Service Dogs Part 1: Mobility Help

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

As we mentioned in our Disability Focus on Monday, there are a variety of Assistance Dogs available to help people with disabilities. Yesterday we talked about Hearing Dogs, who are dogs trained to assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Today we are going to talk about Service Dogs, who are dogs trained to help people with a variety of other disabilities. Specifically, we are going to talk about Service Dogs trained for people who have MS, Parkinson's, Cerebral Palsy or another physical disability which may create mobility difficulties.

How do Service Dogs help people with physical disabilities? Put shortly, they simply assist with tasks their owner has trouble doing. This can include picking up dropped items, getting an item off a counter-top or table, switching on and off lights, opening doors (including pushing automatic door buttons) and being able to brace their owners when they need help with stability. They can also speak (bark) for their owner in situations where they need help from another person but are unable to speak or are too far away. For a great first person story of how a Service Dog can aid a person with a physical disability, please read Tanya's story.

For people with physical disabilities, larger breeds are generally required for the tasks they need to perform. Smaller dogs won't be able to perform tasks like bracing their owner, opening doors or carrying a phone. The dog must be dependable, intelligent and trainable. Labradors, Retrievers and German Shepherds all make excellent Service Dogs because of their demeanour and size. Larger breeds, like Mastiffs, are also becoming popular for people who need a bigger dog for stability and mobility purposes.

Service dogs can be an invaluable companion in the workplace, at school, and around the home. They provide their owners with a measure of independence and reduces their reliance on other people. It is always important to remember not to distract or touch a Service Dog when you see them in public. They are quite literally working and distracting them could break their concentration and leave their owner vulnerable. If you would like to talk to or pat a Service Dog, be sure to ask the owner for permission first.


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