Assistance dogs are an extremely important support animals for disabled people and those with a variety of medical conditions. They help to provide a sense of independence and emotional satisfaction to many people with medical conditions and disabilities. Assistance dogs are most commonly one of the following breeds: Golden Retriever, Labrador, Belgian Malinois, Alaskan Malamute.
Assistance Dogs UK, the voluntary coalition of service/assistance dog training groups, cites that over 7,000 people have been partnered with service dogs accredited by the organisation. Approximately 850 new guided dogs are paired with visually impaired people every year. Guide dogs for the blind, amongst other types of assistance dogs, require specific training to be able to carry out their jobs.
What training do they require?
Assistance dogs don’t always need to be a specific breed, but there are some qualities that the breed
must generally be known for in order to be considered appropriate for the role of assisting someone
with additional needs. Assistance dogs should be:
- Ready to learn
- Non-reactive to other dogs, people, sounds and signals
Training for assistance dogs and therapy dogs can take anywhere between 6 months to 2 years, depending on the type of disability or medical condition that they are being trained for. Generally, the dogs will be selected for their roles from when they are puppies, as it is much easier to train and mould puppy dogs to the lifestyle of support dogs, than it is to train an adult with already established habits and routines. The UK Guide Dogs Association breeds around 1,500 puppies per year to be trained as assistance dogs, with only approximately half of these completely their training.
Once the puppies are trained, they can then be paired with and adopted by a person with disabilities. Occasionally, if a disabled person already owns a dog who meets the criteria of an assistance dog, then they can be trained to fulfil the role of support for their owner.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that assistance dogs must:
- Be highly trained
- Not wander freely around public premises
- Sit or lay down quietly on the floor by their owner in a public place
- Go to the toilet on command and so will be less likely to do so in a public place where the
owner may be unable to pick up their litter
- Wear a dog jacket or harness which identifies them as an assistance dog
Training dogs to be an assistance dog includes teaching them ways in which they can carry out tasks or help their owner in day-to-day life. This training may consist of assisting with opening and closing doors, drawers and cupboards, fetching items that their owner might require, and removal of clothing and shoes. Dogs trained for specific disabilities such as deafness or blindness can help with guidance, and alerting of noises or hazards, or to fetch help for their owner from somebody else in a medical emergency.
People with autism can also benefit from a therapy or assistance dog. By forming a strong bond with their owners, they are able to provide comfort, and sensory stimulation and provide a feeling of safety. They can help to deter their owners from typical behaviours found in people with autism, such as hitting themselves or being disruptive.
It costs the organisation approximately £35,000 to breed and train each assistance dog in the UK. However, there is no fee to the owner for the placement and adoption of their service dog.
How assistance dogs can help
To a person with additional needs, an assistance dog can be both life-changing and life-saving.
Training to be an assistance dog includes teaching them ways in which they can carry out tasks or help their owner in day-to-day life. This training may consist of assisting with opening and closing doors, drawers and cupboards, fetching items that their owner might require, removal of clothing and shoes. They can also be trained for specific disabilities such as deafness or blindness, or to alert and fetch help in a medical emergency.
People with autism can also benefit from a therapy or assistance dog. By forming a strong bond with
their owners, they are able to provide comfort, sensory stimulation and provide a feeling of safety.
They can help someone with autism by reducing their feeling of stress in a social or busy
environment. They can help to deter their owners from typical behaviours found in people with
autism, such as hitting themselves or being disruptive.
They can also be trained as seizure dogs to alert people with epilepsy up to 1 hour before they have
an epileptic seizure. This means that the person is able to get themselves to safety and be in control
of their seizure, instead of it coming on unexpectedly and causing potentially severe injury due to
Assistance dogs can also aid with Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), in which they maybe be taken to a nursing home or social care facility. Here, emotional support animals benefits the people that they
are interacting with as they can help to form bonds of comradery for therapeutic sessions.
Assistance dogs and UK law
People who use an assistance dog are not legally required to provide evidence or proof that their dog has completed training. If your assistance dog is correctly identified with their harness or jacket, and are behaving appropriately, then they must be admitted to the premises. Regardless of this, the Assistance Dogs UK provide all of their members an ADUK Identification booklet for them to use if required.
International Assistance Dog Week
IADW takes place on the first Sunday of August each year, so it will be celebrated this year between 7-13th August. This week recognises the hard work of all of the devoted and reliable assistance dogs who are helping people with their daily life struggles as a result of a disability or medical condition.
You can help to celebrate IADW by helping to raise awareness and spread information of just how important assistance dogs are. You can also help by donating to an assistance dog charity to sponsor a puppy and contribute to the funding of their training of these special animals.
If you are looking for an assistance dog, please visit Assistance Dogs UK for further information on how to apply.
If you require any further information, then please feel free to contact us on 020 4519 9857 or email at email@example.com to speak to a vet in Greenford Quays and at firstname.lastname@example.org in Dickens Yard, Ealing.