There is no breed better than the Golden to serve as a service or assistance dog to a disabled handler. Goldens serve as service dogs and hearing and guide dogs throughout the world, assisting their human partners with everyday tasks and bringing them the independence they desire. Golden Retrievers excel as assistance dogs because of their desire to be with their people and their retrieving abilities.
Assistance dogs are usually raised by foster families, who generously raise them for the first eighteen months of their lives. The foster family housebreaks, socializes, and trains the puppy basic obedience exercises until he is ready to be tested and to begin training as an assistance dog. Policies among assistance dog organizations vary concerning the qualities they are looking for in a future guide, service, or hearing dog. In general, they are looking for a dog with a stable temperament that will work under a variety of conditions and remain reliable, regardless of the handler's skill.
Foster-puppy raisers focus on socializing their foster puppies to anything and everything. Then when these little guys grow up and begin their jobs as assistance dogs, they can do their job with confidence and reliability.
Dogs that pass the initial temperament test are generally started in training, which varies in length, depending upon the tasks involved. The dogs are then usually placed with their new handlers by the time they are two-and-a-half to three years old. Some organizations require the handler to come out to the facility for training, while others have instructors and field representatives who train on location. Handlers must learn how to work with their assistance dog and form a working partnership with them. Assistance dogs often fail because of physical limitations, including hip and elbow problems, but they can also fail because of a lack of confidence, drive, or temperament issues.
A service dog is a dog that is trained to help a disabled person become and remain more independent. These dogs often pull wheelchairs, help the person dress and undress, turn light switches on and off, retrieve fallen objects, and open and close doors. The tasks can be varied depending on an individual's disability. Candidates are usually put through a rigorous information-gathering process and interview to determine their needs and to specialize a dog's training.
Service dogs accompany people with all sorts of disabilities. They belong to the more general category of assistance dogs. Some service dogs may be trained to alert to seizures in a person with such a disorder. Though the dog cannot be taught to predict an oncoming seizure, seizure-alert dogs often become predictive after living only a short time with their new partners. No one knows by quite what mechanism a dog detects a seizure. Some believe it is a change in the person's scent, while others believe that it is the person's behavioral changes. Service dogs are invaluable to people with disabilities, giving independence to those who were previously dependent upon human caretakers for every aspect of their care and enabling them to be self-sufficient members of society.
A hearing dog is a dog that is trained to alert to sound and cue the owner, who is deaf or hearing impaired. The hearing dog's tasks depend entirely upon what the individual handler needs in his day-to-day interactions. Hearing dogs can be taught to alert to the doorbell, the smoke detector, a baby crying, the microwave timer, a person calling the handler's name, a telephone ringing, or almost any other sound.
Hearing dogs help people with hearing disabilities to live a more independent and self-sufficient life. A person with a hearing dog must maintain the dog's training in order for the placement to work. This may mean acknowledging the dog, even when there are hearing housemates present to cue the person to the sound.
Hearing dogs must be well socialized and alert to their environment. They must often distinguish between several sounds and cue only the one they have been trained to alert for.
Guide dogs are by far the most common type of assistance dog and the one that the average person is most familiar with. Guide dogs are trained to assist blind or visually impaired persons. Guide dogs are highly trained, highly skilled animals. They must be able to safely negotiate city streets, office buildings, and the great out-doors with their partner's safety foremost in their minds. Guide dogs can be taught to judge height, alert to danger, and determine when it is safe to cross the street.
Of all the types of assistance dogs, the guide dog probably requires the most stable temperament and the sharpest intellect. A guide dog's job changes daily, depending upon where the person wants to go and where his handler's job and life take him. A guide dog needs perseverance to work long hours by his handler's side without tiring of the tasks at hand. The Golden Retriever seems perfectly suited for this task, since he loves to be with people and has a high tolerance for change. Guide dogs the world over bring independence to their human handlers, and many a person has admitted that without their beloved companion they just could not function.