Having shared the Facebook post about a woman with a guide dog being told by another passenger to get off a bus as her dog couldn’t be a guide dog as it wasn’t yellow (yes I know, unbelievable but sadly true) – I, Vicky, thought it might be a good time to write a blog about assistance dogs and their different roles. It also happens to coincide nicely with the book I’m currently reading called ‘Dogs with Jobs’ by Laura Greaves – about all the different roles dogs undertake.
Assistance Dogs UK is an umbrella organisation for 8 Assistance Dogs charities in the UK. Their roles are different and varied – just like the dogs themselves! The 8 organisations are:
· Canine Partners
· Dog AID
· Dogs for Good
· Guide Dogs
· Hearing Dogs
· Medical Detection Dogs
· Support Dogs
· The Seeing Dogs Association
Canine Partners (www.caninepartners.org.uk) provide dogs who assist people with physical disabilities and impairments with practical day to day tasks that may otherwise be difficult to perform. They also provide increased confidence, independence and social interaction. Their dogs wear a purple coat to identify them.
Dog AID (www.dogaid.org.uk) empower people with physical disabilities to train their own pet dog to assist them with daily tasks which are tailored to the individual. These dogs wear a red and fluorescent yellow coat.
Dogs for Good (www.dogsforgood.org) assistance dogs support adults and children with a range of disabilities and also younger children with autism. They also provide a Family Dog service that gives advice and support to help families with a child with autism get the most out of their relationship with their pet dog. In addition they train and support community dogs and their specialist handlers to work in activity and therapy in communities and schools. Their trained dogs wear a green coat.
Guide Dogs (www.guidedogs.org.uk) provide dogs who will guide adults and young people who are blind or partially sighted. Qualified guide dogs wear a white harness with yellow fluorescent strips.
Hearing Dogs (www.hearingdogs.org.uk) provide dogs for adults and children with a hearing impairment. These dogs are trained to alert deaf people to sounds they would otherwise miss, such as doorbells, alarm clocks, fire alarms etc. Qualified hearing dogs wear a burgundy jacket.
Medical Detection Dogs (www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk) have dogs that are trained to detect the odour of human disease. This is used both for Bio Detection dogs and also Medical Alert Assistance Dogs who support people with complex health conditions and use minute odour changes in a person to alert them to take preventative action. They wear a red coat.
Support Dogs (www.supportdogs.org.uk) are dedicated to increasing independence and quality of life for people with various medical conditions. They have 3 specific programmes: Autism Assistance Dogs for young children, Seizure Alert dogs for people with epilepsy and Disability Assistance Dogs. Their trained dogs wear a blue coat.
The Seeing Dogs Alliance (www.seeingdogs.org.uk)
Training dogs to guide blind and partially sighted people. Qualified dogs wear a yellow coat.
As you can tell from this list, assistance dogs’ breeds and roles are widely different and varied. However, all qualified assistance dogs can be identified by the coats or harnesses they wear when working which, although different colours all have the name of the organisation clearly shown too. These assistance dogs shouldn’t be disturbed when working so please don’t stroke or feed them. If they are relaxing, then you can ask the owner if it’s okay to say hello to the dog.
Legally guide dog and assistance dog owners have important rights under the Equality Act 2010 (EA). This Act ensures people with disabilities to have the same right to public services as everyone else.
This includes taxis and minicabs unless the driver has a medical exemptions certificate from their GP. And yes, this law applies whatever the colour of the assistance dog!!
In the past there have been negative comments on social media about these dogs being trained to be slaves, all I can say in response to that is that Dave’s guide dog, Errol always looked so proud to wear his harness, standing up straighter whenever the harness was readied for him (and just for the record, Errol was a black dog – a German Shepherd crossed with a Golden Retriever). Also, Guide Dogs and I’m sure all assistance dog charities, regularly monitor the health and well being of the dog and their focus is that it has to be right for the dog, not just the owner.
In reading the book ‘Dogs with Jobs’ which covers a whole range of different roles that dogs undertake, from being assistance dogs, pat therapy dogs, a dog who acts (from his own choice) as a guide dog for another dog, dolphin detector dogs and a dog whose role it is to keep the Seagulls away from the Australian National Maritime Museum, I think what struck me most was each owner's immense respect for what their different dogs could do. Some had been trained, but many had a natural instinct for the role they undertook. And when the dog decided it wanted a break or to stop working, then that was respected too.
And, just as an aside, in one of the other services Dave and I run, the Disability Equipment Service (www.disabilityequipmentservice.co.uk), we have been proud to sponsor a guide dog (aptly named Des), through the first year of his training. We have just raised enough money to do this again and will then also hope to start supporting Support Dogs too! This money is raised through kind donations of both money and disability equipment, which we then sell on to support the running costs of the website with 25% being donated to an Assistance Dog charity. Find out more about Des on our Disability Equipment Service Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/disabilityequipmentservice/. And if you want to read more about Dave’s lovely guide dog, Errol, Dave wrote a heartfelt tribute to him when he sadly passed away in June 2017 - https://vidatraining.weebly.com/blog/archives/06-2017
We’re always interested to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts. Please share these by commenting…
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Our VIDA Insights...
Following our experiences from delivering our Vision Impairment Awareness training days over the past couple of years, we know that there’s loads more that we could talk about and examples we could have shared. Whilst these won’t be a substitute for our training, they will give you an insight (hence the name!) into our thoughts, observations and experiences from each of our perspectives - Dave’s living with sight loss and Vicky’s from being a sighted person and working alongside and supporting people who have sight loss.