International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) is the first full week in August every year. It was created to raise awareness and honor the role of these very special and hardworking fur babies in improving quality of life for people with disabilities. Assistance dogs perform heroic acts, and both the dogs and their trainers have our utmost respect.
Assistance dogs, also referred to as service dogs, are specially trained to help people with impairments and challenges including visual issues, diabetes, mental illnesses, seizure disorders, and more. Their training is more focused than, for example, a therapy dog that provides affection to persons in nursing homes, or emotional support dogs bringing therapeutic benefits for their owners through companionship.
Retrievers, Labrador/Retriever hybrids and Poodles are well suited to being service dogs, but any dog with a patient temperament and with a proper level of training can potentially be a good assistance dog candidate. The following are some of the most common assistance dog types and specializations.
Persons who are physically impaired and/or in a wheelchair can benefit from a mobility assistance dog. These pooches can be trained to perform tasks that include fetching and retrieving items, pressing service door buttons, allowing their owner to lean on them, or even assist in getting a wheelchair up a ramp. As with all assistance dogs, they help with increasing independence and quality of life.
Guide dogs assist visually impaired persons in navigating their way while walking and crossing the street. They receive appropriate training related to responding to traffic lights and obstacles to ensure their owner is kept safe while out in the community.
Hearing assistance dogs provide “ears” to hearing impaired persons who cannot hear sirens, doorbells, alarms, a crying child, etc. These dogs are trained to alert their human when there is a noise and guide them toward the source when appropriate.
Seizure Alert and Response
Seizure alert dogs can sense when a seizure is imminent in a person. While there is some debate about if dogs can always reliably predict a seizure, they can assist with sounding an alarm in the home or getting help if their human has a seizure.
Diabetic Alert Dogs
How amazing is it that these fidos are able to detect changes in human blood sugar levels through their keen sense of smell! They notice when blood sugar is changing and alert their owners early enough for their owner to get the insulin or glucose needed before there is medical danger. These dogs can also be trained to set off an alarm in the home if their human requires medical attention.
Persons with severe allergies to foods like peanuts, dairy and shellfish can benefit from a fur baby that can sniff out even small amounts of these items in food. How amazing is it that your best friend can give you a peace of mind and potentially save a very unpleasant and potentially life threatening experience.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Persons with clinical psychiatric disorders can benefit from the assistance of this type of service dog. Persons with PTSD or anxiety disorders are often hyper-vigilant, while persons with depression are withdrawn. In both cases, psychiatric assistance dogs can provide a bridge to the outside world and assistance in coping with the daily stresses and activities of life.
Autism and FASD
Children on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum or with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) are often challenged developmentally and socially. Assistance animals can help them to feel less isolated, prevent them from wandering and also give assistance with various daily tasks.
If these awe-inspiring abilities amaze you and peak your interest in becoming a service dog trainer, we don’t blame you! Thousands of people work in this special field. Proper education for trainers can take 2-3 years; additional training may be needed if you are interested in getting a formal certification. If you love animals, enjoy helping people, have patience and good communications skills, this could be a great role for you. If assistance dogs are the superheroes in the front line assisting challenged and disabled persons in having a better quality of life, trainers are dedicated men and women behind these special tailwaggers enabling them to be the best that they can be.