Learn about the thousands of assistance dogs helping people live more independent, less isolated lives. From guide dogs to therapy dogs… & everything inbetween.
Assistance dogs and service dogs are highly trained to assist people with their daily lives. From assisting people with mobility issues to supporting people with epilepsy, diabetes, and other health problems, our canine companions do a very important job.
Assistance dogs don’t just help with practical tasks though, they provide companionship, boost confidence, and offer immense emotional support to their humans.
It’s a true partnership. Assistance dogs and their humans share a remarkable bond.
Service dog vs assistance dog
In the UK, we call our working dogs assistance dogs. In the UK, the term service animal usually refers to a police dog. Within Ireland and US they’re called service dogs.
Their roles are the same, to assist people to live more independently and to enjoy the freedom and access rights that people not living with a disability are granted.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that assistance dogs must be trained to
● Sit or lie quietly next to their owner
● Not wander freely around premises
● Be unlikely to foul in a public place
Assistance dogs can be owner trained or trained by an organisation.
Let’s explore nine different types of assistance dogs who help humans in their everyday lives.
1. Disability Assistance Dogs
Disability assistance dogs support people with physical disabilities or mobility impairments with day to day tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible.
From picking things up for their owners, to helping take socks off and fetching items, assistance dogs are trained to do things people without disabilities take for granted.
Disability assistance dogs also reduce isolation, improve confidence, and make life much brighter for their humans.
A disability is defined by the Equality Act 2010 as ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.
2. Guide Dogs
Owners undertake training where both they and their dog are supported in the development of their partnership and their skills.
3. Hearing Dogs
Hearing dogs support deaf people by alerting them to noises and providing company. People experiencing loss of hearing can feel incredibly isolated. Barriers to communicating with people can have a heavy impact on their mental wellbeing.
Hearing dogs are trained to help their hearing impaired owners by letting them know when the doorbell has gone, if the smoke alarm is going off, and can help them enjoy day to day tasks and activities.
4. Medical Assistance Dogs
Medical alert assistance dogs are trained to detect a change in odour from their human which indicates an upcoming medical emergency. This allows their owner to seek help so they can get the medical support they need.
Medical assistance dogs support people with diabetes, epilepsy, allergies, addison's disease, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and more.
5. Autism Assistance Dogs
Autism assistance dogs are trained to support people with autism and their families.
From providing companionship, encouraging exercise, and even providing Deep Pressure Therapy to aid relaxation - autism dogs are incredible!
People with autism can sometimes find social settings difficult to navigate. An autism dog is there to reassure, reduce anxiety, and provide relief from sensory stimulation.
6. PTSD Assistance Dogs
Assistance dogs can be trained to support people suffering with post traumatic stress syndrome. Whether through working for the armed forces or emergency services, or from traumatic life events, these people can benefit hugely from having a PTSD support dog.
Service Dogs UK provides assistance dogs free of charge to veterans needing support. These dogs are trained to help their humans through difficult experiences, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety in social situations.
Dual Purpose Assistance Dogs help their handler with more than one health problem. A guide dog may also be trained to do medical alerts for seizures, for example.
7. Therapy Dogs
Therapy dogs provide emotional support to people in a wide variety of ways. From visiting care homes, hospitals, and even being resident school therapy dogs, these dogs provide therapeutic relief to people in many walks of life.
Legally, therapy dogs are not considered assistance dogs, they are invited in to places for the specific role of bringing comfort to people in that environment.
8. Psychiatric Assistance Dogs
Psychiatric assistance dogs support people with mental health issues like bipolar, severe depression, PTSD and severe anxiety.
Through the companionship of an assistance dog, people experiencing severe psychiatric disabilities can enjoy greater independence and relief from the devastating effects of depression and anxiety.
9. Emotional Support Dogs
Emotional support dogs provide companionship and relief from anxiety and stress for their owners.
Unlike other assistance dogs, emotional support animals (ESAs) do not require any formal training. Any animal can offer emotional support to their human, and as such they don’t qualify in the UK for the access rights granted to other assistance dogs.
The ESA Registry UK and others like it offer a registration service for an annual fee. At present, the UK law doesn’t grant access rights to Emotional Support Dogs.
Making access easier for assistance dogs (& their humans)
At Wuffable, we make customised assistance and service dog vests to make access easier for people living with disabilities or impairments.
Assistance dogs don’t legally have to wear a vest or be registered, but having a visible declaration that your dog is at work can make entering shops, restaurants and other public spaces less stressful.
We also provide a free assistance dog law card with every vest order.
Assistance Dog Organisations Vs Owner Trained Assistance Dogs
There are thousands of assistance dogs across the UK working in partnership with their owners to make life more independent, happier, and less isolated. Some are trained by organisations and others are owner trained with the help of skilled professionals.
You can find a list of UK registered assistance dog organisations here or search a worldwide list of assistance dog organisations here.
You don't need to let waiting lists or criteria put you off. If you think having an assistance dog will help you to carry out day to day activities which are otherwise difficult or not possible for you, consider training your own assistance dog.
Come back soon to read more about owner trained assistance dogs.