Choosing A Suitable Dog
There are many things to consider when choosing a dog suited to being your Assistance Dog. This is often referred to as a ‘prospective Assistance Dog’ ‘Assistance Dog prospect’ or ‘prospect’ in short.
It is important to choose a dog and breed that is suited to your needs, can learn tasks to help mitigate the effects of your disability, and that you can properly care for. When choosing a dog you may need to put aside your favourite breed, colour, gender, or size of dog to find a good candidate.
We do accept membership applications from people who do not yet have a prospect, and have more in depth and personal resources relating to choosing a prospect, and can assist you in choosing the best prospect for your needs. You can learn about membership and the joining process here.
If you already have a dog you are wondering would be a good fit for the dog, you can use this page to help.
It is a good idea to think of how you would like an Assistance Dog to help you, and what tasks you might need your dog to perform. This will have an impact on some of the considerations you will have to make in choosing a prospect.
Size is an important factor in choosing the right dog. For example, there are height and weight guidelines for dogs who will perform mobility tasks, or a dog too heavy may cause difficulties for tasks such as pressure therapy.
Size will also impact the ease of accessing transport, keeping your dog out of the way in public areas, visibility to the public, and safety of the dog in crowded areas.
Temperament is arguably the most important factor in choosing your prospect. Assistance Dogs will be exposed to a range of situations, distractions, and interactions that are far more challenging than those met by pet dogs. Whilst handling crowded areas, loud noises, tempting smells, the dog needs to be able to focus on their handler and perform tasks at the same time.
In choosing a prospect you would like the type of dog who:
Is happy and healthy
Is curious and confident
Is happy to meet new people
Is happy to be handled all over
Is not spooked by loud noises
Recovers quickly from being startled
Responds well to praise, and is eager to learn
Is non-reactive to other dogs and people
Has been well socialised or will be well socialised if a puppy
Displays NO signs of fear in everyday situations
Displays NO sign of aggression
Has no long term or serious health issues
Has no serious behavioural issues
These are a few key things, but there are many more to consider. We recommend having dogs undergo assessments and temperament testing prior to being selected as an Assistance Dog prospect.
It is important to consider the care that your prospect will need, including exercise, grooming, and any limitations you may have in relation to the dog’s care. This will help you find a prospect who not only suits your medical needs, but your lifestyle as well.
Some breeds have a higher work drive, and higher exercise needs than others. Choose a breed that has exercise needs you can cater to even when your health may not be at its best. Assistance Dogs need to be able to keep up with their handler as much as their handler needs to be able with them so no matter the breed it is important to keep your prospect fit and healthy.
Dogs require regular grooming. Coat type and length will determine the specific level of care that your dog needs. Some coat types you will be able to manage yourself at home, and some will need to be attended by a professional groomer regularly. Consider what grooming you can maintain yourself, and if the services of a professional are within your care budget.
Your health may impact your ability to provide the care and training required to train a prospect into an Assistance Dog. It takes many months of regular training for your prospect to be at the point that they can in turn support you with your needs. Will your health allow you to complete and maintain this training before the dog can assist you? Are you able to keep up with the care needs of a dog long term?
You need to consider the health of the dog you are choosing, as well as your own. Choose a dog whose needs you can keep up with, without impacting your own health negatively.
A prospect should be free from serious and long term health issues such as blindness, deafness, arthritis, limb amputation, disease, illness, etc. Some breeds are more prone to health issues than others, so it is important to research these as well as your prospect’s bloodlines as much as possible.
Some breeds such as ‘brachy’ breeds (dogs with short noses and squashed faces) so not cope as well with heat, and can be prone to raspatory issues that may impact their ability to work.
Make sure you research these issues, and have your prospect evaluated by a veterinarian as well as attending regular check-ups.
You should also consider the age of the dog you are considering becoming your Assistance Dog. There are lots of pros and cons to starting a dog’s training at different ages.
For example, with a puppy you still have some of their critical socialisation window to work with them in, and have control over bringing them up and training them. You can have a good, solid idea of their family health and temperament history. It can be difficult though, to find a breeder who will let you pick the right puppy for you, do the temperament testing you need, and can take a long time waiting for the right litter.
An older dog may already have some basic training such as basic obedience and toilet training, and you don’t have to go through the puppy phases. Some adult dogs have even had experience such as showing. However, they may not have been raised in a way that has set them up to be a good fit for Assistance Dog work, and it can be more difficult to train an adult dog that hasn’t been previously trained.
It is also important to consider that fully training an Assistance Dog usually takes 12-24 months, so starting with an older dog will often give you less time as a team before the dog retires. We typically see dogs retiring between 8-10 years of age, depending on their health. Do plenty of research into what age bracket may suit you and your needs the very best.