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Assistance Dogs International
Assistance Dogs International (ADI) is an organisation made up of a number of smaller organisations, all concerned with the official training of assistance dogs for members of the public. It has been running for over 20 years.
There are three main types of assistance dog:
The dogs are known as Assistance Dogs, and do a job directly related to their partner's disability. Assistance dogs are not legally pets and are not usually owned by the person they assist but by the organisation that trained them. The dogs are not required to wear any special identifying uniform, although most people in the UK will recognise the distinctive harness of a working guide dog.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, now working under the simpler title of Guide Dogs, were the first service dog organisation in the UK and have been running for over 70 years. The rate of successful dogs increased when a renowned breeder came in to review their breeding programme. The dogs were specifically bred to be fit for their new purpose.
Hearing Dogs for Deaf People were the next organisation. They used different types of dogs as it was mostly middle-aged women who applied for a dog when they lost their hearing, so were happy to have smaller, 'fluffier' dogs than the standard guide dog. The organisation caters for those who are hard of hearing as well as fully deaf people.
Then followed service dogs for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing. Generally applications are assessed on whether a dog will be able to assist someone with a physical disability, rather than focusing on the disability itself.
The ADI's purpose is to:
Assistance Dogs not only provide a specific service to their handlers, but also greatly enhance their lives with a new sense of freedom and independence.
ADI works in Europe, Asia, North America, Australia and New Zealand and hopes to include South America in the near future. Standards, ethics and accreditation are worldwide issues, while access rights need to have a more regional focus.
It tackles issues such as:
They are also developing standards for facility dogs, which often go into schools and hospitals to bring comfort and support to those in need by enhancing physical and emotional well-being, and therapy dogs, which do similar work but are usually pet dogs. Neither work specifically with people with disabilities, which leaves them 'outside' the law as it stands with regard to public access. There are also no legal definitions for the 'work' they do, so they may be known under a variety of different names.
Medical 'alert' dogs working with diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, autism, etc are also not covered by the legally protected assistance dog status.
The ADI encourages its members to exceed their minimum standards, which are listed here.
It is essential that service dogs are perfectly behaved in public when working, so these really are the lowest standards that a working dog should achieve. When working, the dogs are concentrating on their duties and it is preferable that they are not interfered with by members of the public. Remember, they are not pets so should not be touched or stroked, fed titbits, enticed into games or distracted by someone trying to have a chat with them, even if they are not actively involved with their partner at the time. They are allowed time off duty when they can just 'be a dog'.
Relevance to Pet Dog Owners
Guide Dogs in particular have been bred for decades to have the right amounts of sensitivity, willingness, concentration, intelligence and initiative for the work they have to do.
It would be doing a great service for the public, not only dog lovers, but also the disinterested and those who dislike dogs, if all dogs were required to meet the minimum standards of assistance dogs. The worlds of dog breeding and dog training would begin to look very different.
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