Most of us have seen service dogs accompanying people who are visually impaired, but did you know that dogs help people with other disabilities and conditions?
In addition to the familiar guide dogs, Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides trains dogs to work with the hearing impaired, people with physical disabilities, and people with epilepsy, diabetes, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. “Each program trains dogs to master skills that are directly related to the person’s disability,” says Jenny Gladish, Communications Manager. “Dogs can’t do everything, but they can be an important part of a larger support system.”
Seizure response dogs, for example, are trained to watch for cues that may indicate the onset of a seizure. They can activate an alert system or fetch help. Diabetes alert dogs are trained to work with people with Type 1 diabetes who don’t have the usual cues alerting them to a drop in blood sugar. The dogs are trained with scent pods to detect when sugar levels are dropping by smelling sweat and saliva. They can fetch medication or juice and snacks to head off problems. For people with physical disabilities, dogs can press buttons to open doors, fetch or pick up items, open the fridge, washing machine or dryer, and bark when their handler needs help.
Autism assistance dogs provide safety and companionship for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In addition to preventing children from wandering or running off, they accompany them to school and into public settings, providing a calming, reassuring presence.
Other organizations train dogs to support people with post-traumatic stress disorder and even dementia. Gladish says the benefits go beyond the specific tasks performed by the dogs. “Our clients tell us that their dogs get them out of the house. They serve as a social lubricant, helping people feel more at ease and willing to open up.” She adds, “A dog doesn’t judge you – he’s just happy to work for you. It’s often easier to ask a dog to do a simple task for you than a person.”
And remember, if you see a canine caregiver at work, the best thing you can do is ignore it. Says Gladish, “Even a friendly tone of voice is commanding the dog’s attention, which means it’s not focused on the handler. The bond between handler and dog is crucial, so you never want to disrupt it.”