Pets make people feel good. But that's just the start of it. There's much more to a pooch than meets the eye. These days there's a growing number of service dogs being specially trained for all manner of purposes, to help a wide variety of people. Guide dogs for the blind are just the start of it. Here's how humanity's best furry friend is getting more and more involved with our lives.
Hearing dogs alert deaf children and adults to all sorts of vital sounds and danger signals around the home, including doorbells, fire alarms and telephones. They help people gain more independence, raise confidence and provide the unique kind of companionship you only get from a loving, loyal pooch.
The dogs alert their owners to danger by nudging with their nose or paw. When you ask your hearing dog 'what is it?' using a voice or hand command, the dog leads you to the source of the sound. If your dog lies down it means there's danger.
Dogs trained to help autistic children
Special autism assistance dogs help autistic children and their parents achieve independence as well as making the child feel secure. It means the entire family can enjoy things they might never have otherwise been able to do together, simple stuff like shopping and country walks.
The dog has a harness connecting it to the parent and child, and takes instructions from the adult. The child walks next to the dog, ensuring their safety and stopping them from 'bolting', a behaviour which affects many autistic youngsters. If the child tries to run off, the dog simply sits down.
By helping the family introduce routines, interrupt repetitive behaviour and support the child in unfamiliar surroundings, autism support dogs make a great many families' lives a whole lot easier, as you can see online – many of the organisations offering trained dogs have long waiting lists.
Dogs in court to help calm nervous witnesses
Court dogs are currently in use in the USA, Canada, Chile and Finland, and may eventually appear on our shores, too. As you can imagine appearing in court can be terrifying, especially if you're a key witness. In the USA there's a trend for court dogs, specially trained animals who accompany witnesses into the courtroom to help them stay calm under terrible emotional stress.
Court dogs are trained from young puppyhood until the two-year-old stage, and only the best performers are chosen for court work. Assistance dogs for court witnesses are typically quiet, calm and emotionally available for the witness, can sit or lie quietly for long periods of time, are so well trained they don't distract anyone in the courtroom and available throughout the entire process.
Dogs in hospices
There's something about caressing a loving, friendly animal that makes humans feel better. Nobody really knows why, but the reasons aren't that important when dogs have such a profound positive effect on our emotions.
Dogs who visit hospices provide comfort, unconditional love and companionship, all of which enriches the lives of people who are dying. The sight of the dogs plus the feel of their fur brings peace and joy to people who once had animals of their own, and the physical contact alone has a magical calming effect.
Therapy dogs help combat loneliness and often become an invaluable part of a hospice team. They can even learn to sense impending death, and their natural compassion for and empathy with humans means they can extend great comfort to the families of dying people. Sometimes a therapy dog will lie at the end of someone's bed as they die, providing peace and calm in the final moments.
Diagnosis dogs who 'smell' diseases way before doctors can diagnose them
There's all sorts of research proving dogs can detect cancer in people's breath. Scientists are busy trying to come up with a machine that can do the same thing, so far without success. It's no small task replicating the animals' remarkable sense of smell.
Training dogs to smell cancer is the same as teaching them to sniff out bombs, missing persons and drugs. The dogs are trained to ignore healthy breath as well as the scent of every other disease apart from the one they're being trained to diagnose. They can also be trained to smell dangerous drops in our blood sugar levels, and more doggy diagnosis applications are on the way.
Dogs for wounded servicemen and women
Pooches can be trained to look after people with disabilities, including service dogs for ex-soldiers. They're trained to work with people in powered or manual wheelchairs, have lost limbs or have issues with balance.
Dogs can retrieve out-of-reach objects, open and shut doors, turn the lights on and off, bark to signal visitors, to get help, find someone specific and even help people walk more easily by giving essential balance and counterbalance.
Dementia service dogs and more
Specially trained dogs help dementia sufferers in much the same way, supporting people in their everyday life and raising alerts when necessary. They also work closely with people with Down Syndrome, epilepsy, diabetes, allergies, seizures, cerebral palsy, Tourettes, ADHD, FASD and Aspergers.
Any more to add to the list?
If you've heard of a dog doing amazing things for their human, something we haven't covered, we'd love to share it with our community. Here's a link to our Facebook page www.facebook.com/poochandcompany.
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