August 07, 2019 Dogs

Guide Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and Service Dogs: Celebrating International Assistance Dog Week

A client and veterinarian pet a seeing eye dog in the Animal Medical Center's waiting room

Guide Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and Service Dogs: Celebrating International Assistance Dog Week

This week is International Assistance Dog Week, the annual celebration of all the devoted, hardworking assistance canines that help individuals with physical and mental disabilities. Assistance dogs include guide dogs, hearing alert dogs, seizure alert dogs and service dogs. The function of a service dog is not clear from the title, but consider this description: service dogs are members of the service industry. They can open doors, fetch remotes, carry laundry and help their person transfer from a chair to the bed and back again.

How to Become an Assistance Dog

It takes a village to train an assistance dog. Every assistance dog starts as a puppy which is chosen for temperament, intelligence and ability to interact with humans. Then they are raised in a social environment and taught basic obedience skills by a puppy raiser. Many college students train a service dog as a community service project. The bonus is a dog in your dorm room. When the puppy reaches about 1 year of age, they go for training to learn assistance dog skills. Finally, the dog meets their person and the two learn skills to help them work as a team.

Guide Dogs at the Animal Medical Center

Seeing eye dogs are the best known of the assistance dogs. These wonderful creatures, sporting brown leather harnesses, serve as the eyes of those who cannot see. Seeing eye dogs are daily visitors at the Animal Medical Center, because we provide free veterinary care to working seeing eye dogs through the Frank VD Lloyd Fund for Guide Dogs. This week alone, 11 guide dogs have checked in at AMC.  The care received by these dogs represents AMC in a microcosm. Two came for annual exams and another two for rehabilitation therapy to keep them mobile and working. One guide dog visited AMC’s board certified dentists because of a fractured tooth and another received cancer chemotherapy from our Oncology specialists. There was an emergency room visit for a urinary tract infection and a trip to pick up medication refills. The most unusual guide dog appointment was for travel papers to Cuba!  

Assistance Dogs and Mental Health

The work a guide dog performs is easy to comprehend. However, the impact of assistance dogs on mental health is less tangible. A recent Yale University study investigated the link. In this study, researchers evaluated an animal-assisted activity for children. A brief unstructured interaction with a trained therapy dog helped reduce children’s anxiety during a stressful task. The study’s authors conclude that dog-assisted activity could help improve children’s mental health.

Given all that assistance dogs do for humans, this week is going to be a big celebration.