Gerry’s Guide Dog, Brody, watching him intently.
If you’ve seen a dog wearing a vest with this message, than you’ve likely spotted a Guide Dog – otherwise known now as Assistance Dogs, or sometimes Service Dogs. While many people are familiar with “Guide Dogs for the Blind” they are surprised to learn that Assistance Dogs perform so many more necessary services for their humans!
Assistance Dogs not only serve the sight-disabled, they can help people with hearing loss, people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar, help people with seizures overcome and stop them in their tracks, and even help people with autism become more social and confident.
Impressed by the intelligence and training of guide dogs, actor Dick Van Patten originally created National Guide Dog month, after learning that the costs to raise and train a guide dog were cost-prohibitive for many, and can take up to two years for training.
Over the last few years, there has been a growing movement towards taking advantage of dogs’ intrinsic therapeutic capabilities. Even an untrained dog can be an emotional anchor for a person with anxiety or depression, but trained dogs — you might say those with their puppy psychology degree — have specific techniques to bring to bear. Autism service dogs, for example, are trained to refocus the humans in their charge, alert them to danger, interrupt self-harming behaviors by providing physical pressure, and guide them when in overstimulating environments.
Medical response service dogs specialize in protecting their human and calling or running for help during a medical emergency, such as a seizure. They may be trained to activate an electronic alert or pre-programmed phone when they recognize the symptoms of a medical attack, or they may even alert their human when they pick up on the signs of an impending attack before the person realizes it themselves.
Although guide dogs are normally medium- to large-sized, many other types of service roles can be filled by dogs of any breed or size, when the dog in question has the right temperament and aptitude. The general rules of service dogs should apply equally in all cases when the dog’s role is recognized: do not distract or try to interact with a service dog while working, and the dog should be able to go wherever the human goes.
Being able to have a guide dog or service dog in a persons life adds a degree of independence. As a person who has a guide dog I can relate to this. Ever since I have had a guide dog, my independence has greatly increased. Some may wonder how they managed without their four legged friend.