What Is an Assistance Dog?

What Is an Assistance Dog?

An assistance dog is a dog that has been formally trained to help someone with a disability. There are three types of assistance dogs:
  • A guide dog- This type has been used the longest and is the most familiar to people. It’s also sometimes called a seeing-eye dog. These animals guide those who are blind or visually impaired.
  • A hearing dog- This type helps those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • A service dog- This type aids people who are disabled in other ways not mentioned above.

What Is the Difference Between an Assistance Dog and an Emotional Support Dog?

You may have seen stories about people with emotional support animals (not always dogs) being denied boarding on airplanes or admittance to public areas. Many people don’t understand that assistance dogs and support animals are two different things and that the laws apply to them differently. Specifically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is the federal source of regulations concerning service dogs. An assistance dog does a job or performs a function that its owner cannot do because of a physical or intellectual disability or a disabling mental health condition. The owners of such dogs have been diagnosed with a condition, and they often go through a service dog agency to get a specially trained dog. However, it’s important to note that the ADA does not require service dogs to be trained by organizations. An emotional support animal, on the other hand, is a companion animal that provides emotional support to someone with a mental, physical, or intellectual condition. The owners of support animals must receive a letter from their doctor stating that the animal provides therapeutic support to the owner. Emotional support animals do not need any specific or formal training. Assistance dogs are given some legal protection. For example, they are allowed into businesses, even private ones, with their owners. Business owners or employees may ask if the dog is a service dog and what job the dog does, but they are not entitled to information about the owner’s health condition. Assistance dogs can also live in homes or apartments that do not otherwise allow pets, and they can fly with their owners on an airplane without being kept in a carrier or being in the baggage hold area. Emotional support animals are entitled to live with their owners even if the housing would not normally allow pets, and they can fly with their owners as long as they are well-behaved. They do not have to be allowed into businesses, however.

What Are Some of the Ways Assistance Dogs Help Their Handlers?

The services that an assistance dog provides depends on the type of condition the owner is dealing with. If the owner is blind, then the guide dog will help them navigate their surroundings safely. They will guide their masters across the street, for example, or alert them when there is a curb to step down from or a stair to step up. Hearing dogs can alert their owners when the telephone rings or if the smoke detector is going off. If the owner has limited dexterity, the dog might pick up items for them. Service dogs can act as medical alert dogs for people with conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes. Dogs can be trained to reliably alert their owners to diabetic hypoglycemia because the chemical change (a change in isoprene levels, especially in the saliva) is understood. Trainers are able to obtain scent samples for carefully controlled dog training. Dogs can also be trained to bring medication or juice to their owners in these cases, and they can be trained to seek help when needed. While assistance dogs have to do a job or perform a function, they often do provide emotional support as well. Many owners of such dogs consider them a partner to love, care for, and depend on.

What Qualities Must an Assistance Dog Have?

Most of these dogs go through rigorous training from the time they are puppies. When they are weaned from their mothers, they generally go to live with trained individuals or families called puppy raisers, who will teach the puppies basic obedience and expose them to many different people, places, and things. Assistance puppies in training are often allowed in private businesses and in various situations that will help prepare them for their future. In addition, it’s important that their trainers watch for qualities that are crucial for all assistance dogs to have.
  • These dogs must not be reactive, fearful, or timid in strange situations.
  • They must not be aggressive or too strong-willed, but they also shouldn’t be overly submissive.
  • They should be easygoing, calm, and sociable, but not overexcitable.
  • They should be strong and in good health.
  • They must be able to focus and ignore distractions, and they should be able to quietly accept other dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, and animals that they will likely see on a regular basis.
  • They should accept human leadership and respond to commands, and they should be relaxed in all situations.
If a puppy does not meet all of these criteria, they will usually be rehomed with a family that will provide a good home but that does not need an assistance dog. International Assistance Dog Week takes place during the beginning of August. That is a great time to learn more about assistance dogs, how they are trained, and the functions they perform. You can also learn more about becoming a puppy raiser or otherwise supporting an agency that trains these very special dogs.
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