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The ways dogs make a difference to our lives: various types of assistance dogs
Picture this: a dog lies patiently under a bus seat. At the next stop, a man prepares to get off. With one motion, the service dog guides him quietly, and skillfully off the bus.
Sounds like a scene out of Hachiko, but dogs like these certainly ARE out there.
The dawning of yet another year has made me think about how some people would go the extra mile to make a small difference in the lives of others. Then I remembered my pet love, dogs, and how these winsome paragons of loyalty ( and yes, smelliness) effortlessly and wholeheartedly can make significant differences in our lives as well.
Indeed, dogs can make a difference in our lives. They complete people in so many ways, with their keen senses, intelligence and most of all, hearts of gold. As a matter of fact, many would find it very difficult to cope without the assistance of these dogs.
Dogs render their help in many ways. Here are some examples of how dogs lend an oft taken for granted hand to us. This writer will also make some suggestions as to how we can get a pet dog to assist us if we need help in certain areas.
Making the distinction
There are many types of assistance and service dogs and it is quite important to make the distinction between these great canines.
Assistance dogs is the umbrella term to describe dogs who provide assistance in various ways. As defined by Wikipedia:
“An assistance dog is a dog trained to help a person with a disability in daily life. Many are trained by a specific organization, while others are trained by their handler.”
There are three types of these:
Guide dogs : Like the dog in the introduction of this article, these dogs are trained to provide assistance to the visually impaired.
Service dogs : As defined by the ADI website:
”Service Dogs assist disabled people by retrieving objects that are out of their reach, by pulling wheelchairs, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking for alert, finding another person, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance and many other individual tasks as needed by a disabled person.”
Hearing or Signal Dogs : These dogs are trained to provide assistance to the hearing impaired in matters like retrieving objects when they are dropped or in answering the phone.
There is another category of dogs that provide us with much needed help, and these are therapy dogs. However, whereas assistance dogs such as the ones above receive legal protection a therapy dog does not provide direct assistance in the ways stated above.
As defined by Wikipedia:
“A therapy dog refers to a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools, and stressful situations such as disaster areas.”
A therapy dog provides emotional help to those with mental impairments, but is not specifically trained to render assistance as such.
Often referred to as K9s, these dogs are of course trained specifically to assist the police and other law enforcement personnel in their work. Favorite breeds of choice for police dog service are German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers, Pinschers, Pitbull Terriers ,Staffordshire Terriers and Bloodhounds.
They serve in various areas like Search and Rescue, Explosive Sniffing and Cadaver detection - to sniff out decomposing bodies.
Arson or Fire dogs
These dogs assist the fire department by picking up the scent of accelerants at the scenes of suspected Arson.
Dalmatians are a very popular choice as Fire Dogs.
Customs and Border Protection
These dogs help the Border Patrol by sniffing out drugs or illegal items that passengers may bring in.
Popular choices are the labrador retriever and any sporting breed - Spaniels Barbets, and the Irish Setters usually make the cut.
Guide and Hearing Dogs
As mentioned before, these dogs are specially trained to guide the visually impaired of f buses or retrieve objects when they are dropped. They may even indicate to someone with hearing impairment that the phone is ringing. Popular guide dogs are Retrievers and German Shepherds.
Seizure Alert Dogs
These dogs assist patients with Epilepsy or any seizure disorder with matters like:
- Summoning help by activating pre programmed phones or alerting another person
- Putting dangerous objects away from a person’s body
- Attempting to rouse the unconscious owner
- Providing physical and emotional support
- Carrying information regarding the owner’s medical condition.
Some dogs are so well trained that they can sense impeding seizures. A seizure response dog has to be absolutely perfect for the job, so the rarity of these traits make them fewer in number. Samoyeds, Border Collies, Retrievers and German Shepherds make popular seizure alert dogs.
Classroom dogs are paired with social workers to help children with different impairments either physical, emotional or developmental. They are an innovative teaching tool for children. Again, the German Shepherd and Retrievers make popular choices because of their even temperament.
Dogs for diabetics
These dogs are trained to help people with type 1 diabetes. They are trained to detect the scent that blood glucose has on body chemistry.
Dogs for Diabetics is an institution dedicated to improving the lives of diabetics, empowering individuals to live quality lives in spite of the disease.
These dogs are specifically trained for battle. They serve mostly as sentries or even make arrests.
Dogs that served the Romans in battle even wore mail - spiked collars and hard armor! The “Canis Molossius dog of Epirus was the strongest known to the romans. Rottweilers and German Shepherds make good military dogs because of their obedient, yet aggressive temper.
Service dogs at work
Training your pet dog to be a service dog
Service dogs come from many backgrounds. Some dogs are career change dogs, previously bred for other work. Some are specifically bred service dogs. Others indeed started out as pets. You may have a need for a service dog or may have a dog you want to prepare as one.
If you or someone else has a need, or if you have a pet you would like to train as a service dog, there are steps you can take to get him prepared. Note that these are suggestions and service dogs do require advanced training.
Is your dog comfortable in stressful situations?
Is your dog comfortable around all people and dogs?
Is your dog non aggressive and not overly protective?
Ascertain if your dog can be a service dog.
The odds of a dog having the right stuff to be a service dog is rare, although not unheard of. If you want to prepare your dog as a service dog, there are some questions you can ask yourself in the poll in this article.
If he fulfills the requirements, you could get him trained to assist you in areas that you or others may need help with. You may also enlist the help of a vet who can help you determine if your dog can be a service dog.
Neuter or spay your dog.
Neutered dogs are less likely to be distracted by the opposite sex being in heat. They will not mark territory or exhibit aggressive, territorial behavior. This is an important trait service dogs need to have.
Train basic obedience
Train the dog to obey the basic commands of sitting and staying. He also needs to be able to come on cue.
Get a Clicker. Use clicker training to instill basic commands. A clicker marks what behavior is correct. It is a small noise maker that makes a click when the dog exhibits the correct behavior. The clicker is loaded or pressed and the dog given a treat when he exhibits the correct behavior.
Train your dog to behave as well unleashed as it is leashed.
Your dog should be able to perform basic obedience skills when it is unleashed. Only then can it respond to more difficult commands as a service dog.
Teach your dog not to greet other people.
The dog will have to be focused on the handler. If it is running around greeting other people, it will miss the need for immediate help.
Train your dog with agility.
Put your dog through obstacle courses and bring him to dog runs. It tests his ability to respond to commands. He socializes with other people and dogs as well.
Train your dog not to be distracted.
Use the Clicker to remind the dog that he is not supposed to focus on other dogs, cats, or food on the ground. The only thing he should take note of is you.
Have a few sessions with a dog handler.
For situations that require some advanced training, have a few individual sessions with a dog handler. A dog handler will use techniques like associative learning to pair the correct response with the behavior. Reinforced by you, the dog will learn to pick up seizure related cues.
Train the dog with simple tasks that he can help with.
You may need help with retrieving your keys. Use the clicker and treats to reinforce this simple behavior and others like fetching a newspaper or the mail.
Certify your service dog.
Get the dog certified if he is needed to go where dogs usually cannot go. A few things to remember:
- See a doctor and get him to write a letter stating the need for a service dog.
- Read the instructions of the certifying body and meet any of their requirements. One such association that provides this service is the National Service Animal Registry.
- Enlist the help of a veterinarian to see if the dog is qualified to be a service dog.
Indeed, dogs can help us in many ways. Their keen senses can help us in little ways or even save lives.
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