Assistance Dogs

A team effort to achieve beyond limits

GSD Guide Dog akc.org

Dogs have always served humans in different ways throughout history. When the first humans settled down, dogs were not only faithful friends, but also guardians and efficient shepherds since the beginnings of cattle ranching. It makes sense to think that they have naturally helped those who, for some reason, could not fend for themselves.Since they were first mentioned in literature in the nineteenth century, until the emergence of the first guide dog associations in the early twentieth century, assistance dogs have been a valuable help for many people to overcome limitations.

Today, there are training programs designed so that people with different types of limitations can benefit from canine assistance.

The tasks they perform are so diverse, that different types of trained assistance dogs emerged to carry out support tasks according to different needs. Although the way to classify them can vary in different parts of the world, at present there are:

  • Guide dogs, who assist people with visual impairment
  • Signal dogs or hearing dogs for deaf people
  • Dogs that alert against the possibility of attacks, seizures or allergic reactions
  • Dogs that provide support to people with psychiatric or neurological diseases
  • Dogs that help people with reduced mobility

Although some of them are trained to perform more than one specific task, depending on their field of expertise, we can find three large groups of assistance dogs.

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs help people with vision problems to overcome obstacles and ensure their safety. The handler, that is to say, the assisted person and his dog, constitute a team. The handler is responsible for giving instructions and the dog is responsible for ensuring that the team arrives at destination.

The breeds most commonly trained as guide dogs are the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and German Shepherd. When they are working, they wear a harness with a “U” shaped handle.

However, it was in Oldenburg, Germany, in 1916, that the first guide dog training school was founded, as they are known today. In order to assist soldiers who had lost their…Continue reading

Hearing Dogs 

Signal dogs or hearing dogs for deaf people specialize in alerting people with hearing problems of sounds that are important in daily life.

When an alarm, a bell or a telephone rings, or when a baby cries, the dog touches the person who can not hear and guides them to the source of the sound.

They can be of pure or mixed race, receive special training and wear a vest as identification

Deaf girl sitting in park with service dog - signal dog, hearing dog


Assistance Dogs

Their job is to help people with mobility issues, those who suffer from mental illness or disorders that can lead to events where the person’s life is at risk if they do not receive medication or medical assistance on time.

All of them wear harnesses, backpacks or distinctive vests, sometimes with an identification tag. They can freely access public places and transport, provided they have the corresponding certification.

Assistance dogs are faithful companions and adorable pets when they are at home and not wearing their work gear. However, it is important to understand that when they wear their vests and harnesses, they are working and should not be distracted or interrupted while on duty. That is why it is recommended not to pet or approach an assistance dog on the street or whenever their identification is visible.

assistance dog training

“Assistance dogs not only provide a specific service to their handlers, but also greatly enhance the quality of their lives with a new sense of freedom and independence.”

Definition according to Assistance Dogs International

Although in some countries the name of assistance and service dogs can be used interchangeably, in others, the designation of service dogs refers to dogs that serve in the police, army and search dogs, differentiating them from those assistance and guide dogs.

Assistance dogs include:

Psychiatric Assistance Dogs

They are trained to provide company, emotional support and comprehensive help to people with mental problems, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Their work consists, among other things, in helping the perdon concentrate and holding their attention to avoid compulsive behaviors or actions that may put them in danger.

Service Dogs For People With Autism

They help people with autism both in the management of symptoms and in the activities of daily life, contributing to their independence and general well-being. Their tasks are varied and they range from intervening during mood swings, anxiety, hyperactivity and episodes of self injury, to alerting the family to dangerous situations.

Mobility Assistance Dogs

Their role goes from approaching or recovering essential articles, helping during performance of daily life tasks and transporting the person they assist. They are perfect assistants to provide independence to people with reduced mobility or physical impediments. They help pull a wheelchair, transport equipment in their backpacks and assist in daily tasks for which they follow training programs adapted to the task that they must perform.

Dog breeds such as Labrador and Golden Retriever are the best suited for this type of assistance. Many of them are rescued from shelters or bred especially to join these training programs.

Service Dog for People with Disabilities


Medical Detection Dogs

They are trained both to ask for help when the person that they assist suffers an attack as well as alert their owners when they detect changes that can lead to attacks or convulsions.

Alert or medical screening dogs help in the management of diseases in individuals with high-risk conditions such as diabetes and other diseases where the patient may need medication or immediate help.

Their tasks may consist of triggering alarm systems such as pressing a button that requests emergency assistance when the person they are attending suffers an attack or alerting the person before the attack occurs.

In this category, we can find Diabetes Alert Dog who, thanks to their sense of smell, can detect signs and alert diabetic people before suffering episodes of hypoglycemia.

In the section LinkingPaws, you will find links to organizations and other related resources.

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