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Dogs that are trained to assist disabled people, called assistance dogs, are not pets; rather, they are trained specifically to help people who are blind, deaf, or physically disabled. They spend their lifetime up until retirement providing independence and security to disabled people. The choice of the perfect assistance dog is based on temperament and size, not breed. Most assistance dogs are mixed breeds acquired from animal shelters, or puppies raised and trained by volunteers of the many organizations formed to help the disabled.
In order to acquire a service dog from a formal program, one must fill out an application and be evaluated. Most are placed on a waiting list while a suitable dog is found and/or trained. Some service dogs are available free of charge, while some are quite expensive. Financial assistance may be available depending on the organization, which provides the dog, the person’s medical condition and their medical insurance coverage.
Once a dog is found and placed, it will take as much as a few weeks to several months to teach the recipient how to use specific commands. The dog will need additional training geared to the specific needs of the disabled partner, as well as yearly refresher training.
Types of Assistance Dogs
There are three basic types of assistance dogs: service dogs, hearing dogs, and guide dogs. Approximately 20,000 people in the U.S. use assistance dogs and more than 60 nonprofit programs train and place assistance dogs in America. Signed into law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees people with disabilities the right to be accompanied by a service animal in any area, which is open to the general public. Service animals are trained to behave appropriately in public areas.
Service dogs help people who are physically disabled, as well as those who have seizure disorders and other medical conditions. They can pull wheelchairs, open and close doors, retrieve items that are dropped or out of reach, alert a person of an upcoming seizure, turn light switches off and on, bark for alert, find another person, assist by providing balance and stability and many other individual tasks, depending on the needs of the disabled person. [tag]Golden Retriever[/tag]s or [tag]Labrador[/tag] Retrievers make good service dogs. Either a backpack or a harness can identify Service Dogs.
Hearing dogs alert a deaf or hearing-impaired person to sounds such as telephones, alarm clocks, oven buzzers, name call, smoke alarms, doorbells, smoke alarms and a crying baby. The dogs can make communicating easier for deaf or hearing-impaired people by alerting when hearing the name of its owner. Small to medium sized dogs make good hearing dogs. The training is more involved nowadays due to the increase in traffic and quieter car engines. Hearing Dogs are identified by an orange collar and leash and/or vest.
Guide dogs help blind or visually impaired people navigate safely along busy streets, on public transportation, and through stores and other places of business in their community by helping them avoid obstacles and stop at curbs and steps. To foster communication between the dog and its blind partner a harness and U-shaped handle is used. The blind or visually impaired person’s job is to give directional commands, which the dog may or may not obey, depending on the situation. If an unsafe command is given, the dog may choose to disobey the command in order to insure the safety of the person.
Assistance Dogs Training
There are many organizations involved in training and providing assistance dogs, as well as schools, which teach how to train them. These special groups allow the disabled to live a secure and independent lifestyle.