7 Important Assistance Dogs that are Transforming Lives

assistance dogs

Owning a dog gives people all over the world great pleasure, but it is easy to forget that many dogs do jobs that go beyond that of a loyal companion. 

Sure, many of the traditional canine jobs like herders, ratters, drovers, and water dogs may be on the decline, but other types of working dogs are on the rise, particularly assistance dogs.

guide dogs

Assistance dogs not only provide companionship to people, but they may also provide assistance to their disabled or differently abled owners. 

Many individuals report having a renewed sense of confidence and independence thanks to their hardworking assistance dogs.

Let us study the different types of assistance dogs out there.

Types of Assistance Dogs

Psychiatric Service Dogs/Mental Health Assistance Dogs

assistance dogs australia

Psychiatric assistance dogs provide help and comfort to people with mental health issues like anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, PTSD, etc. They perform various tasks like fetching medicine, performing pressure therapy, comforting the individual, interrupting a panic attack, etc. to help their owners in day-to-day life.

Around 19% of Assistance Dogs worldwide are PTSD service dogs.

Research has shown that PTSD assistance dogs reduce symptom severity and improve the mental and social health of the PTSD sufferer.

Tasks carried out by PTSD Assistance Dogs

  • Space creating
  • Anxiety interruption
  • Monitoring environment
  • Nightmare interruption
  • Retrieve
  • Focus
  • Balance/mobility
  • Calm
  • Monitor threats
  • Social
  • Perimeter check
  • Turn on/off lights
  • Medication reminder
  • Get help

Many breeds can be trained to be psychiatric service dogs, but the best ones are Border Collies, Boxers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Lhasa Apso, Havanese, Groodles, labradoodles, Cavoodles and Golden Retrievers. This is due to their high intelligence, trainability, and gentle nature.

ADHD Service Dogs

adhd assistance dogs

ADHD service dogs are a type of psychiatric assistance dog that can help people with ADD or ADHD maintain attention. They may also help such individuals release their hyperactive energy and remind them to take medication. 

Research has shown that the presence of an ADHD service dog can reduce stress in autistic children and increase attention thereby reducing behaviour problems. Autism can be the result of sluggish arousal and ADHD assistance dogs can increase this arousal, improving attention, learning outcomes and executive function.

ADHD service dogs are trained to sniff out sweat and can sense increased sweat production right before an anxiety or fidgeting episode. The dog then provides help to the individual by remaining calm around them.

Animal Therapy Dogs/Pet Therapy Dogs

autism assistance dogs

Therapy or Emotional Support Dogs provide comfort, affection, and support to people in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, retirement homes, libraries, schools, and in war or disaster-struck areas. An Emotional Support Dog is often a pet, while Assistance Dogs are considered medical aids.

Large and small dog breeds are both suitable for becoming pet therapy dogs. The main ones are St. Bernard, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Standard Poodle, Groodle, Labradoodle, Mini Poodle, Cavoodle, Spoodle, Pomeranian, and Chihuahua.

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs guide visually impaired or blind people across busy streets and also in their homes. They can even be trained to fetch medicine or alert their owners to dangers. They also improve the social outcomes for vision impaired people.

service dog aaustralia

Puppies and dogs that make suitable Guide Dogs tend to be those that do not suffer from behaviour problems such as restlessness and anxiety. Anxious dogs have been shown to fail in Guide Dog Training and therefore puppies that display these traits are re-homed.

Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are known to make the best guide dogs.

Hearing Dogs

Deaf people use hearing dogs as a means of communication with the hearing world. The dog helps alert the owner to a ringing phone, alarm clock, smoke alarm, crying child, or doorbell. 

It paws or nudges the deaf individual and, if needed, leads them to the source. This can greatly ease day-to-day life for the individual.

According to Hearing Dogs for Deaf People UK, some of the best breeds that can be trained to be hearing dogs are Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Poodles, and mixed breeds like Cockapoos.

Vet Dogs/Service Dogs for Veterans

ptsd assistance dogs

In Australia, the award-winning Defence Community Dogs provides veteran dogs or service dogs for army vets. In the USA, there are several organisations like United States Service Dogs that provide trained vet dogs to assist vets suffering from hearing or vision loss, PTSD, etc.

Vet dogs can provide mental support and physical assistance as needed. Their mission is to help veterans live a life of dignity and independence.

Autism Assistance Dogs

Autism Assistance Dogs help provide emotional support to both autistic individuals and their families. They help calm panic and anxiety during medical and dental visits, school, shopping, and travel. Autism assistance dogs provide comfort and calming focus to autistic individuals. They also provide safety and companionship and may promote positive changes in individuals by making ‘meltdowns’ less severe and ‘tantrums’ and ‘bolting’ less common.

assistance dogs for autism

Research has shown that AADs reduced stress and anxiety in parents and autistic children. Similarly, this research also measured the amount of stress hormone ‘cortisol’ in autistic children and their parents. Cortisol levels reduced following the introduction of an Autism Assistance Dog, indicating the positive effect these animals have in this context. Sadly, the wait times for an Autism Assistance Dog can surpass 3 years and the cost to raise and train one of these dogs is more than $55,000.

Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies, and Mini Schnauzers are some of the best breeds for autistic kids.

Diabetic Service Dogs

Diabetic Service Dogs or Diabetes Assistant Dogs are trained to use their powerful sense of smell to detect low blood sugar levels right before they reach dangerously low levels. They are often also trained to fetch glucose tabs or sweet drinks, alert people nearby or retrieve an emergency phone.

Also known as DADs, these dogs may even sniff out high spikes in blood sugar. The most successful breeds in this category are Golden and Labrador Retrievers, mixed Poodles, Pomeranians, and certain mixed sporting breeds.

Epilepsy Service Dogs/ Service Dogs for Seizures

assistance dogs for anxiety

Seizure-alert dogs are trained to assist people who are prone to medical seizures. They are trained to detect imminent seizures by smell and can alert their owners several minutes before the seizure occurs. 

This can give epileptic/seizure-prone individuals the confidence to live independent lives. Some of the dog breeds that can be trained for seizure alert service include Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, German Shepherds, Collies, and Newfoundland.

FAQs – Assistance Dogs

What is the most common assistance dog?

Guide dogs for blind people are the most common assistance dogs, and they may have existed since the 1930s. Guide dogs help people who are blind or have low vision safely navigate inside their homes and in public places.

What dog is the best assistance dog?

Most Assistance Dogs are Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. Both these breeds have all the characteristics needed for service dogs. Hypoallergenic assistance dogs include low to non-shedding breeds like Labradoodles, Groodles, Bordoodles etc.

Can all dogs be assistance dogs?

Yes, if the dog has the behavioural genetics required for the role. With proper training and suitable temperament, any dog, big or small, can be trained to assist humans with disabilities. Some dogs are more easily trained than others, for this reason, assistance dogs are rarely livestock guardian breeds, as they can be stubborn and independent.

Furthermore, the temperament of the breed needs to be considered. Naturally occurring traits like territory guarding are not conducive to a dog working in the community. A dog that is reacting to passersby and other animals can pose a threat to its owner, and the community and be easily distracted from their service role.

Similarly, dogs with behaviour problems such as anxiety and reactivity will usually not reach the milestones expected of them in assistance dog training.

Which dog is called a therapy dog?

Therapy dogs are used in pet therapy for companionship and emotional support. They provide comfort and affection to people in schools, hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, retirement homes, etc.

Can a Pitbull be a therapy dog?

Yes, with the right environment, good breeding practices, and proper training and socialisation, even a breed like a pit bull sometimes known for its aggressive tendencies can become a therapy dog.

Will NDIS pay for a dog?

The NDIS will fund certified assistance dogs but not companion dogs. An assistance dog is considered a medical aid and the NDIS have guidelines that outline what is required for a dog to be considered a reasonable and necessary support. The dog must pass the state or territories Public Access Test in order to be able to work and support someone in the community. Therapy dogs are not considered Assistance Dogs and generally don’t qualify for funding.

Conclusion – Assistance Dogs

psychiatric assistance dogs australia

An assistance dog, or service dog, is a highly-trained dog that can aid or assist individuals with disabilities. They are usually trained by assistance dog organisations or professional dog trainers.

The best dog breeds for Assistance Dog roles include Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. Hypoallergenic designer dog breeds are also popular for allergy sufferers and include Labradoodles and Groodles. These poodle mix breeds often have a fleece or wool coat that is low to non-shedding but are higher maintenance in terms of grooming as compared to the traditional assistance dog breeds like labradors etc.

Small dog breeds are usually less suited as Assistance Dogs because they are often required to provide mobility support, open doors or retrieve large items for humans. This is particularly important for Autism Assistance Dogs, Psychiatric Assistance Dogs and Guide Dogs. Small dogs like Cavoodles and Chihuahuas are however popular therapy dogs.

We hope this guide gives you an insight into the different types of service dogs available and an appreciation for the increasingly important role they play in society.

If you are researching Service Dogs, find a registered assistance animal provider who is experienced in assistance dog training to guide you further. The NDIA has strict guidelines to qualify for funding, these can be found on their website.

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Hi! I’m Tres! I’m passionate about dog behaviour and training. My dog training methods are effective for all breeds and goals. I have trained dogs for protection, obedience, manners, loose leash walking, crate training and have solved common behaviour problems such as reactivity, barking, separation anxiety and more. Let’s connect, sign up to my free newsletter (above) for helpful tips and upcoming training events.
dog trainer Sydney

Hi! I’m Tres! I’m passionate about dog behaviour and training. My dog training methods are effective for all breeds and goals. I have trained dogs for protection, obedience, manners, loose leash walking, crate training and have solved common behaviour problems such as reactivity, barking, separation anxiety and more. Let’s connect, sign up to my free newsletter (above) for helpful tips and upcoming training events.
dog trainer Sydney

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