Whether they’re hearing dogs which help the deaf or guide dogs which assist the blind and visually impaired, assistance dogs are trained to help people with disabilities. And they don’t just become an assistance dog overnight. For instance, after being trained in specific programs such as Canine Companions for Independence or being trained by their handlers with professional trainers, they are typically certified.
While some assistance dogs wear capes and others do not, according to the American Disabilities Act of 1990 disabled people have protected rights to be accompanied by their dogs in public places. In fact, there are organizations such as Assistance Dogs International, a coalition of not-for-profit organizations that actually train and place assistance dogs. They also improve areas of training, placement and utilization of these dogs as it relates to ensuring people who need assistance get it.
So, what exactly is an assistant dog? For example, a guide dog assists blind and visually impaired people. They help negotiate traffic, stop at curbs and steps, and overcome obstacles. The dog is trained in this respect to help the disabled individual. Labrador and golden retrievers, along with german shepherds and other large breeds are carefully bred and socialized. Then they’re raised for over one year according to ADI and trained for four to six months by professional trainers before they’re placed with their blind handlers.
In addition, as assistance dogs the pooch must respond to commands from 90% of the time in both public and home space. It needs to respond to voice or hand signals for sitting, staying in place, lying down, or coming to the client when asked. They need to be specifically trained to negotiate obstacles such as street crossings, overhangs, barriers, and the like.
In another aspect, hearing dogs are assistance dogs which assist deaf and hard of hearing individuals. For instance they help make them aware of a variety of household sounds whether it’s the sound of a doorbell to an alarm clock, telephone, crying baby or smoke alarm. They’re trained to make physical contact and show their deaf and hard of hearing individuals to the sound source. Unlike guide dogs, hearing dogs are typically mixed breeds which are small to medium in size. Generally they’re raised and socialized by volunteer puppy raisers and are identified by an orange collar and leash.
Overall these special dogs don’t disrupt normal courses of business or society; they don’t solicit attention from members of the general public and they don’t bark unnecessarily. Nor do they show aggression towards people or other animals and they don’t steal food from others. Although they obey the commands of their client and tend to have a calm demeanor, it’s important for the general public to have respect for assistance dogs and not pet them. They need to realize assistance dogs have a purpose in life and the owner is very protective of its pooch. For safety reasons as well it’s just an important note to never pet one of these specially trained dogs.