Three-part series on working dogs that make the world a better place.
Part One: Assistance Dogs
Assistance dogs not only provide a specific service to their handlers, but also greatly enhance the quality of their lives with a new sense of freedom and independence. Below is a description of each type from Assistance Dogs International (ADI) a coalition of non-profit assistance dog organizations.
There are three types of Assistance Dogs:
1. Guide Dogs
Guide Dogs assist blind and visually impaired people by avoiding obstacles, stopping at curbs and steps, and negotiating traffic. The harness and U-shaped handle fosters communication between the dog and the blind partner. In this partnership, the human’s role is to provide directional commands, while the dog’s role is to insure the team’s safety even if this requires disobeying an unsafe command.
Labrador and Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd dogs and other large breeds are carefully bred, socialized and raised for over one year by volunteers, then trained for 4 to 6 months by professional trainers before being placed with their blind and visually impaired handlers.
2. Hearing Dogs
Hearing Dogs assist deaf and hard of hearing individuals by alerting them to a variety of household sounds such as a door knock or doorbell, alarm clock, oven buzzer, telephone, baby cry, name call or smoke alarm. Dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their deaf partners to the source of the sound.
Hearing Dogs are generally mixed breeds acquired from animal shelters and are small to medium in size. Prior to formal audio response training, the younger adoptees are raised and socialized by volunteer puppy raisers. Hearing Dogs are identified by leash and/or vest.
3. Service Dogs
Service Dogs assist people with disabilities other than vision or hearing impairment. With special training these dogs can help mitigate many different types of disabilities. They can be trained to work with people who use power or manual wheelchairs, have balance issues, have various types of autism, need seizure alert or response, need to be alerted to other medical issues like low blood sugar, or have psychiatric disabilities. These specially trained dogs can help by retrieving objects that are out of their person’s reach, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate that help is needed, finding another person and leading the person to the handler, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance, providing deep pressure, and many other individual tasks as needed by a person with a disability.
Service Dogs are either rescued from animal shelters or bred in selective breeding programs and raised by volunteers prior to their formal training. Most Service Dogs are Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers. Service DownesDogs can be identified by a jacket, backpack or harness.
Click on the link below to learn how a service dog has helped victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Newlyweds Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes each lost a leg in the Boston Marathon bombing. Rescue the assistance dog helps fetch keys and push buttons, bringing warmth and joy as the couple recovers.
Courtesy of Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes
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