Assistance dogs are talented, highly-trained animals that help the disabled with their daily needs. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the role of an assistance dog can include "guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items." Therapy dogs that work with individuals who have mental health issues are not officially categorized by the ADA as service dogs.
Guide and Hearing Dogs
Guide dogs are trained to lead the blind safely around obstacles, and help the blind in other ways such as practicing "intelligent disobedience." This means that the dog will ignore a dangerous command, such as being asked to move forward into a busy intersection. The Labrador retriever is the dog breed used most often as a guide dog. According to Guide Dogs of America, 70 percent of their dogs are labs, since this type of breed has historically had the most success in the role. Other breeds used for guide dogs are golden retrievers and German shepherds. Labradors and golden retrievers are also the breeds most often placed by hearing dog schools. Other hearing dog breeds are Welsh corgis, poodles, shelties, and springer spaniels. These dogs alert hearing impaired owners to important sound cues like a crying baby or a fire alarm.
Seizure Alert Dogs
According to a study done at the University of Florida, the ability of a dog to sense a seizure and alert its owner prior to the event is not breed-specific. However, popular breeds that are bred and trained for this purpose include golden retrievers, setter mixes, samoyed crosses, border collie crosses, and German shepherds.
Physical Assistance Dogs
Again, the Labrador and the golden retriever are popular choices for this type of service work, because of their intelligence, strength and relatively calm temperaments. These animals are ideal for helping the physically disabled with tasks such as standing next to an individual that has fallen in order to help them stand up, retrieving items that have fallen on the floor, turning on and off lights, helping with dressing, and opening and closing doors.
Dogs for Diabetics
These dogs are trained to pick up the scent of diabetic experiencing low blood glucose, and alert the diabetic to their condition. There is no specific breed that has been determined to be ideally suited for this work, so a variety of breeds are used.