Assistance dogs provide help to a variety of people with a range of needs. ECAD offers programs for Service Dogs, including Psychiatric Dogs for veterans and Facility Dogs. These different types of assistance dogs are specially trained to help with specific needs and disabilities.
ECAD dogs are purposed-bred and hand raised with one goal to serve, since 1995. The Open Doors program is at the core of ECAD’s mission to train and place Service Dogs, which assist individuals with disabilities other than hearing or vision impairment. These individuals may have mobility issues, they may use wheelchairs, they may have limited arm or leg movements, or they may walk but having issues with balance.
Service Dogs can perform many tasks, including retrieving objects, opening doors, turning on a light switch, pulling a wheelchair, or barking and finding help for a handler in a medical crisis. These dogs are identified as working dogs by a cape, backpack, or harness.
For those with Autism, ECAD has a special program called Canine Magic. These service dogs provide “anchoring,” which protects their handlers physically, and can also assist with social, emotional, and cognitive development.
Facility Dogs are another type of Service Dog that ECAD trains. Used in work settings, these dogs serve under the direction of a professional partner who is trained in specific techniques, and they serve as a tool or motivator in caring for a variety of individuals. Facility Dogs might serve in special education classrooms to better physical, social, educational, or mental health. Alternatively, they may serve in physical and occupational therapy settings to increase client participation, in clinical or social work counseling settings to help the client feel more comfortable, or in speech and language therapy settings to initiate speech and advance descriptive skills.
ECAD’s Facility Dogs program trains dogs for many settings. One Facility Dog, Compass, works at the Memorial Rehabilitation Institute of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. Compass works with speech and language pathologist Rita Galliano, and also assists in physical therapy and visits children’s rooms. More information is available regarding ECAD’s Facility Dog Program.
Psychiatric Dogs for Veterans
ECAD also has a program to provide Psychiatric Dogs for veterans, Project HEAL®. Psychiatric Dogs can help veterans with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) lower levels of depression and anxiety, and can result in fewer hospitalizations. In addition to other benefits, these dogs can help their handlers gain safety and independence. To qualify for a Psychiatric Dog, a veteran must have a diagnosed disability, and must receive or train a dog that has the ability to help with that disability.
Psychiatric Dogs serve their handlers in many ways. These dogs may act as a grounding mechanism through deep pressure stimulation, interrupt nightmares through physical contact, watch a veteran’s back while standing in line, or turn on lights. They may also open doors, retrieve a bag with medication, pick up dropped items, or remind their handler of tasks like taking medication.
ECAD’s Project HEAL® served Iraq veteran Shane Walton by training his Psychiatric Dog Tucker. Tucker now helps him feel comfortable going out in public places. To find out more, read additional information about ECAD’s Project HEAL®.
Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs
Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs are two other types of assistance dogs, though ECAD does not offer programs for training these dogs. Guide Dogs help blind or visually impaired individuals, and their tasks may include stopping at curbs and steps, or avoiding traffic and other obstacles. With Guide Dogs, the human partner provides directional commands while the dog ensures the team’s safety.
Hearing Dogs help deaf or hard of hearing individuals by alerting them to household sounds like doorbells or smoke alarms, and then leading their deaf partners to the source of the sound. You can learn more about Guide Dogs or Hearing Dogs from Assistance Dogs International.