For the past 24 years, organisations like Assistance Dogs Australia have been helping families in need with a furry solution – by providing them with Assistance Dogs! Otherwise known as Service Dogs, Assistance Dogs are specially trained to assist people suffering from different disabilities, and help them manage a variety of day-to-day tasks. Labradors and Golden Retrievers are the most common breeds chosen to become Assistance Dogs, due to their placid temperament and quick learning skills, but other breeds, such as Great Danes, have been known to make excellent Service Animals as well – it all depends on the person receiving the dog, and the type of assistance needed.
What are Assistance Dogs?
There are three main types of Assistance Dogs:
- Service Dogs; these dogs are trained to assist people living with various disabilities, and help them with personal and other tasks (including psychiatric support). In Australia, they are more commonly known as Assistance Dogs.
- Guide Dogs; otherwise known as ‘seeing eye dogs’, these dogs are trained to help blind or visually impaired people to safely and independently get around.
- Hearing Dogs; hearing dogs are trained to help assist people who are deaf, or living with hearing problems, by alerting them to sounds they may not be able to hear.
When beginning the training for an Assistance Dog, selected puppies are trained for around 2 years, and are chosen for their temperament. These puppies then spend their first 12-18 months living with a ‘puppy educator’ (who are usually volunteers), before then going through about 6 months of advanced training with an organisation or certified trainer.
Assistance Dogs can be trained to help with a broad range of duties, such as:
- Pulling wheelchairs
- Helping with balance for those living with walking difficulties
- Turning on switches and opening doors and cabinets
- Making beds and helping with the washing
- Retrieving and picking up items (like remotes or mobile phones)
- Pushing pedestrian crossing buttons and alerting owners to danger
- Moving the limbs of people who are paralysed
- Alerting people to medical issues (sometimes before they occur), such as seizures, a change in consciousness and low blood sugar
- Finding and leading other people to the affected owner if needed
- Providing emotional, psychiatric, or physical assistance to those with psychiatric need
Where can they go?
Owners of Assistance Dogs can legally take their animal to all public places and transport if needed, and it is unlawful to refuse entry to a person with an Assistance Animal. It is important to note that Assistance Dogs are different to Emotional Support Animals, who are not currently recognised under Australian legislation, and may not be trained to the standard of a certified Assistance Animal.
What to do if you see an Assistance Dog?
If you see an Assistance Dog with its owner in public, don’t interact with it! It’s doing a job, and the owner’s safety may depend on the animal’s constant vigilance, so do not approach the dog, no matter how friendly it looks. If you have a question about the dog, or Assistance Dogs in general, asking the owner of the dog (if they are comfortable and happy to have a chat) is always a good idea, or hopping online for some independent research is even better. We’ve provided links to some additional reading at the end of the article.
Alternatively, if you are approached by an Assistance Dog, and you can’t see the owner, it may be seeking someone for help. The owner may need more assistance, and Service Dogs are trained to find surrounding people to assist in contacting emergency services, or to keep their owner safe until further help arrives. If you are approached, it is advisable not to touch the dog, but allow it to lead you to where assistance is required.
If you think you or a loved one may need an Assistance Dog
Assistance dogs are expensive, and take a lot of time to train – the average cost of training and certifying a service dog is approximately $40,000. Additionally, only people with certain disabilities are eligible for an Assistance Animal, and it may take a fair amount of time to be approved and matched with an appropriate dog. Through Assistance Dogs Australia, these animals are provided free of charge to those in need, and are reliant on volunteers and donations for the costs of training the dogs. If you are interested in applying, or believe a friend or family member may be in need of a dog, check out the Assistance Dogs Australia website below.
Assistance Dogs Australia: https://www.assistancedogs.org.au/
Health Direct’s Information on Assistance Dogs: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/assistance-dogs
Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia: https://www.cstda.com.au/
MindDog – Specialises with Psychiatric Assistance Dogs: https://www.minddog.org.au/