Disability Focus: Assistance Dogs

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chihuahua Service Dog

This week our Disability Focus is on Assistance Dogs and how they aid people with disabilities. We have decided to devote our blog posts this week to providing more information about Assistance Dogs, the different types, and rules and etiquette about interacting with them. Today we will begin with a brief introduction about the dogs and the history and background behind their development.

Most people are aware of the existence of Guide Dogs and their usefulness for people with visual disabilities. With the help of a Guide Dog, sometimes referred to as a "seeing eye" dog, people with visual disabilities have greater mobility and independence.

For some years now, two other types of dog have been being trained to assist individuals with disabilities other than visual impairments. Hearing Dogs can assist those who are deaf or hard of hearing and Service Dogs, as the name suggests, provide assistance to individuals with physical disabilities such as MS, Parkinson’s Disease or Epilepsy. Recently, Service Dogs have also been trained to help people with psychological disabilities or mental health disorders like Panic Disorder, PTSD or Depression.

Dogs have long been used to assist people with disabilities and references to Guide Dogs date at least as far back as the mid-16th century. The first Guide Dog training schools were established in Germany during World War I, to enhance the mobility of returning veterans who were blinded in combat. The United States followed with The Seeing Eye organization launching in 1929 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Initially German Shepherds were a popular breed not only because of the first training schools established in Germany but also because the breed has a strong sense of loyalty to its owner, giving it a natural tendency to be protective. Other traditional breeds used in assisting the visually-impaired are Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers as their intelligence, size and temperament make them ideal Guide Dogs.

Nowadays the use of unusual breeds for service dogs has exploded. Mastiffs are used for mobility work. Chihuahuas are used for diabetic or seizure alert dogs. Almost any breed could do certain jobs if the dog has the temperment, skills, and willingness to work. A corgi wouldn't do as well for mobility work but could work as a hearing dog. Breeds like pugs and bulldogs don't always make the best of service dogs due to their pushed in noses -- this leads to difficult breathing while walking and a shorter working life. However, smaller breeds are being used more often by people with disabilities who are on a fixed income as they eat less and can live happily in a smaller home.

Do you have any questions about Assistance Dogs you would like answered this week? Hit us in the comments with your requests and stay tuned this week for more information!


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