IS AN ASSISTANCE DOG RIGHT FOR ME?
Is an Assistance Dog Right For You?
Assistance Dogs make a huge positive difference to the lives of their handlers and are a valuable tool in managing disabilities.
Having or training an Assistance Dog may not be the right choice for everyone.
Here is some information to help you determine whether having an Assistance Dog is right for you.
Do You Have A Disability An Assistance Dog Can Help With?
An Assistance Dog is a dog who is trained to help mitigate the effects of their handler's disability. You can read more About Assistance Dogs here.
To be eligible for an Assistance Dog you need to have a disability that meets the definition of the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), where symptoms have been present for an extended period of time, and are likely to continue long term.
'The definition of disability for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act is
total or partial loss of the person's bodily or mental functions
total or partial loss of a part of the body
the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness
the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness
the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person's body
a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction
a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person's thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour.'
Assistance Dogs are trained to help people perform and achieve major life tasks their disability makes difficult or impossible to do so alone.
Such as; caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, being aware of low/high blood glucose levels, seeing, hearing, mobility, taking medication, managing mental illness and episodes, coping with flashbacks, being made aware of oncoming seizures, etc.
Could a dog provide you with Assistance?
Dogs are very intelligent animals and can learn a wide array of 'tasks' to assist a diverse range of disabilities.
A task is a behaviour or action that your Assistance Dog can perform to help to you manage the impacts of your disability on your daily life.
A task must be directly related to your disability, alleviate the effects of your disability, and assist you with an aspect of daily life that is difficult or impossible for you to manage on your own.
Whilst being a benefit of having an Assistance Dog, at RAD we do not consider emotional support or companionship trained tasks.
It is important to think of what aspects of your disability you would like assistance managing, and considering if a dog is able to learn behaviours to achieve this.
Assistance Dogs can learn a wide range of tasks to support a wide range of disabilities.
The Revolutionary Assistance Dogs team is able to provide support in choosing and training these tasks.
Do you have the support of a medical professional, and others in your life?
It is important to have the support from a medical professional in your Assistance Dog journey.
This person is here to support you with any applications, letters, forms, etc that you may require along the way.
You will also continue to work with your medical team whilst training and working your Assistance Dog, so it is important to know they are supportive.
While your Assistance Dog will learn to help you manage the effects of your disabilities, they are not a replacement for other types of care.
You should not seek to replace necessary treatment, medications, or medical advice, but rather use an Assistance Dog as a supporting tool in managing your conditions.
Which type of medical professional you choose to work with will depend on your disability, your appointment schedule, and whom you feel most comfortable with.
Some handlers will choose to work with their GP, others with a specialist.
You should also consider how others in your life will accept and work with you and your Assistance Dog. Will you have the support you need for training, working, and maintaining a safe environment for your Assistance Dog? Will they understand and respect your need for your Assistance Dog to accompany you often?
It is a good idea to involve those close to you, and living with you in planning for an Assistance Dog.
Do You Have Experience With Dogs?
Owning and training a pet dog when you do not have prior experience with animals is often a difficult task.
Owning and training your own Assistance Dog adds some more challenges.
Think about how adjusting to life with a dog may work for you, and ensure to learn about care needs, financial requirements, basic behaviour and training, and other requirements of dog ownership before committing to finding a dog.
Can You Provide Proper Care For A Dog?
Caring for an animal can be challenging and expensive when living with a disability. Dogs need food and water, a safe home environment, medical care, training, grooming, parasite control, vaccinations, exercise, bonding time, and a lot of love to name a few.
Assistance Dogs also require much further training than pet dogs, working gear, and if you choose membership fees to your chosen Association/Organisation.
Studies in Australia show that the average cost to care for a dog in a one year period equal to over $1000.
This is not including emergency vet fees, pet insurance, professional grooming, training sessions, or other extras you require.
Consider whether the financial responsibility of taking on a dog fits within your budget.
Beyond the cost, training and caring for an Assistance Dog takes a great deal of time and energy.
For some people, having the time and energy for training, socialisation, exercise, play, and working an Assistance Dog is hard to achieve.
You may have some people in your life who can assist you, or need to enlist the help of professionals for additional support.
Can you commit to the lifetime of your dog?
The average life expectancy for a dog is 12-15 years old. Assistance Dogs will typically work for 6-8 of those years (expecting to retire around 8-10 years old).
What will happen to your Assistance Dog after this time? Will you be able to provide care, or will the dog need to be rehomed?
Do you have a plan for if your dog retires early? Will you be able to handle these choices emotionally?
Are you prepared for the responsibility of training and handling an Assistance Dog?
Getting started with an Assistance Dog can be a tricky adjustment. It takes a lot of time and patience to get through the basic training and bonding times with your new dog before you reach Assistance Dog training. You can expect training your dog from the basics to fully-fledged AD to take 18 months to 2 years to complete.
There is a lot to learn as you and your dog move through this process together, and it will be your job to ensure your dog is happy, healthy, and up to standard to be your working companion for a long time to come.
Even once fully trained there is always work to be done, tasks and commands to be refreshed, new things to learn, and new experiences to share. Having a working relationship with an animal is beautiful, but takes a great deal of dedication.
Would you be able to handle access issues and increased public attention?
When working your Assistance Dog in public, you are likely to draw some attention from members of the general public. Seeing a dog working in public can be very exciting, confusing, and interesting; people are likely to express these feelings.
People may attempt to distract or interact with your AD, draw attention to your AD, and often people will approach you to ask questions.
Sadly, Assistance Dog teams often run into 'Access Issues' where an establishment will try to deny access, service, or make unreasonable requests of a person based on the fact they are using an AD.
This is disability discrimination and unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992). It can be confronting and difficult to cope in these situations, and learn how best to approach them.
A lot of the work we do at RAD is to increase awareness and education surrounding Assistance Dogs, etiquette, and the legal rights of Assistance Dog teams.
We are able to advocate on behalf of our members through instances of discrimination, and help them to find a resolution, and to educate those involved.
We also support our members with learning how to handle public distractions, access issues, and other common challenges faced when working an Assistance Dog.
We are also here to help all teams, whether new to the community or experienced handlers with the incredible adventure of training your own Assistance Dog.