poodle service dog hugs person

International Assistance Dog Week

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It’s International Assistance Dog Week and I’ve been pulling my hair out over writing this article. This topic is so close to my heart. After working with service dogs and their handlers for over three years now, I’ve seen how these dogs positively affect the lives of their humans and their families. It’s breathtaking to watch a service dog team work together. It’s incredible to see their connection, their love for each other, and the ability of both the human and the dog to communicate with each other. The bond is so real and so completely unreal at the same time. It’s hard to put into words what I see and experience when working with a service dog team.

I’ll tell you a little about the actual week that recognizes the strong, exceptional animals and their handlers and trainers.

The phrase “working like a dog” came about because frankly, when a dog is given a job, they work tirelessly until that job is finished. Dogs are driven, focused, and very capable animals that have helped humans for hundreds of years. History suggests that the earliest work our canine companions did alongside humans was hunting, then as time goes on, you begin to see dogs living with humans, traveling with humans, and ultimately working and assisting humans in all facets of life in today’s society. It only makes sense that they assist in the daily life of those that are physically or mentally limited in some way or another. And when asked, they boldly stepped forward and haven’t looked back.

The first Sunday in August marks the beginning of International Service Dog Week where devoted and hard-working assistance dogs are recognized for helping their humans mitigate disabilities. Assistance dogs help to transform life as their humans know it. Many people with disabilities can’t go about life as normal because of physical and/or mental limitations. Assistance dogs help to fill the gaps and offer aid when needed. These dogs become close friends and a member of their human’s family, and not only provide physical assistance, but are a loving soul to trust and confide in. Dogs are able to give disabled humans a sense of freedom and the confidence to get out there and enjoy life.

Many humans with disabilities are unable to train their own service/assistance dogs due to limitations they experience. Because of this, International Assistance Dog Week also recognizes and honors the trainers and puppy raisers who put in so much time to help those in need.

A black lab service dog assisting it's owner in a wheelchair.
Service/assistance dogs usually spend their early life with puppy raisers before going to specialized training for a specific job. They’re usually placed with a disabled person between 18-24 months old. Service dogs provide much needed assistance that can save their human’s life. Many times, a service dogs saves their human’s life multiple times a day. Can you imagine having that job?
Dogs currently work in fields of service such as:
  • Guide dogs for the blind
  • Hearing dogs, or signal dogs, for those with impaired hearing
  • Mobility assistance dogs for the physically disabled with mobility issues
  • Medical alert dogs for those with medical disabilities such as Type 1 diabetes or austism
  • Psychiatric service dogs for those with a psychiatric disability such as PTSD

Dogs also work as facility dogs and therapy dogs to assist those in need.

Facility dogs are trained by an assistance dog program and put through rigorous testing to become certified. They work in:

  • Courtrooms- and assist crime victims, witnesses, and others during prosecution and other legal proceedings
  • Classrooms- and usually work in special education areas
  • Healthcare facilities- assist with symptom management, recovery, physical therapy, and mobility

A goldendoodle Therapy dog visiting a woman in the hospital.

Therapy dogs
 are trained by their owners and must pass a test and register with each facility they attend. They provide assistance through providing comfort, affection, and bringing smiles to faces of those in need at:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Disaster areas
  • Schools

It’s important to note that facility dogs and therapy dogs are NOT classified as assistance/service dogs and their handlers do NOT share in the same public access rights that are covered by the ADA law for disabled handlers of service dogs.

A pitbull Service dog on a airplane.

These dogs are amazing, astonishing, and so many other things. This short little article doesn’t do them justice. But I hope you’re able to see the way a service dog is able to give a person with a disability their self-confidence back, and in-turn, his or her life back. For a disabled person, a service dog is empowering, life saving, and life-changing.



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