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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

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Vol. 10, No. 3 Summer/Fall 2002

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More on Assistance Dogs

Eden Melmed, AT Specialist, New Castle County ATRC

It used to be that Assistance Dogs were trained in one capacity-as "seeing eye dogs," guiding individuals with visual impairments safely to their destinations. More recently, the training of Assistance Dogs has been expanded to assist persons with hearing impairments and physical disabilities. The dogs are becoming versatile, reliable assistants for individuals with a wide variety of needs. By aiding in daily activities, they allow persons with disabilities to lead more productive, independent and unconstrained lives. The dogs also offer a source of companionship, loyalty and unconditional love. In 1995, a study by Karen Allen, Ph.D. and Jim Blascovich, Ph.D. found that people with disabilities who had service dogs showed substantial improvements in self-esteem, psychological well-being, community integration and feeling in control of events. In addition, the number of personal assistant hours required for care decreased by an average of 78%.

The three most common types of Assistance Dogs are Guide Dogs for persons with vision impairments, Hearing Dogs for persons with hearing impairments, and Service Dogs for persons with physical disabilities and/or mobility impairments. Dogs can also be trained to function as Seizure Alert/Response Dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs and Combination Dogs (for persons with multiple disabilities).

Guide Dogs assist people with vision impairments by avoiding obstacles, stopping at curbs and steps, and negotiating traffic. The harness and U-shaped handle facilitate communication between the dog and the owner. The owner's role is to provide directional commands, while the dog's role is to ensure the team's safety, even if this requires disobeying an unsafe command. Large breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds commonly serve as Guide Dogs.

Hearing Dogs assist people with hearing impairments by alerting them to a variety of household sounds such as a doorbell or door knock, alarm clock, oven timer, telephone, baby cry, name call or smoke alarm. Dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their owners to the source of the sound. Hearing Dogs are generally small to medium in size and are identified by an orange collar and leash and/or vest.

Service Dogs assist people with physical disabilities in a wide variety of tasks. Some examples of mobility tasks a service dog may be trained for are maintenance of balance during transfer or ambulation, pulling wheelchairs and aiding in rising from a seated or fallen position. Dogs can also be trained to retrieve objects that are out of reach, open/close doors and drawers, help with dressing and undressing, turn light switches on/off, bark to alert for help and locate people, places or items. Golden or Labrador Retrievers are often trained as Service Dogs and can be identified by either a backpack or harness.

Assistance Dogs not only provide a specific service to their owners, but also greatly enhance their lives with a new sense of freedom and independence. If you would like to learn more about being partnered with a dog, please contact an agency below or your local ATRC.

Delta Society National Service Dog Center, 289 Perimeter Road East, Renton, WA 98055, 800-869-6898,

Canine Companions for Independence, 1505 Linden Avenue, Willow Grove, PA 19090, 215-602-2093,

Canine Partners for Life (Service Dogs), PO Box 170, Cochranville, PA 19330, 610-869-4902,

Independence Dogs, Inc. (Service Dogs), 146 State Line Road, Chadds Ford, PA 19317, 610-358-2723,

Note: The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a Service Animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Disabled individuals with service animals are guaranteed legal access to all places of public accommodation, modes of public transportation, recreation and other places to which the general public is invited.

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