Most of us have spotted service dogs assisting their owner in a grocery store, at a local shopping mall, or just out for a walk. These carefully selected and well-trained animals can provide support to people of all ages and with a variety of health conditions.
A child with a peanut allergy might have an assistance dog that alerts them when the presence of peanuts is detected. A person with epilepsy, meanwhile, may have a dog that is trained to respond when their owner experiences a seizure. These actions can be life-saving.
In honor of National Assistance Dog Month in September, we explore how these dogs are selected and trained, as well as where you can connect with one.
How are Assistance Dogs Selected?
Service dogs are required to have more than just a pleasant disposition. For a dog to truly be qualified, other requirements must be met:
- Obedience training: A service dog must be disciplined and well-trained. They are often exposed to a variety of people and environments, so it’s vital they follow commands. The dog must be able to sit, stay, heel, drop, and leave on command.
- Socialization: Assistance dogs must have a calm demeanor and not be easily spooked or startled. They must be able to stay alert while also remaining calm.
- Perform tasks: The core of an assistance dog’s day will be spent on tasks such as fetching a water bottle, retrieving a sweater or pair of shoes, and alerting the owner to potential problems. This requires the animal to be able to accept direction and learn how to perform sometimes complicated tasks.
Assistance Dog Training
An assistance dog spends considerable time in public with their trainer. They learn how to handle noise, crowds, confusion, and more. These dogs must also learn specific public behaviors, including the following:
- No barking at strangers.
- No sniffing other animals or people.
- No lunging at or jumping on people.
- No begging for food or treats.
- How to relieve themselves on command.
- How to remain calm and alert
Resources for Adopting an Assistance Dog
If you need an assistance dog or believe a senior loved one would benefit from having a trained canine companion, there are several organizations you can contact to learn more about finding one.
- The Seeing Eye is an organization that helps people with vision impairments connect with seeing eye dogs.
- America’s Vet Dogs helps veterans, first responders with disabilities, and other adults suffering from PTSD find a trained service companion.
- Dogs for Better Lives: This organization, formerly known as Dogs for the Deaf, focuses on helping people with hearing loss or autism find a service dog.
- Dogs for Diabetes: For insulin-dependent diabetics, this organization can be a lifesaver. A service dog can alert the owner before their blood sugar reaches dangerous levels.
- Canine Assistants: This organization can help people with a variety of disabilities adopt a service dog. It might be an older adult who is at risk for falling or a senior with hearing or vision loss.
Our last suggestion is to contact local service organizations such as the Lions Club or Elks. They often help people who need an assistance dog obtain financial support.
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Source: Sunrise Senior Living