Dogs - Helping Humans
Some dogs are trained to help people with special needs. Assistance dogs help people with physical, hearing and visual disabilities. Other dogs, called therapy dogs, give comfort and emotional support to people who need a furry friend. Some therapy dogs are also trained to help people with physical therapy.
Assistance dogs are specially trained to help people who are blind, deaf, or physically disabled. From the time they are adopted by puppy raising families or trainers until the time they are retired, their lives are devoted to the serious task of providing security and independence to a person with a disability. It's not always a specific breed that makes the best assistance dog. Instead, dogs are selected for the temperament and size that suits them for the job they'll have to do.
The first assistance dogs were developed in Germany in the 1920s as guide dogs for veterans who lost their sight during World War I. There are now three basic types of assistance dogs:
Assistance dogs serve about 20,000 people in the United States. More than 60 non-profit programs train and place these dogs nationwide. You can get more info on dog care and dog breeds on dog breed site and dog care site.
- Guide dogs
- Hearing dogs
- Service dogs
Guide dogs help people who are blind or visually impaired navigate their community -- along busy city streets, on public transportation, through crowded aisles at the grocery store. In 1929, The Seeing Eye became the first US organization to breed and train guide dogs and match them with human handlers. Though training methods haven't changed much since The Seeing Eye's founding, the environment has -- increased traffic, quieter engines that are harder to hear. This has led to a longer training period to make sure the dogs are prepared for anything.
Hearing dogs alert a person who is deaf or hearing-impaired to sounds like doorbells, smoke alarms and baby cries. The dogs can even be trained to alert to the name of their owner, making communication with others easier. The first hearing dogs were trained with the input of an audiologist (someone that helps people with hearing difficulties), the American Humane Association, and Roy Kabat who trained animals for movies. Working together, they came up with a successful training program and the non-profit organization Dogs for the Deaf was formally established in 1977 to train and place hearing dogs.
Service dogs help people who have physical disabilities. They can pull wheelchairs, open doors, retrieve dropped items or provide stability for someone who can't balance very well. Service dogs can also be trained to help people with seizure disorders or other medical problems. A leader in training assistance dogs is Canine Companions for Independence, established in 1975. The organization started with the simple question: can methods similar to those used to train guide dogs be used to train dogs to help people with physical disabilities? The answer was YES! Though the organization now trains hearing and guide dogs too, the cornerstone of their organization continues to be training service dogs.
Assisted Therapy Dogs
There are many uses for therapy dogs. They provide a general feeling of well being, unconditional affection, and can help people with specific therapy activities. There are two ways that therapy dogs can help -- through Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) and Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT).
Animal Assisted Activities are casual activities where people and pets connect. These meetings can happen anywhere, at any time, and help make tough situations a little easier for the people involved. These dogs might conduct visits to nursing homes, childcare facilities, schools, and even disaster sites. Though the dogs don't need any specialized training, it is important that they be calm and friendly and well behaved. These dogs work with lots of different people.
Animal Assisted Therapy is when an animal such as a therapy dog is an important part of someone's physical, social, and emotional therapy activities. For example, a physical therapist might work with a patient and therapy dog to improve their physical fitness. Dog grooming, walking and even Frisbee throwing can help with coordination, strength, and flexibility. These dogs require special training and work intensely with one person at a time.