International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) is celebrated during the first week of August. To help raise awareness of the excellent work being done by charities to support people with disabilities, the following looks at the history of assistance dogs and details some of the charities that provide highly trained dogs that undertake heroic deeds supporting their humans on a daily basis.
The origins of Assistance Dogs
There are records of people using assistant dogs as far back as the 1700s when Poodles and Sheppard dogs were the recommended breeds to support visually impaired owners. However, the earliest reference of dogs interacting with blind people can be traced back to a Roman mural from the first century AD.
It was in the early 20th century that assistance dogs started to become more popular. In 1927 Dorothy Harrison Eustis, an American dog breeder living in Switzerland wrote about a guide dog program in Potsdam, Germany. She wrote about the dogs that were being trained to be the eyes for German World War I veterans who had lost their sight because of mustard gas1.
The article came to the attention of Morris Frank, a young American man who had lost his sight. Frank convinced Eustis to help train a guide dog for him and in 1928 Frank returned to America with Buddy the first Seeing Eye dog to reach America.
The British Guide Dog Association
The Guide Dog story started in the UK in 1931, Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond trained the first four British guide dogs in a garage in Wallasey, Merseyside2.
Since its humble origins, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has helped over 36,000 people transform their lives.
Assistance Dogs UK
Established in 1995, Assistance Dogs UK is a voluntary coalition of assistance dog charities. Since its creation, ADUK has been able to help some 7,000 people needing the support of an assistance dog3.
Assistance dogs are trained to support people with disabilities and medical conditions in a variety of ways. From guide dogs to medical alert dogs. From autism dogs to hearing dogs, assistance dogs change and often save, the lives of their owners and their families.
What types of assistance dogs are there?
As dogs have proven their ability to learn new skills the role of assistance dogs has grown.
Guide dogs or seeing-eye dogs assist people that are visually impaired. Leading these individuals around obstacles, crossing streets and entering or exiting doorways.
Service dogs can assist people with a diverse range of disabilities including trouble walking, balance, dressing and getting from place to place. Service dogs can be trained to help with household chores, opening draws, putting clothes into or removing them from a washing machine.
Hearing alert dogs are trained to alert people with hearing loss of specific sounds such as doorbells, telephones, sirens and alarms. A hearing alert dog can be trained to notify their owner of any particular sounds.
Seizure alert dogs can alert their owner of an imminent seizure or that a diabetic has low blood glucose levels.
There is no doubt that dogs are amazing animals that have adapted to live with humans. Who would have thought just how adaptable they actually are and the difference in the quality of life that an assistance dog can bring to their owner?