When you hear the words “service dog,” breeds like the Golden retriever and German shepherd come to mind. And these generally do make great service dogs because they are intelligent, sociable, and easy to train.
But what about the pit bull? Many pittie owners agree that this breed is smarter than the average dog, athletic, and incredibly friendly.
In this article, we’ll begin by looking at what service animals are and whether pit bulls have the qualities to fulfill these roles.
What Does a Service Dog Do?
A service dog is individually trained to help people with mental or physical challenges and disabilities. Service animals learn to perform tasks based on the needs of the person they are meant to assist.
Hearing dogs are an example of service dogs. These animals are trained to alert their owners to specific noises, from a ringing doorbell to an alarm. Guide dogs, or seeing-eye dogs, such as golden retrievers, are also service animals that help visually impaired handlers safely navigate their surroundings.
The Difference Between a Service, Therapy, and Emotional Support Dog
You might have heard the terms “therapy dog” or “emotional support dog” used to describe a service animal, but there are important differences between each role and the tasks these animals have to perform.
Service dogs learn commands through specialized training to help their handlers physically and mentally. A dog that helps someone with the symptoms of mental illness is called a “psychiatric service dog.”
Local laws allow a trained service animal to accompany people with disabilities into businesses, including hotels and airports. And the Air Carrier Access Act protects people with physical or mental health difficulties by allowing them to travel with their support animal.
Service dogs must be kept on a leash or harness, provided that it doesn’t affect their work as service animals. These working dogs spend most of their day on leads, so they need comfortable gear with a good fit.
Spark Paws specialize in a range of soft-touch collars, harnesses, and leashes, taking the comfort of pets and their handlers into consideration. The gentle fabric won’t irritate your dog’s skin after hours of wear and provides ample grip for owners to hold onto easily.
A therapy dog is not a service dog but a companion animal and pet. They undergo obedience training and provide emotional support by showing affection in various places where people need love and care, such as hospitals, schools, or frail care settings.
While service dogs are trained to help one specific individual with a disability, therapy dogs are encouraged to work and interact with a wide variety of people. They must be well-mannered and taught not to jump on people who may be recovering from injuries or illness.
Emotional Support Dogs
Our pets provide us with love, happiness, and hours of entertainment, but for some, an animal companion is more than just a pet.
An emotional support animal (ESA) is a supportive companion that assists its owners with emotional stability. Their only limitation is that they are not trained or certified as psychiatric service dogs and cannot enter the same public areas or businesses that a service dog can.
On a positive note, The Fair Housing Act does allow emotional support animals to live with their owners in rental properties where pets are usually prohibited.
Can Pit Bulls Be Trained as Service Dogs?
If you are looking for a pitty as a support animal, what exactly can they do?
Pit bulls are strong, confident, have a high level of emotional intelligence and can be trained to perform tasks as service dogs. Let’s consider a few of the pitbulls’ strongest traits that would make them good service dogs.
They are Intelligent
When a pit bull takes a keen interest in what you’re doing, it’s not just because they enjoy your company; they’re incredibly curious creatures. Their curious personalities naturally motivate them to learn new things, which makes training them easier.
Many pit bulls are entered into agility training because they’re excellent at learning commands and focusing their attention on specific activities.
To become service dogs, pit bulls must be taught high-level commands that are far more complex than the basic sit, stay, and fetch. Their intelligence, combined with their willingness to please, can help them become trained service dogs for people with physical disabilities.
A pit bull service dog not only needs to follow the instructions of their owners, but they also need to identify unsafe circumstances. In a dangerous situation, they must refuse their handler’s commands, no matter how persistent. This is the hardest part of training a service dog, known as “intelligent disobedience.”
The intelligence and friendly personality of the American Pit Bull Terrier make them good dogs to socialize and train as both service animals and emotional support animals.
They are Strong
The strong stature and athleticism of the pitty breed make them the ideal choice for a physical support dog. The American Staffordshire Terrier is a good example of a muscular dog that was bred for strength and endurance.
Pit bulls can perform specific tasks such as carrying and retrieving personal belongings. This means that they are trained to fetch items you need and are large enough to carry essentials in a dog backpack or special harness.
Strong dog breeds have the power to help people who are wheelchair-bound, have limited mobility, or are physically weak.
They are the Ideal Size
When you rely on a service dog, your canine companion goes wherever you go. Whether on a bus or a plane, they can’t be too heavy or too large to accompany their owners.
A pit bull is a medium-sized dog that can easily make it onto an aircraft or comfortably sit at a restaurant without taking up too much space.
Smaller pit bulls, including the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, can weigh an average of 35 lbs, compared to the larger American Pit Bull’s 60 lbs.
Besides their strength, bully breeds are well-known for their playful and sweet demeanors, and many owners rely on them for emotional support. Most would describe their canine companions as playful, alert, and incredibly smart. Pit bulls have big personalities and require firm leadership, but they are extremely loyal and absolutely devoted to their families.
By working with a licensed mental health professional, a pit bull can assist individuals with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, emotional support dogs are not service dogs but are recognized by licensed mental health professionals. These dogs must have friendly demeanors to provide companionship to those with mental health issues.
When you’re feeling anxious or sad, pit bulls have a tendency to sit quietly with you or place their head on your lap to comfort you.
The Importance of Socialisation and Individual Personalities
Service dog placement depends on each individual dog and its unique personality. They can’t be anxious in new environments, and they must learn to focus on the needs of their handler. For any dog to become a service dog, regardless of its breed, it must be sociable, learn quickly, and have a peaceful temperament.
We must consider each dog's personality to determine whether they make good candidates for service dogs. Pit bulls can be large and in charge or sweet and gentle, so picking a pitty with the right personality is crucial when you need a service dog.
Early training and socialization help dogs with real-world experience and obedience. This process minimizes fear and reduces stress when dogs are exposed to various situations.
Pit bulls tend to form deep connections with their owners, to the point of being called clingy. Some pet owners would go as far as calling their pit bulls “lap dogs" because they enjoy spending their time smothering you with love.
On the other hand, their extreme loyalty can make them overprotective as guard dogs. This is why socialization with people and other dogs during their service dog training is so important.
Despite the stigma surrounding bully breeds as fighting dogs, a pit bull that is well-socialized and has a gentle temperament can indeed become a trained service dog.
Service Dog Regulations and Requirements
Formal training can be undertaken through specialized organizations focusing on service dog training. These organizations follow structured programs to teach essential skills like obedience, task training, and public access etiquette. Socializing the dog in various environments and exposing them to different situations is also crucial.
However, there is no official or legally recognized registration process for service dogs in the US. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require service dogs to be registered, certified, or wear specific identification. While some organizations offer optional certification or identification cards, these are not legally necessary.
It is also important to understand breed-specific legislation in your city or state before you choose a support dog. Certain states ban pit bull breeds as therapy or ESA dogs; however, the ADA protects certified service dogs from being excluded by a city or state, even if there is a ban on the breed.
If you are interested in a pit bull service dog, you can contact service animal authorities, trusted breeders, or even a rescue organization to adopt one. Be sure to get information about an adopted dog’s history and temperament to decide whether they are a good fit.
It’s typical to have a dog breed, like the German shepherd, act as a service animal, but ultimately, what makes an outstanding therapy or support dog is their personality. One thing’s for sure: a pit bull has the loyalty, brains and brawn to become a dependable and devoted service dog.
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