When we started
this blog, we talked about the uniqueness of dogs and the great appreciation we
have for them. As if being
unconditional companions and devout pets of any human, kind or mean, rich or
poor, wasn't enough, dogs are also dedicated workers and committed athletes.
creatures never hesitate to put their talents at our service either to help us
accomplish small goals or to contribute to humanity's greatest achievements.
Dogs are always ready to assist their humans, regardless of the effort required
or the complexity of the task. The news often
feature dogs that became heroes by instinctively protecting their human
friends, usually caring for the weakest, most vulnerable or disadvantaged
individuals, which are, generally, the children of the families. In order to
take advantage of this natural ability of dogs to care for others, they started
to receive training in the assistance of people with disabilities, whether
these are physical or intellectual. This innovation lead to the appearance
of a special type of professional working dogs called assistance dogs.
reference to the existence of service dogs goes back to a nineteenth century
novel called Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barret
Browing, that describes a man and his guide dog. Furthermore, Johann
Whilhelm Klein founded an institute for the blind in Vienna, Austria, in 1819,
and the first guide dog training school appeared in Germany, when Dr. Gerhard
Stalling trained dogs to assist blind veterans during the World War I.
earliest publication about the existence of such school dates to 1927, after
which the idea spread to the rest of the world. At the beginning of the 1930's,
assistance dogs were allowed to access public places and all kinds of transportation
vehicles and the first associations were founded as well. Although, guide dogs
were the first type of assistance dogs ever recorded, today's diversityconcerning tasks, needs and training made the latter's division into more
specified groups necessary.
Assistance Dogs Internationaldefinition "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." These animals
must perform a task directly related to the disability of the handler in order
to be considered an assistance dog. Amongst them, we can consider the
assistance of blind, deaf, visual or hearing impaired individuals, as well as
rescue work and the tasks of alerting handlers of allergens or seizures, of
assisting people with psychiatric or neurological disabilities, of retrieving essential items, of pulling/hauling wheelchairs or of helping people of reducedmobility.
Even when some
dogs are trained to perform more than one specific task, there are three
different groups of assistance dogs according to their field
- Guide dogs that
assist blind or visually impaired people to bypass obstacles and ensure the
safety of the team (handler-dog) along the way. The handler is responsible for
imparting directions and the dog is in charge of ensuring the team’s arrival to
their destination. The breeds most often trained as guide dogs are
Labrador and Golden Retriever as well as German Shepherd. They are easy to recognize
because they wear a harness with a U-shaped handle.
- Hearing Dogs
alert deaf and hearing-impaired individuals of sounds such as alarms,
doorbells, telephones, as well as of a baby’s cry, by touching their handler
and leading him/her to the source of the sound. They usually are mixed breed
and wear a vest as identification.
- Service Dogs assist individuals with
disabilities other than visual and hearing impairment. These dogs are trained
to help people suffering mental illness, seizures, diabetes, autism, and other
conditions that could be better managed with canine help. Seizure and
medical response dogs, which assist individual with high-risk medical
conditions or autism as well as psychiatric service dogs and mobility
assistance dogs follow training programs according to the task they need
to perform. These dogs can be rescued from shelters or
specially bred to enter the program. Golden and Labrador Retrievers
are the most frequent breeds working as service dogs. They wear distinctive harnesses,
backpacks or jackets, sometimes with an ID tag.
In all these
cases, when an assistance dog is wearing a vest or any form of identification,
it means that he is working and should not be distracted of disturbed.
Assistance dogs are in general as affectionate and obedient pets when
they are at home or not wearing their special gear than when they are on duty.
See the section >>>LinkingPaws for links to organizations and related resources