The History of the Service Dog, Part II — From the Seeing Eye to hearing, mobility and autism service dog

In celebration of International Assistance Dog Week, NEADS guest blogger Michele Fournier takes us on a journey through the history of service dogs. Come back each day this week to learn more about the history of working canines!


Morris Frank and seeing eye dog Buddy made history in 1928 when they arrived in New York City as the first dog guide team in the United States. Frank stepped off the curb to cross West Street, astounding the throng of reporters when he and Buddy safely reached the other side.

As we celebrate International Assistance Dog Week, it seems fitting to uncover some of the distant as well as the not-so-distant history of the dog in the role of service and companion to the human. Despite the fact that dogs have long existed as pets and companions and have been used in military roles, the job of the dog in a service capacity was only defined in the legal code in 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act defined a service dog as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.”  Prior to 1990, the service dog had a very poorly defined job description, with the exception of the Seeing Eye dogs. The guide dog for the blind had become an accepted use of the dog in a service capacity since 1929 in the United States. The use and training of a service dog for a role other than a guide dog for the blind first began to emerge in the 1960’s, although there was no formal organization or training. This led the way to a more formalized set of guidelines and methods for the training and use of the dog in the service capacity. NEADS is proud to be among the first programs specifically geared to the training and placement of dogs for deaf individuals.  Beginning in 1976, the NEADS organization identified dogs suited to the task of notifying their human companion of noises such as a baby crying, the ring of a phone or the sound of a police siren. The role of the service dog has continued to expand to include social dogs for children on the Autism spectrum in 1996 and, in 2012, dogs for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress as a result of combat trauma. Each time the job description is expanded, it is accompanied by clearer standards and guidelines for training and placement. NEADS has kept pace with the ever-changing landscape of training and placement of a wide array of service dogs.

The History of the Service Dog, Part I — Ancient humans and dogs

For more information:
Burke, Alex. “The History of Service Dogs.”

Cohen, Jennie. “Assistance Dogs: Learning New Tricks for Centuries.”  August 8, 2011

Lobell, Jarrett A. & Powell, Eric.  “More than Man’s Best Friend. “ Archeological Institute of America. Vol 63, No 5 Sept/Oct 2010.

“Service Dogs Through History—Work, Friendship, and Loyalty.”

Schwartz, Marion. A History of Dogs in the Early Americas. “The Creation of the American Dog.” Yale University Press: 1997.

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