When people think about dogs aiding people with disabilities, the first thing that comes to mind are dogs that assist the blind.
But there are service dogs that assist people with many disabilities, as well as medical conditions. And whereas many of these dogs are larger breeds, such as German Shepherds or Labrador Retrievers, more and more smaller and even mixed breeds are being used in these roles.
Here are some of the many service and medical jobs dogs are performing today.
Dogs, as a species, have much better hearing than humans. So having dogs assist people who are deaf or have a hearing loss is a natural fit. Dogs are specially trained to alert their humans to sounds. In addition to door knocks or doorbells (most dogs tell their owners about that, whether the person has a hearing disability or not), dogs respond to telephones and smoke detectors.
The dogs can respond to other sounds hearing people take for granted, like alarm clocks, the whistle of a tea kettle, or dropping your keys. Outdoors the dogs alert their people to approaching traffic and can even be taught to respond to their owner’s name so the dog can notify his person if someone calls out to his owner.
The dogs alert their owners by touching them and leading them in the direction of the sound. By watching the interaction of the dog and his person, other people may realize an individual is hearing-impaired and be more inclined to face the person directly to help facilitate communication.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
People who are restricted to wheelchairs can have an easier time both in their homes and outside with the help of these dogs. They’re trained for a variety of tasks: pick up and retrieve dropped items; open doors, drawers, and cabinets; turn lights on and off; and even help their owners undress by pulling on clothes their owner is working to remove. These dogs can also alert a parent or other household member if their human needs help the dog cannot provide.
Outside the home, these dogs can push elevator buttons and automatic door buttons. They can carry items their person needs in a doggy back pack. The can even help pull the wheelchair for short distances, or up ramps or inclines.
They can provide the love and emotional support to help the wheelchair-bound get through their days. These dogs give their humans additional freedom by performing tasks that would otherwise be done by another person or not at all.
Seizure dogs help people who suffer from epilepsy by reacting to a person having a seizure (seizure response dogs) or being able to alert to an impending seizure (seizure predicting dogs).
Seizure dogs can be trained to help in a variety of ways. Especially in the case of children, some dogs are trained to bark to alert the parents of the seizure. The dog can be trained to activate an alarm system by pushing on a pedal or a button. As a person starts to have a seizure, some seizure dogs will put themselves between the seizing person and floor to break the person’s fall. Dogs are also trained to lie beside the person during the seizure to help prevent injury.
Diabetes Assist Dogs
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), or rapidly dropping blood sugar levels, are dangerous conditions in Type 1 diabetics. Diabetes Assist Dogs are trained to recognize when their owners’ blood sugar drops by the smell of their owners’ breath. They then notify their owners by nudging them or pawing them. The diabetic knows to check his blood sugar levels and take the necessary steps to correct the situation.
These dogs also wear a vest that identifies the dog as an assistance dog. There are pockets in the vest which contain medical information, a sugar source, and emergency contact information, so others can provide help to the diabetic in the event the person cannot help himself.
Cancer Sniffing Dogs
Multiple studies have confirmed that some dogs are able to identify patients with lung and breast cancer by sniffing the person’s breath, and other cancers (bladder, kidney and prostate) by sniffing urine. There is anecdotal evidence of people having dogs who were particularly interested in sniffing moles on their humans that turned out to be melanoma.
Researchers hope to isolate the chemical signature of what the dogs’ noses distinguish. If they can do so, they may one day develop a machine that can detect these odors as well as trained dogs can, so cancer can be treated earlier.
These are some of the many ways dogs are working to help people in their every-day lives. People appreciate these dogs and sometimes marvel at, the help they give to their owners. These dogs work willingly all day every day, without a complaint, for the joy it gives them to help their human.