Assistance dog: when to use it, for what type of handicap?

In addition to being great life companions, dogs can also play a great role in helping people with disabilities that prevent them from being completely independent. Indeed, the intelligence, loyalty and listening skills of certain types of dogs make their lives easier, in addition to providing them with daily moral support.

What types of dogs are used as a service dog?

Not all dogs are suitable for becoming service dogs. Very specific qualities will be sought in the dog so that he can best meet the expectations and needs of his master. We will therefore need the dog to be:

  • of a non-aggressive nature, to avoid a conflict situation between the dog and another of its congeners, or even another human being, that the disabled owner could potentially not manage,
  • a good learning capacity, to be able to instill in him all the complex and unusual commands that a “classic” dog could not or would have great difficulty in learning, and thus be able to help his master as best as possible with his handicap,
  • very good responsiveness to sounds and other signals sent by its master. This is an extremely important point, since a hearing-impaired handler, for example, may not be able to make himself understood with words that most handlers can use on a daily basis to communicate with their dog.

Dog breeds were therefore selected according to these criteria; after a whole training process, they are perfectly capable of fulfilling all of these requirements. The main breeds used are therefore the Labrador, Golden Retriever, Belgian Malinois and Alaskan Malamute.

How does the training of an assistance dog work?

The dog chosen to become a future service dog will mainly be spotted while he is still a puppy, after he has been observed at length by professionals and deemed suitable for developing the necessary abilities. Indeed, the training phase is long and complex to assimilate, it can last from 6 to 12 months.

However, in some cases it may be the dog the disabled person already owns that is being trained to become their future assistant, again only if deemed fit. Some associations even work with abandoned or guard dogs.

Dogs will therefore go through a long learning process, during which they will learn all kinds of actions, which are very unusual for a dog. The intelligence of the latter will surprise more than one, since they learn, for example, to drag a wheelchair for short distances, to open or close doors, to ring at doors, to turn on or off lights, to open or closing drawers, waiting at a pedestrian crossing and crossing at the right time, picking up objects or even helping the person to remove clothes, and many other actions among the large quantity of commands to which they learn to respond.

They will learn in addition to all this, to comply with the finger and the eye of their master, as well as to communicate in a specific way with the latter, according to his type of handicap. A hearing-impaired person will not communicate with their service dog in the same way as a visually impaired person, for example.

What types of disabilities are assistance dogs used for? What needs do they meet?

As said above, an assistance dog must be trained and adapt to the type of handicap of its master. These dogs are used in many situations:

  • for visually impaired people:they are certainly the most famous assistance dogs. Also called “guide dogs for the blind”, these assistance dogs for the visually impaired help their owners to navigate correctly while moving, allowing them to avoid obstacles and people they meet. These brave companions become the new eyes of their master in a way.
  • for hearing impaired people: these dogs rather become the new ears of their master, since they will be trained to react to the slightest sound, and to seek their master to bring him to the source of the noise: an alarm clock, a crying baby, a doorbell, a alarm, etc. The dog is constantly on alert, he observes and listens all around his master, and can touch the master’s leg to indicate, in particular, a bicycle coming behind. He also learned the basics of sign language from, for example, the association Les Chien du Silence, which admirably educates these dogs for the hearing impaired.
  • for people with a physical disability: these dogs are trained to be able to help people who have difficulty moving around. This can be actions like pulling a wheelchair, or just opening or closing a door, going to look for a particular object, turning a light on or off, etc.
  • for urgent situations: the main function of these assistance dogs is to be able to seek help if the situation requires it. They often accompany the elderly, as well as people with diabetes or heart problems.
  • for animal assisted therapy: these dogs receive a very particular training, since their goal is to create a therapeutic bond with a person. They are widely used in addiction care centers, as well as in retirement homes, or even with people with intellectual or mental disabilities.
  • for people with autism: they are dogs that are called therapists, since they assist their master by allowing him to improve his way of communicating by providing him with a sensory link, in addition to protecting him. These dogs form very strong bonds with their master.