What is an assistance dog?

A dog which is uniquely trained to support a person with special needs in everyday life

All assistance dogs must meet the following requirements:

  • A particularly calm and confident nature
  • Exceptional people skills
  • Solid basic obedience
  • Like to work independently
  • Tolerate a lot of physical contact
  • Playfulness for retrieving games
  • Have patience for being pet and cuddled

Types of assistance dogs:

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs are trained to replace their owner’s eyesight as much as possible:

  • The dogs search for auditory cues or distinctive points.
  • They indicate paths, crosswalks, traffic lights, entrances & exits, elevators, seating, bus stops, transportation, and more.
  • They protect their owner from precipices and other dangers and navigate effortlessly through crowds.
  • The dogs work independently and are taught to make decisions on their own. They are schooled to find a way back home or return to a starting point.
  • They point out obstacles or avoid them so that people do not even notice that something was in the way. This can be as high as the top of the persons head!
  • The dogs point to or retrieve objects, for instance if glasses or a pill has fallen to the floor.

This gives our fellow human beings who are disadvantaged by fate a calm and relaxed way of moving about in familiar as well as unfamiliar environments, providing independence and autonomy that is impossible to achieve in any other way. Guide dogs are not “on duty”, they are at their owner’s side day and night- as partners.

Key points of guide dog training:

  • Training at the guide dog school and school environment
  • Performance on a road without sidewalks
  • Getting used to the guide harness
  • Steady and calm in harness
  • Standing calmly in harness
  • Turning in all given directions on command
  • Obedience exercises or concentration exercises, as necessary

Quiet village

  • Guiding on a sidewalk
  • Stopping before a street
  • Street crossings
  • Finding the way back
  • Recall after running free in meadows and the edge of a forest

Small town

  • Traffic
  • Finding and correctly indicating crosswalks
  • Road crossings with and without zebra
  • Showing or avoiding obstacles
  • Entrances/exits
  • Seating
  • Elevator
  • Stairs up/down
  • Department store training
  • Behavior in a restaurant

Large city

  • Pedestrian zones
  • Train station and airport training
  • Refusal to approach an escalator
  • Public transport
  • Avoiding construction sites
  • Dog zones
A Guide Dog brings his owner her white cane from a bench

Service Dogs

Dog walking next to person in a power wheelchair
Assistance Dog walking next to a person in an electric wheelchair

The task of service dogs is to compensate for physical limitations of their owners. It might be picking up and bringing various objects, opening and closing doors and drawers, operating switches, pressing buttons and getting help.

They are specially trained according to the needs of the future dog owner.

Medical Alert Dogs 

Fox-Red Labrador lying next to a child who is in his care
Medical Alert Dog watching the child in his care

Medical Alert dogs are trained to notice and report various sounds, different types of behavior or patterns people of all ages may have.

  • Medical Alert dogs include:
  • Dogs for the hearing impaired
  • Diabetes and epilepsy alert dogs
  • Autism assistance dogs
  • Dogs for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Dogs for people with multiple disabilities

This training requires a very experienced trainer as it is dual training of a service dog.

Examples of dual training:

  • Mobility support- Guide Dog (Guide & Service Dog for the Blind)
  • Dogs for the Deaf-Blind (Guide & Signal Dog for the Blind. In this training, the future dog owner is involved in the training.

During training with the future owner it often becomes apparent that the assistance dog can also support the person in various unpredictable ways, which is then further incorporated into the training process.

The video shows a black Curly Coated Retriever leading and supporting his mistress, who is walking down a flight of stairs.

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