For International Assistance Dog Week, we uncover why assistance dogs really are man’s best friend. Assistance dogs or service dogs are used to promote independence and provide more autonomy to people with a range of disabilities, which include epilepsy, autism, deafness and visual impairments. Assistance dogs are therefore highly trained to perform specific tasks that owners may struggle to perform independently.
The go-to dog, when it comes to conjuring up an image of an assistance dog, is a Labrador. The Labrador breed is immensely versatile, in the sense they are capable of picking up and handing objects for those with vision or mobility impairments. Moreover, with their mild manners and average size, Labradors equally make for an appropriate companion to take to public places and to have on public transport. Regardless, it is important to remember that there are plenty of other breeds and depending on your requirements and needs, they could promise a better match.
There are two primary categories of assistance dogs, which distinguish what breed will benefit whom. The most commonly requested type of service dogs is “physical assistance dogs”, while “emotional support dogs” are used to alleviate stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression.
Emotional support dogs comprise of smaller breeds such as toy poodles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Pomeranians and these breeds are recognised for their friendliness, strong bonds and overall calmness.
The psychological benefits of emotional assistance dogs or therapy dogs in being able to lessen the impact of mental health conditions can even be extended to war veterans. Funded by the Military of Defence (MOD), a major cohort study conducted by King’s College London, highlighted an ongoing increase in the number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in war veterans. Providing war veterans with an emotional support dog could counter the symptoms of PTSD.
Alternatively, physical assistance dogs, with popular examples including Labradors as discussed, Golden Retrievers and Border Collies, are marked by their intelligence, obedient nature and desire to please their owners. In contrast to emotional assistance dogs, physical assistance dogs are equipped with training to complete an assortment of tasks. Breeds such as Golden Retrievers are concurrently employed as emotional assistance dogs, as seen in the aftermath of the El Paso shooting in Texas, where Golden Retrievers were provided by the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Ministries to comfort affected individuals and locals.
In response to the bringing in of assistance dogs, President of the Lutheran Church Charities, Tim Hetzner commented: “They bring comfort because they show unconditional love…They’re confidential, don’t take notes and they’re not judgmental.”
Vet and Pet Wellbeing Specialist at Paws.com, Dr Steph Wenban added, “Dogs are so much more than pets…for some people dogs are a requirement for them to live normal day-to-day lives. These dogs are not limited to guide dogs, but also help those with autism, epilepsy and hard of hearing. It is important that these dogs are looked after with the right nutrients that help them to carry out important tasks.”
If you are in need of an emotional support or physical assistance dog for mental or physical conditions, please contact Assistance Dogs UK at http://www.assistancedogs.org.uk . Assistance dogs can receive extensive training to improve an individual’s mobility and can offer immense emotional support to individuals.