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Dog Waving Paw

Dog Blog 1
 

  • Writer's pictureBecki Gude

Paws with a Purpose! All about Assistance Dogs

Updated: Apr 6


Guide dog

Dogs have earned their reputation as Man’s Best Friend for so many reasons. Beyond their loyalty and companionship, they have demonstrated an incredible capacity to aid people with disabilities, transforming lives in the process. Assistance dogs, specially trained to provide support to those in need, play a vital role in enhancing the independence and quality of life of their human.


As someone who specialises in owner trained assistance dogs, I wanted to write this article to share a little bit of information about this truly remarkable niche in dog training and how special these dogs really are.



What Are Assistance Dogs?


Assistance dogs, also known as service dogs in other countries, are dogs trained to assist people with disabilities in various ways, depending on that person’s needs. These highly skilled dogs provide physical, emotional, and practical assistance to their handlers, making daily tasks more manageable and helping to increase their independence. There are several types of assistance dogs, each trained to perform specific tasks tailored to their handlers’ requirements.



assistance dog puppies in training


Labradors, Golden retrievers and other gundogs make excellent assistance dogs due to their gentle nature, intelligence and eagerness to work. But other dog breeds can be equally as suitable with the right upbringing and training. Different breeds may be suited to different tasks, due to their size, their natural skills sets and their stamina.



 


It is important to remember that assistance dogs are not pets, and are instead highly skilled working animals. If you see an assistance dog out in public working with its handler, it is important to allow the dog to do its job without trying to distract it (as tempting as it is to ask for a cuddle!)



 

assistance dogs uk

Types of Assistance Dogs in the UK


  1. Guide Dogs: These dogs assist individuals who are blind or visually impaired, guiding them safely through their daily routines. They help navigate obstacles and ensure their handlers’ safety when crossing streets and manoeuvring through various environments.

  2. Hearing Dogs: Hearing dogs support individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing by alerting them to important sounds, such as doorbells, alarms, and approaching vehicles. They provide their handlers with a heightened awareness of their surroundings.

  3. Mobility Assistance Dogs: These dogs are trained to help their handlers with physical tasks such as retrieving dropped objects, opening doors, carrying things and even assisting with transfers in and out of wheelchairs. Helping with physical tasks can help increase their handlers independence if they struggle with these tasks alone.

  4. Medical Detection & Response Dogs: Individuals with medical conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, or severe allergies find invaluable companionship in medical alert dogs. These dogs literally save lives. They are trained to detect changes in their handlers’ body chemistry or behaviour that signal an impending medical emergency, enabling early intervention. They can also be trained to sniff out trace elements of allergens in their surroundings to alert those who suffer with severe allergies.

  1. Mental Health Assistance Dogs: Those struggling with mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression may receive support from psychiatric assistance dogs. These dogs provide emotional comfort, interrupt destructive behaviours, and offer a sense of security in challenging situations.

  2. Autism Assistance Dogs: Autism assistance dogs are trained to provide a sense of security and emotional stability, assisting in reducing anxiety and sensory overstimulation for those who are autistic. They are also skilled in helping with tasks like interrupting repetitive behaviours and promoting social interactions. They can help increase independence and confidence in autistic individuals, creating a stronger connection to the world around them and enhancing their ability to engage with others.



The Training Process of Assistance Dogs


Training assistance dogs is an intensive process that requires dedication, patience, and expertise. These dogs all undergo rigorous training programs, often taking 24 months or longer to complete. Here are the key stages involved:


Puppy Raising:

Assistance dog organisations often rely on volunteers to foster and raise puppies destined for service. During this stage, the puppies are socialised, exposed to various environments and taught basic obedience commands. The puppy’s early months are crucial and can be pivotal in whether the puppy qualifies or not later on.


Specialised Training:

Once the puppies reach a certain age, they are placed with professional trainers who teach them specific tasks and commands tailored to their intended roles. For example, guide dogs learn to stop at curbs, avoid obstacles, and follow directional commands.


Customisation:

The training is customised to meet the unique needs of each individual handler. Training programs may vary depending on the handler’s disability and requirements.


Graduation:

After completing their training through a charity, assistance dogs are then paired with their handlers. The training continues as the dog and handler work together to build a strong bond and fine-tune their partnership. If the handler has decided to train their own assistance dog, there are also options to qualify through independent assessment charities like the Assistance Dog Assessment Association (ADAA).



assistance dog puppies in training

One of our lovely puppies in training at Surrey Canine Corner. Practising focus around things that would normally be distracting is key in the early development of assistance dogs. Here she is learning to focus on her handler and to ignore all of the tasty treats and toys in a local pet shop.



The Remarkable Impact of these Amazing Dogs


The impact of assistance dogs on the lives of individuals with various disabilities cannot be overstated. These superdogs serve as loyal companions, providing not only physical assistance but also emotional support and an unrivalled sense of connection. Their dedication to enhancing the well-being and independence of their handlers is a testament to the incredible bond that exists between humans and dogs.


Assistance dogs not only change lives, but they also inspire hope, resilience, and a deeper understanding of the pivotal difference that a furry friend can make in our world.

Seeing the bonds that develop between assistance dog and their handler is something that will never ever get old for me <3


Becki Gude Ba(hons) PACT ABTC- ATI

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