More than just Mutts!
I recently heard someone say 'How can you call that a service dog, the person they're helping isn't blind?'
You might be surprised to learn that assistance dogs assist more than just people who are blind. In fact, there are assistance dogs who assist people with a variety of disabilities, such as hearing, severe diabetes, physical limitations, autism, psychiatric, or seizure disorders.
You may have heard stories of pets alerting their owners to health dangers, stopping intruders, or alerting them to a fire. Assistance dogs are specifically trained to assist with certain activities or detect behavior and/or mood changes in their handlers. Training and socialization for the dog is extensive and intense until they are about two years old. Once the dog is matched with the handler, there is more training for the newly formed team to build a strong bond.
How can you identify an assistance dog? In most cases, assistance dogs will be wearing a vest that clearly identifies them as an assistance dog and a harness for the handler to easily control the dog. The West Coast Assistance Teams website outlines some general and specific assistance dog ettiquette:
Generally, when you meet a person with an assistance dog, please remember that the dog is working. You don't want anything to interrupt the dog from performing its tasks.
Speak to the person first
Do not make distracting noises aimed at the assistance dog.
Do not touch the assistance dog without asking permission.
Do not feed an assistance dog.
Do not ask personal questions about the handler's disability
Don't be offended if the handler declines to chat about the assistance dog.
For more information about assistance dogs, some options include: