Dogs; aren’t they amazing. For most people their dog is their loving and reliable best friend but within the community, dogs have many other purposes that assist and enrich people’s lives. Some specially selected service dogs of particular breeds can undergo specific training to assist people with particular health conditions. These dogs provide greater independence, freedom, peace of mind and support for their owners. Dogs can also be trained to assist the broader community, such as assisting in police investigations and biosecurity.
Health Support Dogs
Guide dogs are probably your first type of assistance animal that comes to mind. They have been specially trained to guide blind and visually impaired people around obstacles found in everyday life. The human (also known as the handler) directs the service dog where to go based on previously acquired skills and mobility training. The dog then ensures that the handler gets to their destination safely.
When choosing a suitable dog for training to be a guide dog, the temperament and trainability of the chosen breed is taken into careful consideration. Some of the popular guide dog breeds include Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Standard Poodles and Labrador/Retriever crosses. The Labrador Retriever is probably the most popular choice due to the breed having a range of sizes, a gentle, willing nature, an easy to keep short coat and general good health. Some handlers have allergy issues, so the low shed coat of a Labrador Poodle cross can help to reduce allergens.
Hearing Assistance Dogs
Hearing assistance dogs are utilised by people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The dogs are custom trained to physically alert their handler to common sounds such as a ringing telephone, doorbell/knock at the door, alarm clock, crying child or smoke alarm. When the dog hears a sound they will alert their handler by nudging or pawing and leading them to the source of the noise.
Diabetic Alert Dogs
A diabetic alert dog is trained to detect high (hyperglycaemia) or low (hypoglycaemia) blood sugar levels in humans affected by diabetes. They alert their handler to dangerous changes in blood sugar levels by barking, laying down or sitting, therefore prompting the person to take the necessary steps to correct their blood sugar level. The dog may directly smell something that is related to an abnormal glucose level, such as changes in salvia or may react to the handler’s symptoms such as sweating or shaking.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
Mobility assistance dogs can help people with a range of mobility issues such as spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, muscular dystrophy and arthritis. They can be trained to perform tasks such as;
· Retrieving and carrying items
· Opening and closing doors
· Alert barking if their owner falls from their wheelchair or is in danger
· Pressing traffic light and lift buttons
· Turning household lights on and off
· Bracing to assist their handler with balance and manoeuvring
· Signalling if the handlers child is in danger
Autism Support Dogs
Autism is a persistent developmental disorder that is evident from early childhood. In Australia, nearly 1 in 150 children are affected by Autism. An Autism support dog provides assistance and emotional support for children with Autism. These children can show remarkable improvements once they begin working with their support dog.
Improvements can be seen in their;
· Social interactions
· Communication skills
· Cognitive skills
· Emotional understanding
· Tactile perception
· Anxiety levels
· Confidence and independence
· Behaviour patterns
The support dog’s presence can also help to reduce feeling of stress, in siblings of Autistic children. These dogs not only support the Autistic child but help to bring the whole family together.
Seizure Response Dogs
Seizure Response Dogs are trained to assist a person during and immediately after they have had an epileptic seizure. The dogs are trained to find someone to help their owner, stimulate their owner to “wake up” from a seizure and to physically move their owner if they have a seizure in an unsafe place. Seizure response dogs can naturally detect an oncoming seizure up to an hour ahead of time and can warn their owner in advance. This allows them to move to a safe space and position themselves to avoid potential injury.
Allergy Detection Dogs
Allergy Detection Dogs are trained to detect allergens in the environment that could be harmful to their owner. Once the dog detects the allergen they will then alert their owner about the danger so they can avoid it. It is important to note that these dogs detect the allergen not the onset of an anaphylactic reaction.
In the instance of someone with a nut allergy, the dog can assess an area that their owner wishes to be in such as checking chairs and tables for traces of nuts. The dog can also be trained to detect nut traces in hot and cold food before the owner consumes it.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Psychiatric Service Dogs can assist people who are suffering from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. These dogs can be trained to sense changes in their owner’s body when they are about to have a panic attack, flash back, or an anxiety attack. These service dogs can have a very positive affect on their owners and have been shown to reduced suicide attempts, reduce the need for hospitalisation and reduce medication requirements.
Service Dogs have full public access rights meaning they are allowed in any public place, (except for zoos, aquariums, sterile environments, food preparation areas and quarantine areas) and on all public transport. It is illegal to refuse entry to a Service Dog.
People who have a Service Dog have a photographic identity badge as proof of Service Dog status, which they must take with them in public, and a Service Dog jacket for the dog.
Dogs working in the community
Australia is the world’s largest island continent and for that reason has a very diverse and unique environment. It is important to protect this unique environment and that’s where biosecurity detector dogs come in. They help protect Australia from exotic pests that can be brought in by incoming international passengers, cargo and mail. Detector dogs are trained to find items such as food, plant material and animal products that could be contaminated with pests or diseases.
On average, detector dogs can be expected to find up to 9,000 biosecurity risk items during their working life. The most common items the detector dogs find are meat, seeds and fruit.
Guard dogs have a number of purposes with a traditional guard dog being used to guard property against, and watch for, unwanted or unexpected intruders. The dog is trained so that it does not annoy or attack the property residents.
Guard dogs can also be used to protect livestock from predators. The Maremma sheepdog is becoming increasingly popular in Australia and acts as a guardian to whatever stock they are bonded with, by living with them and keeping predators at bay.
A sheepdog historically has a connection with raising sheep. These dogs can be particularly helpful to farmers in herding sheep and other livestock. Some of Australia’s favourite sheepdog breeds include the Kelpie and Border collie.
One of the most famous rescue dog breeds would have to be the St. Bernard. These large working dogs are from the western Alps in Italy and Switzerland and were originally bred to guard and protect the residents of the Great St Bernard hospice and to restore security to this mountainous region. However, the dogs soon began to display remarkable abilities: rescuing travellers lost in the mountains and finding people buried under snow.
Police dogs are used to assist police officers in their daily work and investigations. The NSW Police Dog Unit works with breeds including the German Shepherd, Labrador, Rottweiler, Malinois and English Springer Spaniels. Once trained these dogs are able to;
· Track and find wanted offenders or missing persons in urban, rural or rugged bush land.
· Search all types of buildings for wanted offenders in hiding or property connected with crime
· Search for illegal drugs that may have been hidden or buried.
· Chase and apprehend offenders who may be evading arrest and may be armed and dangerous.
· Act as a deterrent and back up in dangerous situations such as brawls, sieges and domestics.
· Provide high profile foot patrols of places such as schools, industrial areas, shopping complexes.
Our Military Personal are often placed in difficult situations where they can only rely on their training and their comrades. In areas such as Mine Clearing service dogs provide valuable support to their handlers with relationships becoming so strong the dog becomes like another member of the company.
Often these dogs perform with such valour they achieve military commendations on par with their human handlers.
We really are indebted to our Service Pooches who always put their humans first and conduct themselves with valour. They deserve our highest praise and an endless supply of doggie toys and treats.