People with narcolepsy may find support from a service dog. Service dogs undergo training to fill specific roles, so the function and purpose of a service dog depend on their handler’s needs.
A person with narcolepsy might use a service dog to wake them if they fall asleep, to physically support them if they fall while dozing off, and to support their mental and social health. A service dog may also alert other people if their handler needs help or detects signs of sleep disturbances.
Federal laws require and allow properly trained and controlled service dogs almost everywhere, so a dog can offer significant support in public and high stress settings.
This article explains how service dogs can aid narcolepsy, as well as detailing the requirements for training and other legalities.
More than 80 million Americans use service dogs, according to the American Kennel Club. Each service dog is different.
Service dogs are not just companions; they are distinct from emotional support animals, who provide general support and affection. Instead, service dogs have the training to perform one or more specific jobs to help a person. The training varies from dog to dog, and there is no single set of duties everyone with narcolepsy needs help with.
Instead, the training depends on a
- waking them when they have sleep disturbances
- nudging them when they fall asleep at unsafe times
- providing physical support to prevent falls or injuries when a person falls asleep
- contacting help in an emergency
- supporting them with other non-narcolepsy disabilities
What is narcolepsy?
- sleep paralysis, which is waking up unable to move
- cataplexy, which is a sudden loss of muscle control, often in response to intense emotions
To be a service dog, a dog must have specific training to fulfill a specific function. For example, the dog might have the training to press a button if a person falls or wake a person if they doze off.
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs can access public accommodations. Employers must also allow them if a person has a disability for which they need the animal. There are no specific training requirements, though many different organizations train, breed, and advocate for service animals.
Laws allowing the use of service animals do not require any specific training, though dogs should have house training to have access to public accommodations.
A person can train their own service dog. However, many organizations train dogs, then provide them to owners. There often is a waiting list.
Numerous organizations train service dogs and provide support to their handlers. Some of the biggest include:
- Guide Dogs for the Blind: Offers service dogs to visually impaired people free of charge.
- Assistance Dogs International: Certifies dog training programs across the globe and can help with finding a local source for an assistance dog.
- Canine Assistants: Trains and places dogs with people with a wide range of disabilities.
- Canine Companions for Independence: Trains and breeds dogs to support people with disabilities.
The Americans With Disabilities Act is the main federal law governing service dogs in the United States. Other countries may have other laws. Some states in the U.S. have enacted additional protections for service dogs and their handlers.
A person does not have to disclose the specific disability they have, including to an employer, but they should name the task the dog performs.
However, a service dog must meet the following guidelines:
- It must be under the control of its handler using a leash or harness. If a person’s disability prevents using these devices, they must have vocal control over the animal. An out-of-control dog might not count as a service animal.
- Service animals’ owners are liable for the damage they cause.
- A service animal may have to leave if it does not have house training or is dangerous or out of control. These animals are not valid service animals.
Public accommodations and employers cannot deny access to service dogs because someone has an allergy or a fear of dogs.
Service dogs require the same care, love, and attention that other dogs require. This may include exercise appropriate to the dog’s age and size, affection, appropriate food, toys, and an enriching environment.
They may also need a chance to practice service-oriented skills, especially if they do not often use those skills. Contact the organization from which the dog came or which trained the dog for guidance and advice on ongoing training.
When a person has a disability, this could affect their ability to care for their dog. They may need to hire a dog walker or dog trainer, use dog daycares, or adopt similar strategies to ensure their dog gets appropriate care.
People who have service dogs must keep them under control, usually with a leash or harness, but under vocal control, if a person cannot use such devices.
A harness or other attire can alert people to the dog’s status as a service dog, but a dog does not have to wear these items.
Staff in public accommodations are only legally permitted to ask two questions:
- Is this dog necessary because of a disability?
- What task is the dog trained to perform?
It may be helpful to carry a copy of relevant state or federal laws or write a message on an index card about the protected legal status of service dogs.
While many narcolepsy treatments can help, narcolepsy can create emergencies, especially when a person falls asleep or is otherwise not fully conscious. A service dog offers an additional layer of protection. They can also seek help in an emergency.
People considering a service dog should check local laws and contact an organization that trains service dogs. In some cases, a doctor’s prescription or recommendation may be helpful for acquiring a service dog.