Assistance Dogs to Improve The Lives of Disabled PeopleKeith
An assistance dog is a dog trained to aid or help a person with a disability. Many are trained by an assistance dog organization, or by their handler, sometimes with the help of a professional trainer.
Assistance dog training
Assistance dogs have usually been trained by charities and other organisations who then partner a disabled person with a trained dog when the dog has completed its training at about the age of 2 years. More disabled people are self-training their own assistance dogs whereby the disabled person selects their own dog usually referred to as a ‘prospect’ and the dog is trained by the disabled person who also becomes their handler. There is great variability in the length and type of training that any future assistance dog receives, however all assistance dog candidates will go through certain stages.
Assistance dog hopefuls are normally selected with care for appropriate health, temperament and characteristics. Large established organisations such as The Guide Dogs for the Blind select and maintain their own breeding stock to ensure healthy pups with desirable traits. Someone may carefully select prospect puppies from reputable breeders, or they may choose to commence training with a dog who was already part of the family.
The first sector of a puppy prospect’s life is normally spent in socialsation rather than formal training. Large formal organisations often use puppy foster parents during the pups first year and the pup grows up in a normal family environment surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of the type of surroundings they will later work in, learning to be clean and toilet trained, confident and happy. Owner Trainers raise their pups themselves, so the dog lives with the same person who will later be their handler, but will also focus on giving the puppy confidence, play experiences and socialisation in the homes they will later work in.
Once a puppy is old enough they will start their specialist training which will include the task training. It is these tasks which will make them distinct and specialised assistance dogs. In the EU to be categorised as an assistance dog, a dog is expected to have at least three specialised tasks which mitigate the owners disability, while in the USA an assistance dog handler may be asked if they have a disability, and what tasks the dog does to mitigate that disability as the only 2 legal questions to ascertain that a dog is indeed an assistance dog. The tasks that an assistance dog prospect will learn depend on the disabilities that their current or future handler has and there is therefore almost no limit on the types of tasks a dog can be trained to. These may vary from picking up dropped items and taking laundry out of a washing machine to interrupting self-harming behaviors to providing deep pressure therapy for an autistic person.