Assistance dogs

A growing number of people with physical disabilities and developmental impairments are being matched, by specialist organisations and charities, with carefully selected and trained assistance dogs. These are also known as service dogs in some parts of the world.
These dogs not only provide practical assistance with everyday tasks, thus enhancing the ability of their owners to lead independent lives, they also offer emotional enrichment.
While the benefits to the person are clear, it is important that the welfare of the animal is considered. These considerations are considered in the Prague Declaration of the International Association of Human Animal Interaction Organisations (IAHAIO) which is available on their website: . Codes of best practice have also been developed by Assistance Dogs UK and Assistance Dogs international.

Assistance Dogs UK and International

Assistance dogs UK is a voluntary coalition of assistance dogs organisations that encourages the exchange of ideas and best practice amongst its members, raises awareness amongst the general public and promotes behavioural and legislative changes to ensure the freedom, independence and rights of its clients. Find out more by visiting their website at . Alternatively, check out the international coalition at .
The six registered charities that are currently members of assistance dogs UK are:

1. Guide Dogs for the Blind

This charity provides guide dogs for adults with visual impairment. At the time of writing (2011) they are celebrating being in existence for 80 years. Currently there are about 4,500 guide dog owners in the UK.
Find out more on

2. Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

This charity provides hearing dogs for adults and children with hearing impairment. Their mission is to offer greater independence, confidence and security to deaf people by providing dogs trained to alert them to chosen everyday sounds. Launched in 1982, they have become a centre of excellence in training hearing dogs and have created over 1,600 life changing experiences.
Find out more on

3. Dogs for the Disabled

This charity provides assistance dogs for children and adults with physical disabilities. In addition the provide dogs and other services for families with a child affected by autism.
The charity was formed in 1986 by Frances Hay. She was disabled herself and passionate about dogs, and was inspired by her own pet dog to create a charity to help other people with disabilities live life to the full. Dogs are trained to do practical tasks like helping take washing out of the machine or opening and closing doors and even helping someone undress. Help is given to people with a huge range of disabilities from those with multiple sclerosis to paraplegics and cerebral palsy. In 2004, a revolutionary new service was set up to train dogs for children with disabilities.
Find out more on

4. Canine Partners

This charity provides assistance dogs for adults with physical disabilities. It was founded in 1990, and was based on the successful established model of the SOHO Foundation of Holland. Their aim is to make life better for people with physical disabilities, most of whom use wheelchairs. These people have a variety of different conditions, some of which have been experienced since birth and others have been acquired during their lifetime. For maximum impact, each dog is tailor-made for every individual.
Find out more on

5. Support Dogs

Support Dogs is a UK charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with epilepsy, physical disabilities and children with autism by training dogs to act as efficient and safe assistants. The dogs are trained to assist and support their owners with their specific disability. Each dog is taught tasks tailored to his owner's needs, enabling the disabled person to lead a fuller and more independent life. Support Dogs has trained more than 180 partnerships in total and currently supports 70 working partnerships across the UK.
Find out more on

6. Dog A.I.D

Dog A.I.D. (Assistance In Disability) is a national voluntary organisation which provides specialised training for people with physical disabilities and their own pet dog. Generally all the training is carried out by the owner with supervision from a specially trained instructor. It is designed to give a measure of independence and provide owners with the knowledge to train other tasks, allowing them to adapt the training to their own needs.
Find out more on

Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI)

The inclusion of a companion animal(s) in an environment or activity with the specific intention of bringing about a positive or therapeutic change in a person’s behaviour, mood or attitude can be described as an ‘animal-assisted intervention’ (AAI).
Animal-assisted interventions are usually carried out by trained practitioners with carefully selected animals and can take many different forms. This is a fertile area of research in the human-companion animal bond and there are some very interesting studies emerging which provide evidence of therapeutic effects of companion animals including for people with special needs, vulnerable older adults and children. Recent research has demonstrated that interaction with animals can benefit individuals with a range of mental health issues, including dementia and Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia.
To find out more about this contact the SCAS website on

Pets As Therapy

Pets As Therapy is a national UK charity founded in 1983. It provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues by volunteers with their own friendly, temperament tested and vaccinated dogs and cats.
Since its beginning over 23,000 PAT dogs have been registered, and currently there are over 4,500 active PAT dogs and 108 PAT cats at work in the UK. Every week these animals visit more than 130,000 people, totalling a staggering 6.75million annually.
Sick patients often feel isolated and even the most withdrawn seem to open up and let the barriers down when their regular PAT visiting dog is around. These dogs bring everyday life closer and with it all the happy associations for them of home comforts. The constant companionship of an undemanding animal, that gives unconditional love, is often one of the most missed aspects of their lives. Research continues to validate the very real value of this daily work undertaken in the community by voluntary PAT visitors and their dogs that work amongst those of us most in need of a little extra boost in addition to medical skills and nursing care.
For more information check the PAT website on:

Medical detection dogs

Dogs can be trained to alert their owners to impending life-threatening medical problems. This includes the early detection of changes in blood sugar levels (diabetes blood sugar alert dogs) as well as the impending threat of an epileptic fit (Seizure alert dogs). This helps the owner to avoid a crisis by sourcing appropriate medical supplies or seeking assistance as necessary.
Dogs are now being trained to detect and recognise human disease such as some cancers) by odour. For more information about the website:

Offender rehabilitation

There are now programmes that offer opportunities for offenders to interact with companion animals as part of their rehabilitation. The pioneering Project Pooch in the USA aims to enhance the lives of the offenders (and the dogs) with the intention of reducing the re-offending rates and integrating them back into society on release. Young offenders learn to train rescue dogs (who can then be placed in good homes) and so improve their own social and integration skills. This has proved to be very successful, with a reported 0% re-offending rate in these young people years after their release.
These programmes may involve direct interaction with the animals, such as training dogs, or visits of therapy dogs to prisoners. Dog walking programme may be suitable for community service volunteers. Prisoners may also benefit from the presence of resident animals such as birds. Offenders may sometimes undertake work experience at animal adoption centres, looking after the animals and assisting with any maintenance work.
What all these programmes have in common is the premise that with thorough planning and careful selection of animals, offenders have the opportunity to learn about nurturing, respect for life and general life skills that will assist them positively in their re-integration into society. To find out more about this contact the SCAS website on

Search and Rescue Dogs

The International Rescue Dog Organization (IRO) works in close collaboration with the United Nations to create an Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR-Team) to be deployed in cases of major disasters. This has been done according to the guidelines of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group acting under the umbrella of the UN-OCHA, setting minimum criteria for rescue dog teams in international missions. Find out more on
The National Search And Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA) is an organisation representing Search And Rescue Dog Associations within the UK, and currently has member associations in Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland. Search Dogs are used to locate missing hill walkers or climbers, or even persons missing from home. This might include the elderly and confused persons, missing children as well as victims of crime.
The Aims of NSARDA are to:

  • Provide a single voice for Search and Rescue Dog Associations.
  • Raise public awareness of Search and Rescue Dogs
  • Raise and maintain the capabilities and standards of air scenting search dogs in the UK
  • Foster responsible dog ownership

Find out more about the NSARDA on their website:

Sniffer dogs

These dogs are being used in increasing numbers by the military, customs and police to identify a wide range of items such as explosives, firearms, drugs, money  etc.

Working dogs

Dogs have always been used for herding livestock or in activities associated with security (such as in the police or military). The PDSA Dickin Medal (known internationally as the animals’ Victoria Cross), has been awarded for military bravery for over 60 years. Find out more on:

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