Did you know that 4th August 2016 is Assistance Dog Day?
What is Assistance Dog Day?
Assistance Dog Day is part of International Assistance Dog Week which runs from August 7 – 13, 2016. The week and the day were both created to recognize the major role that our furry canine friends can play in the lives of disabled people.
International Assistance Dog Week was the brainchild of Marcie Davis who is a long time paraplegic but first and foremost a social entrepreneur who has been recognised as a Woman of Influence in 2010. Marcie has been partnered with a service dog for over 20 years but has never let her paraplegia stop her from doing just what she wanted to.
There are a number of different events arranged in the US to celebrate Assistance Dog Day which range from dog shows, talks and dog graduation celebrations to sponsored dog walks. A lot of Assistance Dog training centres hold open house days to show just what is involved in training these wonderfully intelligent animals. If you are aware of any events in your locality you can list the event by visiting the Local IADW events page and submitting a form with event details.
What Services do Assistance Dogs Provide?
The services provided by an Assistance Dog can be really surprising and remarkable although the length of time to train one fully can be long and demands a lot of patience on the part of the trainer.
There are three types of services which can be provided by Assistance Dogs. These are:
- dogs for the visually impaired and the totally blind;
- dogs for those hard of hearing and the deaf; and
- dogs for those who have other disabilities not related to sight or hearing.
I guess the assistance from dogs for the blind are usually the first thing that come into most peoples’ minds when they think about the services dogs can provide. They can guide their owners to avoid obstacles which could otherwise cause them injury. They can also decide when it’s safe to cross a road or negotiate a safe path through parked cars.
Dogs can also assist those who are totally deaf or just hard of hearing, particularly if they live alone and cannot hear things like a knock at the door, a phone call or an alarm clock. But it’s not these sounds alone that could mean so much to a deaf person but also a smoke alarm which could be a matter of life or death for them.
The third category is perhaps the most remarkable in the skills that the dogs attain in order to keep their owners safe. These dogs require special training to overcome many different types of disability. They can be trained to overcome a range of issues suffered by humans. These can include those:
- suffering from some forms of autism;
- who have balance problems;
- who have psychiatric disabilities;
- who require attention as a result of low blood sugar;
- who suffer from seizures requiring attention by a trained medical practitioner.
These dogs can be trained to retrieve objects which their owners cannot reach, close and open doors and search for another person to lend assistance to their owner. And these are just some of the individual tasks which can be performed by these specially trained dogs.
The definition of Service Animals as defined in law by the US Department of Justice in 2010 reads as follows:
“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA” (Americans with Disabilities Act)
What Types of Dog make an Assistance Dog?
As you would expect, there are a number of really important qualities that make a dog suited to be an Assistance Dog. Generally, an even temperament, good health, which will include stamina and the physical makeup of the animal, and the ability to be trained and disciplined are all important.
Most literature on the subject of best Assistance Dog breeds show that Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds make up the majority of dogs who are trained as service animals.
However, different types of dog suit certain situations better than others and many types of dog can be trained to assist a person with disabilities and to meet their specific needs. For instance, someone with a hearing disability will have different requirements than a person with a sight disability. With a hearing disability the size of the service dog is not as important as the dogs own hearing, so they can come in all different sizes and shapes. But they must be attentive and alert to any sound which may have an implication for their owners, such as a smoke alarm. They should also be friendly and people oriented.
Certainly dogs who need a lot of grooming and attention are not really suitable as Assistance Dogs as it is quite possible their owners may not be able to provide this. Where dogs are required to pick up objects or pull wheelchairs they should be of a suitable size and stamina to fulfil those needs. However, owners do not really need a dog the size of a small pony as there comes with this the challenge of fitting them into public transport without upsetting all the other riders or fitting them under a restaurant table.
As usual, the question “How long is a piece of string?” springs to mind. There is no hard and fast rule in response to this question. It will clearly depend on selecting the right dog and trainer to work together. They will also have had a period of acclimatisation to people and be fairly sociable animals before training starts. Service dog training programs will usually set out clear plans for training any dog that passes through its doors. Provided the trainer has 1-2 hours per day with the dog a reasonable expectation would be that the dog could be matched with an owner after a training period of around six months.
If you want to know much more about Assistance Dogs and how they can help humans with disabilities why not treat yourself to a book authored by Marcie Davis entitled Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook. If you want to find out more about Assistance Dogs International and the North American chapter you’ll find out a lot of useful information at their website.
Do you think an Assistance Dog would improve your Quality of Life?
If you have a disability and think an Assistance Dog might improve your quality of life then you might start by exploring the resources on Service Dog Central which is a mine of useful information on all thing associated with Service Dogs. Good luck in your quest.
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