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Dogs can transform the lives of people

Puppies of all kinds can grow up to be dogs that will aide people in their lives.

Man's best friend certainly may be the unassuming canine. But dogs are more than pets who fetch slippers and wag their tails when their owners arrive home. Dogs can provide invaluable services to individuals who may be impaired or simply need a little companionship to live independent lives.

According to Working Like Dogs, a resource for people around the world with working dogs and service dogs, assistance dogs transform the lives of their human partners with debilitating physical and mental disabilities by serving as their companion, helper, aide, best friend, and close member of their family. Assistance dogs can be from a variety of breeds including labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, standard poodles, and even shelter dogs. These specially trained dogs perform many tasks for their partners with disabilities and are classified in the following ways:

•Guide dogs. These cannines assist people with vision loss, leading these individuals around physical obstacles and to destinations such as seating, crossing streets, entering or exiting doorways, elevators, and stairways.

•Service dogs. These animals assist people with disabilities with walking, balance, dressing, transferring from place to place, retrieving and carrying items, opening doors and drawers, pushing buttons, and pulling wheelchairs. They can also aide with household chores, such as putting in and removing clothes from the washer and dryer.

•Hearing alert dogs. These dogs alert people with a hearing loss to the presence of specific sounds such as doorbells, telephones, crying babies, sirens, another person, buzzing timers or sensors, knocks at the door or smoke, fire and clock alarms.

•Seizure alert/seizure response dogs: These dogs alert or respond to medical conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, epilepsy, panic attack, anxiety attack, post-traumatic stress and seizures.

All of these types of assistance dogs are dedicated to their humans, who rely on them to achieve their daily function. But while there are a number of functions the trained working or service dog may master, the regular, run-of-the-mill pet can also serve special functions in his or her lifetime.

Therapy dogs are often volunteer dogs who visit the elderly or those who have experienced some other trauma. The dogs are instrumental in helping individuals come out of their shells -- something that may not yet be possible with a fellow human being. Dogs can also help with a number of medical conditions, such as relieving stress and helping with depression. They may also reduce blood pressure as well as popular medications.

•Blood pressure. According to research, while ACE inhibiting drugs can generally reduce blood pressure, they aren't as effective at controlling spikes in blood pressure due to stress and tension. However, a recent study of hypertensive New York stockbrokers who got dogs or cats were found they had lower blood pressure and heart rates than those who didn't have pets.

•Stress. Petting a dog or cat is known to calm anxiety and promote a feeling of relaxation. This can help relieve stress as well as meditating or yoga.

•Exercise. A dog will encourage you to get out and walk at least twice a day. This will also help with relieving stress and provide much-needed physical activity.

•Companionship. If you live alone or recently experienced a loss, a dog can be the companion you enjoy coming home to after a long day. Pets can actually be there for you when people can't. Research has shown that nursing home residents report less loneliness when visited by dogs than when they spend time with other people.

•Social interaction. A friendly dog can make you seem more approachable and also offer opportunities for conversation while out and about. Fellow dog-walkers may come up to you to chat about your dog's breed, which could turn out to be an opening for friendship.

Whether they're professional working dogs or the everyday pet, dogs can provide many services to their human companions.

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