In addition, there is a risk that a service dog may adopt undesirable behaviors from other dogs, such as barking, digging, or chewing. These instinctive behaviors are dogs' most common tendencies to pass on to one another.

Plus, playtime between dogs can sometimes turn rough. If your service dog were to be bitten or tackled improperly, it could sustain an injury. Service dogs not only enhance their handler's quality of life, but in some cases, they also provide life-saving services. An injury would render the dog unable to work until fully healed, potentially compromising their training due to the extended time off. It is crucial not to jeopardize your service dog's well-being by allowing them to play with other dogs, as this could risk injury.

Marcie Davis is the founder of International Assistance Dog Week and author of "Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook." She says a strong bond between a service dog and their handler exists.

The most important aspect of a working team is the bond that is formed between the person and their assistance dog. The assistance dog enhances the person's independence and empowers them to be more successful in managing their day-to-day activities.

Do Service Dogs Bark at Other Dogs? 


Service dogs, those furry heroes guiding and assisting people with disabilities, often draw curious stares. One common question: Do they bark at other dogs? Like most things in life, the answer isn't black and white.


As you know, real service dogs undergo extensive training to prioritize focus and calmness. Barking unnecessarily, especially at other dogs, can disrupt their vital tasks or distract their handlers. "Excessive barking is generally discouraged during service dog work," explains the National Service Animal Registry. Their primary responsibilities take precedence, leaving little room for unnecessary vocalization.


However, each dog, service or not, possesses its own personality and temperament. Some breeds are naturally more vocal than others, and some individual service dogs may bark occasionally at other dogs, especially if they sense anxiety or stress in their handler. 


"Like any dog, a service dog may bark at another dog if they perceive a threat or if it's part of their personality," notes supportdogcertification.org. 


Context is Key 


The key lies in understanding the context. If a service dog barks at another dog while actively assisting their handler, it's likely a sign of vigilance, not aggression. However, the American Kennel Club notes the service dog could be alerting the owner.


A service dog may bark at another dog to alert their handler of a potential distraction or danger. 


However, if the dog barks excessively or seems agitated, giving both dogs ample space and avoiding interaction is important.


Ultimately, remembering that service dogs are working animals and respecting their boundaries is crucial. If you encounter a service dog barking, avoid making eye contact or approaching them directly. Instead, focus on their handler and offer assistance if needed. 


Can Service Dogs Live with Other Dogs? 

Service dogs are generally not recommended to share a household with other dogs for reasons similar to those previously discussed. The presence of other dogs can be distracting. It may lead the service dog to adopt bad habits.

Additionally, other dogs may inadvertently interfere with the service dog's tasks. For instance, if your service dog retrieves an item for you, the other dog may mistake it for a toy and try to take it from the service dog.

Many service dogs need to be in close proximity to their handlers at all times, with some tasks even requiring them to paw at or lie on their handlers. Other dogs in the household may not understand these behaviors, potentially becoming jealous and attempting to insert themselves between their owner and the service dog, as they perceive the service dog receiving more attention.

These potential issues are why service dogs are generally advised to be the sole canine in a household. However, this does not mean it is impossible for a service dog to live with other dogs. The success of such an arrangement depends on the dogs' compatibility and the non-service dog's temperament. Proper training of the non-service dog to ensure good manners can also help prevent the spread of undesirable behaviors, such as excessive barking.

Jennifer Arnold founded Canine Assistants, a non-profit organization that trains and provides service dogs. She discusses the importance of the strong bond between a service dog and its handler.

A successful working partnership between a person with a disability and an assistance dog is based on mutual trust, respect, and affection. It is important that a service dog is the primary focus of the handler and not be sidetracked or influenced by other dogs in the household.

It's Not All Work and No Play

Service dogs fulfill a crucial role; they assist their handlers in numerous ways, often providing life-changing support that enhances their handler's quality of life and independence. Due to this, a service dog's training must be more rigorous, and they typically cannot be given the same liberties as other dogs.

However, this doesn't mean that service dogs are deprived of fun. When not working, they must enjoy being a dog and engage in playtime, which benefits their mental and physical well-being.

That said, it's generally not advised to let a service dog play with other dogs. While service dogs should be amicable with other dogs, you don't want them to become overly interested in them. Moreover, pet dogs can have bad habits, and it's crucial to prevent your service dog from picking up any undesirable behaviors. Lastly, dogs can play rough, and even though the risk of injury may be low, it's not a chance worth taking.

Dementia Dogs and Dog Working in Long-Term Care Facilities 

Dogs have become an essential part of long-term health care. They help care recipients, their caregivers, and families provide a comfortable and safe environment for a better quality of life. 

Dementia dogs are a unique category of service dogs specifically trained to assist individuals with dementia or Alzheimer's disease. These dogs play a vital role in improving the quality of life for those affected by these conditions, providing companionship, support, and practical assistance with daily tasks.

One of the primary functions of dementia dogs is to help their handlers maintain a daily routine, which is crucial for people with dementia. These dogs can provide reminders for taking medications, eating meals, and engaging in physical activities. They are also trained to assist in locating misplaced items or guiding their handler back home if they become disoriented or lost.

Another important aspect of dementia dogs is their ability to provide emotional support and companionship. Individuals with dementia can often feel lonely, anxious, or confused. A dementia dog can offer a calming and reassuring presence, helping to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety. The bond between a dementia dog and its handler can also foster a sense of purpose and responsibility, which can be empowering for someone living with dementia.

In addition to dementia dogs, therapy dogs are often used in long-term care facilities to provide residents comfort, companionship, and emotional support. These dogs are not specifically trained to perform tasks like service dogs, but they possess a calm and friendly demeanor that allows them to interact positively with a wide range of people.

Therapy dogs have been shown to have numerous benefits in long-term care settings. Their presence can reduce feelings of loneliness and depression among residents, encourage social interaction, and even improve physical health. For example, petting a dog can help lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels.

Long-term care facilities may also incorporate therapy dog visits as part of their recreational programming, allowing residents to participate in group activities centered around the dogs. These activities include grooming sessions, obedience demonstrations, or simply petting and cuddling with the dogs. Such interactions can provide mental stimulation, promote a sense of community, and create enjoyable experiences for residents.

Both dementia dogs and therapy dogs in long-term care facilities play a vital role in enhancing the well-being of individuals with cognitive impairments or those living in long-term care settings. The support, companionship, and practical assistance these dogs provide can make a significant difference in the lives of those they serve.

Improving Quality of Life

The primary objective for older adults dealing with aging or chronic health issues is to achieve an improved quality of life. Service dogs can play a crucial role in making daily tasks more manageable and providing companionship to alleviate feelings of loneliness or isolation. Additionally, access to high-quality long-term care services ensures their unique needs are met in a supportive and nurturing environment. By combining the assistance of service dogs with excellent care services, older adults can overcome the challenges of aging and continue to live a fulfilling and enjoyable life.

Keeping Your Dog Healthy as They Age

Dogs live longer than ever, and proper health care can help them live a quality life. Maintaining your dog's health requires a multi-faceted approach, ranging from diet and exercise to mental stimulation and regular veterinary check-ups. 

Providing a balanced diet is of paramount importance. A dog's diet should be rich in high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Each breed has different dietary needs, so it's crucial to consult with your vet to create the best meal plan. Exercise is equally important to keep your furry friend physically fit and mentally stimulated. Regular walks, playtimes, and training sessions can greatly contribute to your pet's overall health and longevity. Additionally, taking your pet for regular veterinary check-ups can help in the early detection of any potential health problems.

As a dog ages, it will develop age-related issues just like humans. Your dog may have pain, inflammation, anxiety, seizures, and even cancer. Some dogs will experience dementia and vision and hearing problems as well. 

In recent years, the use of CBD, or cannabidiol, in canine health care has gained popularity due to its potential therapeutic benefits. CBD is a compound found in cannabis and hemp, but unlike THC, it has no psychoactive effects. CBD can interact with the endocannabinoid system - a complex cell-signaling system involved in maintaining homeostasis in the body - and can help alleviate symptoms of these conditions, thereby improving the quality of life of the affected dogs. 

Some veterinarians are using CBD instead of using stronger human medications. While CBD is generally considered safe, it can interact with certain medications. It may have side effects such as dry mouth, lowered blood pressure, and drowsiness. Your vet will decide if quality CBD for your dog is appropriate. While CBD has shown promise in canine health care, it should be viewed as a part of a comprehensive health plan for your dog and not as a miracle cure.

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LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

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As you observe your loved ones aging, it's essential to remember that you, too, are growing older. The question is, are you prepared for the potential long-term health care consequences that may arise in the future? How will your family address your needs? What financial resources will be available to pay for quality care?

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Long-Term Care Insurance is a proactive step in safeguarding your family's well-being and financial security. As you plan for the years ahead, consider how an LTC policy can be vital to your long-term care strategy.

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Resources like the LTC NEWS Caregiver Directory offer invaluable assistance for those seeking caregivers for older family members. The directory is a free, comprehensive national database with a wide range of long-term care services, simplifying finding qualified caregivers or appropriate care facilities. You can search for providers where you or your loved one lives and read about their qualifications and options. 

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These four LTC NEWS guides will assist you in trying to find appropriate long-term services for a loved one:

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