Posted by: My Personal Vet | August 7, 2010

Today is Service Dog Day!

A little refresher course

Do you know that a Seeing Eye Dog is not the same as a Guide Dog for the Blind?  A Seeing Eye Dog is reared and trained by Seeing Eye and Guide Dogs for the Blind is another group that does wonderful work.  There are many different organizations that train for assisting people with vision loss but these are the ones that people confuse the most.  There are also TDI dogs (Therapy Dog International) and CCI dogs (Canine Companions for Independence).  If you Google Therapy dogs or Guide Dogs, you will see there are many different places that work to allow people more independent lives.

Some possible careers for these special creatures are:

  • Dog Guide
  • Mobility dog
  • Seizure Alert
  • Medical Alert
  • Whatever you need them to do dog

They can be trained to get help, indicate the fire alarm is ringing, pick up pens, turn off lights, and to get help if their person has a medical condition.  There is a wide variety of skills that can be trained to fit with their natural talents.  There are even dogs who can sniff and react to cancer cells.  They are truly special.

Testing can be interesting.  I had a foster Border Collie who learned quickly and seemed like a good candidate for a hearing impaired person.  Tequila (which probably isn’t the best name for a service dog anyway) was tested to be a sound alert dog.  Horns and various noise makers were set off.  To pass the test he didn’t need to do anything special.   What they wanted was a dog that, even if he jumped at first, was curious and went back to see what was going on .  He wasn’t afraid but he wasn’t that interested, either.  He wanted to go herd my sheep, instead.  Oops.  Not the right job for him.

When the dog (I’m really only covering dogs but other critters assist also) gets old or doesn’t feel like working any more or any variety of reasons, they are either retired or get a “career change”.   Career change dogs may not have made the final test to join the working world.  They are fabulous pets because they’ve been socialized well and trained well.

How to assist the assistance dog while they are working:

  • Treat the dog like a person who is concentrating very hard to help someone not get hurt.
  • Always ask permission to interact with the dog in any way.  The dog needs to concentrate and the person can choose whether to allow it or not.  Do not be offended if they decline your request. This is their assistance dog and needs to be treated as a working extension of themselves.  Don’t feed, pet, touch, make noises, or distract in any way.
  • This also means do not let your dog run loose around a working dog.  It hinders concentration and has seriously harmed people who were relying on them.
  • Their dog is not in a show.  Respect the dog for being so talented.  Treat it and the person with respect.  Don’t assume they want to talk about the help their dog gives them.
  • As a vet, I also need to follow rules about not touching or giving treats until permission is given.
  • I especially need to be very careful what medications I use and be crystal clear with the owner — the dogs need all their senses or the owner needs full knowledge of possible side effects so they can make arrangements in advance.


  1. Good info, I hope people take it to heart. On the street note that most dog guide users would not make the noted distinctions between a seeing eye dog or guide dog. These days most people refer to dogs used by blind folks as either dog guides or guide dogs regardless of origin.

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