What Are Assistance Dogs?


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.

The three types of Assistance Dogs are GUIDE DOGS for the blind and the visually impaired, HEARING DOGS for the deaf and hard of hearing and SERVICE DOGS for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing. Although Guide Dogs for the blind have been trained formally for over seventy years, the training of dogs to assist deaf and physically disabled people is a much more recent concept. There are organizations throughout the world that are training these wonderful dogs.

Assistance Dogs can come from breeding programs, with volunteer puppy raisers caring for them until they are old enough to start formal training, or in many cases the dogs are rescued from animal shelters.

Disabled individuals with Assistance Dogs are guaranteed legal access to all places of public accommodation, modes of public transportation, recreation and other places to which the general public is invited.


Guide Dogs assist blind and visually impaired people by avoiding obstacles, stopping at curbs and steps, and negotiating traffic. The harness and U-shaped handle fosters communication between the dog and the blind partner. In this partnership, the human's role is to provide directional commands, while the dog's role is to insure the team's safety even if this requires disobeying an unsafe command.

Labrador and Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd dogs and other large breeds are carefully bred, socialized and raised for over one year by volunteers, then trained for 4 to 6 months by professional trainers before being placed with their blind handlers.


Hearing Dogs assist deaf and hard of hearing individuals by alerting them to a variety of household sounds such as a door knock or doorbell, alarm clock, oven buzzer, telephone, baby cry, name call or smoke alarm. Dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their deaf partners to the source of the sound.

Hearing Dogs are generally mixed breeds acquired from animal shelters and are small to medium in size. Prior to formal audio response training, the younger adoptee's are raised and socialized by volunteer puppy raisers. Hearing Dogs are identified by an orange collar and leash and/or vest.


Service Dogs assist physically disabled people by retrieving objects that are out of their reach, by pulling wheelchairs, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking for alert, finding another person, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance and many other individual tasks as needed by a disabled person.

Most Service Dogs are Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers. Service Dogs can be identified by either a backpack or harness.