Photo by: Mikhail Nilov
The term Assistance Dog is used for dogs with specific training. In the article we posted in April for International Guide Dog Day, we touched on the training they received. Guide dogs are just one type of assistance dog. There are also hearing dogs, who assist deaf and hard of hearing people by alerting them to specific sounds that might need attention, like a knock at the door, or the phone ringing, and then there are service dogs.
Photo by: Chris F
Much like guide dogs, hearing dogs allow their deaf client to navigate through life more confidently and with more freedom. Many hearing assist dogs are former shelter dogs that have been fostered by volunteers who provide the dogs with some of their training on the way to being hearing dogs.
Finally, there are service dogs. A service dog is one that can perform at least three tasks for someone with special needs. Since there are a wide variety of people with specific needs, Service dogs and the most versatile and intelligent dogs. Some are trained for people with physical limitations like being confined to a wheelchair. These dogs can open doors, retrieve things from cabinets and refrigerators as well as push or pull wheelchairs, and retrieve dropped items. Other people may have health problems like diabetes or epilepsy. The dog can detect low blood sugar and the onset of a seizer so that the person can eat a piece of candy if their sugar is low or lie on the ground if a seizer is about to start. These dogs can find someone to help, and in some cases even call 911.
Photo by: Rickietom-Schünemann
It is incredible to know how many ways a dog can be trained to assist us. There are Mobility Service Dog, Seizure Service Dog, Autism Service Dog, Diabetic Alert Service Dog, Psychiatric Service Dog, Service Dogs for Veterans with Military-related PTSD, and Medical Alert Service Dog. As more people need assistance, we are finding more ways that dogs can be helpers in our lives.
It is important to remember that even the dogs who come out of shelters and are trained to be assistance dogs are valuable workers whose value comes from their high degree of training. Not every dog is cut out to be an assistance dog. Some of these dogs take as much as 2 years to develop the skills they need to do the job they are tasked with. It also takes even more time for dogs to learn the specific needs of their owner and client.
Although other animals are being used for other types of jobs, like the rats that are trained to detect land mines, right now dogs are the only animals who can be called personal assistants.
Now, if we could just teach them to clean the house!