Assistance Dogs

Today at lunch time I went to an interesting presentation titled “Fur, Fun, Facts : How Puppies Become Service Animals,” offered by our MnDOT Employee Resource Group called FUEL (Employees Energizing Disability Awareness). 

Our MnDOT disability program coordinator is blind. When he is at work, he always has a guide dog with him. I have also seen other guided dogs in the public. So I had always wondered about these assistance dogs. 

During the presentation I learned about different types of assistance dogs and two organizations in Twin Cities that are involved in training these dogs. 

Assistance dogs provide a specific service to their handlers with disabilities, and greatly enhance the quality of their lives with a new sense of freedom and independence. 

There are different types of assistance dogs. 

Guide dogs are for the blind and the visually impaired. 

Hearing dogs are for the deaf and hard of hearing. 

Service Dogs are for people with disabilities other than vision or hearing impairment. There are mobility assistant dogs, seizure assistant dogs, diabetes assistant dogs, autism assistant dogs, allergy assistant dogs, post dramatic stress disorder assistant dogs, therapy dogs, etc. 

With special training these dogs can help mitigate many different types of disabilities. They can be trained to work with people who use power or manual wheelchairs, have balance issues, have various types of autism, need seizure alert or response, need to be alerted to other medical issues like low blood sugar, or have psychiatric disabilities. 

These specially trained dogs can help by retrieving objects that are out of their person’s reach, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate that help is needed, finding another person and leading the person to the handler, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance, providing deep pressure, and many other individual tasks as needed by a person with a disability. 

Service Dogs are either rescued from animal shelters or bred in selective breeding programs and raised by volunteers prior to their formal training. 

Most service dogs are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. Service dogs can be identified by either a jacket, backpack or harness. 

The Seeing Eye is a national organization and is the oldest existing guide dog school in the world, started in 1929. 

Can Do Canines is a local organization located in New Hope. It provides specially trained service dogs to people with disabilities other than vision or hearing impairment. There is no charge except an application fee. There is a waiting list for the dogs though.