Over a quarter of adults in the UK own a dog. These faithful companions have many benefits such as encouraging exercise, reducing stress and improving sociability and happiness, however for people with a disability, they also offer the chance to lead an independent life. Assistance dogs are selected based on their reliable temperaments and undergo significant training to ensure that they can meet the needs of their handler whilst undertaking normal, everyday tasks. Let us introduce you to the most common types of assistance dogs and what they do…
1. Guide dogs
Guide dogs help people who are blind or visually impaired to travel safely and confidently, by assisting with navigation, avoiding obstacles, and finding objects such as road crossing buttons or seating.
Leading the user along a straight route from A to B.
Stopping when there is a change in surface elevation (e.g. at a curb or stairs).
Holding back to alert their handler of potential dangers (e.g. cars at a crossing).
How to recognise: Guide dogs wear white harnesses with yellow fluorescent stripes (Guide Dogs charity), which allows the handler to easily feel the dog’s direction and response. They are often Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers or Poodles, although can also be other breeds!
2. Hearing dogs
Hearing dogs are used to alert those who are deaf or hard of hearing, to specific sounds which require action by the user. This can be anything from a knock at the door to a smoke alarm and helps to promote user independence and confidence.
Making physical contact to alert their handler of sounds, by placing both paws on their lap, or nudging their leg.
Leading the user towards safe sounds which require action.
Preventing the user from entering an unsafe environment.
How to recognise: Many hearing dogs wear burgundy jackets displaying the logo for the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.
3. Mobility dogs
Mobility dogs assist individuals who use wheelchairs, or have reduced mobility as a result of injury, or conditions such as arthritis. Their training is tailored to assist with actions that the user cannot complete on their own.
Retrieving objects which are out of the user’s reach.
Operating control buttons and opening/closing doors.
Providing balance, co-ordination and support to the handler when unsteady.
How to recognise: There are a few different organisations which train mobility dogs, meaning that they could be wearing a red jacket (Dog AID), purple jacket (Canine Partners), blue jacket (Support Dogs) or green jacket (Dogs for Good). Some dogs may wear a harness with a rigid, upright handle which offers the user greater stability.
4. Medical alert dogs
Medical alert dogs assist adults and children with complex health conditions, where the individual has limited awareness of a life-threatening event. This includes alerting users with Type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease and Epilepsy.
Identifying subtle changes in odour, emitted prior to an emergency.
Alerting the user to take immediate preventative action (e.g. to inject insulin).
Alerting others with barking or activating an alarm if the user needs medical help.
How to recognise: Many medical alert dogs wear red jackets displaying the logo for the organisation Medical Detection Dogs. The charity Support Dogs also provides dogs for people with epilepsy, which wear blue jackets.
5. Autism support dogs
Autism support dogs are trained to provide companionship and improve quality of life for children and their family, by reducing isolation and enabling routine.
Providing a source of comfort and consistency, whilst using calming interactions to prevent emotional outbursts (e.g. lying across the user’s lap).
Assisting with sensory stimulation by playing games like hide and seek.
Keeping the child safe from potential dangers (e.g. road traffic).
How to recognise: Autism support dogs may wear green jackets (Dogs for Good) or blue jackets (Support dogs). They often wear a special harness which the child holds on one side, with a parent holding a second lead and providing instructions on the other.
These are just a few of the different assistance dogs which help individuals with impairing conditions. You can find out more about the work that they do through the charities mentioned throughout this article. Remember, assistance dogs will not always be wearing a jacket and are working when you see them out in public. This means that you should refrain from interacting with the dogs, to ensure that they can concentrate and keep their handlers safe.
If you are interested in considering the needs of disabled individuals within your organisation, then please get in touch.