Dogs that serve man

Assistance dogs

For some people, the dog is a companion of every moment, providing them with essential support. These exceptional dogs have been trained to assist handicapped, deaf and hearing-impaired people, and also to guide the visually disabled.

Assistance dogs for the handicapped

These dogs belong to breeds selected for their calm, their docility and their ability to learn commands, such as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. Their training is carried out in several stages. The puppy is first placed in a host family that takes care of his training and teaches him obedience, with the help of a dog training center. Then, in a specialized association, the dog gets the training that will enable him to assist a person with reduced mobility. At the end of that period, the dogs are able to answer some fifty different commands, for instance to pick up an object that has fallen to the ground, to bring objects (telephone), to open and close doors, to turn on and off the light, to help move the armchair in difficult-to-access places, etc.

Guide dogs

The breeds that are used are also selected for their obedience qualities and their learning abilities. These dogs are often German Shepherd Dogs, Swiss White Shepherd Dogs, Flat Coat Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. The puppies may come from highly specific breeding kennels which have been set up for that very purpose and operate in collaboration with guide dog schools. The puppies are placed in families, called “host families,” as soon as they are weaned, and they are then distributed among the various dog training schools.

Training extends over a few months and is divided up into several periods during which the dog chiefly learns obedience. This consists in simple exercises, during which the dog must stay in specific positions, retrieve objects, get used to wearing his harness, and walk at heel properly. This stage is conducted exclusively by an instructor. It’s in the next stage that the dog learns to avoid obstacles of all types and to warn his master of them. This is the trickiest moment in the whole training period. The dog is then entrusted to a visually disabled person who will have to get used to his presence and to letting himself/herself be guided by the dog in a variety of courses. A very close relationship then develops between the person and his/her animal. The instructor serves as a link between the two, also acting as an intermediary for the visually disabled person.

After a few months spent in the guide dog school, the visually-disabled/dog binomial is ready to face everyday life, and so for quite a few years.

Dogs for the hearing-impaired

There are several centers involved in the training of such dogs throughout the world, especially in the United States, in England and in the Netherlands.
These dogs are mainly Golden Retrievers, but also Welsh Gorgis and Bearded Collies. At eight weeks of age and until one year of age, they are placed in host families, if possible with children, in which they are provided with training and in which they adapt to the most varied places (city, supermarket, wood...). The dog then returns to the training center to learn effectively his future function.
Breed selection takes here its full importance, for the dogs’ learning ability is to be put to the test: they’ll have to learn more than 70 oral commands and 20 body movements. Furthermore, the voice of a deaf or hearing-impaired person is quite different in terms of tone and diction, which requires an additional effort of adaptation.
With assistance dogs for the deaf-mute, this will take two years of learning instead of one. Dog training chiefly consists in making him react to certain noises to warn his master. For instance, he jumps on the bed as soon as the alarm clock rings, tugs at his master’s trouser leg when someone rings at the door, or gently takes his hand to warn him of an untimely visit. For the person who benefits from it, such support often represents a break with a certain form of isolation.


Assistance Dogs

The dog’s ability to learn, the gentleness and patience of certain breeds have made for an extraordinary development of his role in providing sensory support to visually impaired or hearing impaired people and have enabled to improve their integration into personal or professional life.

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