Assistance Dogs International (ADI) is made up of the three groups which train 'official' assistance dogs for members of the public and has been running for over 20 years.
The groups are:
- Guide Dogs
- Hearing Dogs for Deaf People
- Service Dogs for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing
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.
Guide Dogs for the blind were the first service dog organisation in this country 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 the deaf and hard of hearing 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.
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:
Improve all areas of training and welfare (including minimum standards) for assistance dogs.
Work with staff and volunteers of each organisation.
Ensure the recipient of each dog is aware of their responsibilities.
Aid communication between its members.
Educate the public.
Deal with the legal rights of people partnered with an assistance dog.
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:
- Right to use of public facilities and services
- Right to full and equal access to places of public accommodations
- Right to full and equal access to transportation
- Right to full and equal housing accommodations
- Right to full and equal access to places of employment
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 the majority of the time. Neither work specifically with people with disabilities which leaves them 'outside' the law as it stands with regards 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 diabeties, 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.
Dog is clean, well-groomed and does not have an offensive odour.
Dog does not urinate or defecate in inappropriate locations.
Dog does not solicit attention, visit or annoy any member of the general public.
Dog does not disrupt the normal course of business.
Dog does not vocalize unnecessarily, ie barking, growling or whining.
Dog shows no aggression towards people or other animals.
Dog does not solicit or steal food or other items from the general public.
Dog is specifically trained to perform three or more tasks to mitigate aspects of the client's disability.
Dog works calmly and quietly on harness, leash or other tether.
Dog is able to perform its tasks in public.
Dog must be able to lie quietly beside the handler without blocking aisles, doorways, etc.
Dog is trained to urinate and defecate on command.
Dog stays within 24" of its handler at all times unless the nature of a trained task requires it to be working at a greater distance.
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.