Service and Assistance Dogs

service dogs in New Zealand

“A dog is a man’s best friend.” A dog will give a lonely person a reason to get up every day and even go for a walk. A dog provides company and many of us could not imagine a life without a dog. But some dogs are more than just a pet. There are many dogs who are a specifically trained to do a job every day.

Mobility dogs and Assistance dogs provide people with disabilities with independence, and a chance to live a more fulfilled life. The bond between the mobility dog and a disabled person results in huge psychological benefits of greater purpose and connection. These dogs are trained from puppyhood, and since 2008, this puppy training is often part of a Puppies in Prison Program. Prisoners are taught to train a mobility dog, and in return the prisoners themselves develop invaluable skills important for their rehabilitation. A qualified mobility dog provides a disabled person with a more active life due to increased confidence.

The need for human carers can be reduced and the connection with the community increased. A dog is often a catalyst for conversation and hence the ice is broken for meeting new people, leaving the disabled person less isolated and with a greater self-esteem. The dogs are bred and trained to meet the unique needs of each individual client and family. The disabilities range from Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Diabetes but also people in a wheel chair.

An Epilepsy assist dog is invaluable for people with severe epilepsy. The dog can alert the person to when a seizure is about to happen, allowing him or her to lie down on the floor, hence less likely to get injured once the seizure starts. The epileptic person can therefore live a more independent life, and not be scared to venture outside or go to the shop in fear of collapsing in public and hurting themselves.

The better known assistance dog is the Guide dog for the Blind. A Blind Foundation guide dog gives people who are blind, or have low vision freedom and independence. They help people to get around safely and confidently. They also make wonderful companions. Guide dog puppies often start their training in foster families before they go to the training facility to graduate, having been trained in accordance with the individual need. Once retired, they either stay with the blind person, or get adopted by a family as a pet for the rest of its life.

Cancer detection dogs
Some dogs can detect very low concentrations of the alkanes and aromatic compounds generated by malignant tumours. Some research in this area has been promising, but more research is needed in order to provide conclusive results

Sniffer dogs are used for more than just drugs. These dogs can be seen at the airport and are used to sniff out large amounts of cash, fruit or plant seeds amongst other items. They are fast, reliable and cost effective. The dogs are often obtained from various Animal Welfare Organisations as rescue dogs, and then trained and certified to the highest standards based on the international guidelines of Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal detector Guidelines.

DOC dogs
New Zealand was the first country to use dogs to benefit conservation as far back as the 1890s. In fact DOC is so good at what they do, that dogs occasionally get flown overseas to help out with conservation work elsewhere in the world. Well trained dog-handler teams have successfully been used for conservation for more than 40 years. A DOC dog is trained to do a small amount of tasks and these tasks are fine tuned to perfection. This includes sniffing out protected species (mainly birds) so they can be banded, monitored and/or moved to another place, or pest species (eg rodents, stoats, Argentine ants, weeds) that would destroy our native wildlife in pest-free areas. Certain dog breeds are more suited for this work – pointers are often used to find protected species, while terriers are usually used to find pests. Dogs can pose a serious risk to protected species if they are not trained and handled correctly.

Specialist detector dogs are trained to sniff out a certain type of odour, such as: drugs, explosives, biosecurity risk (fruit, meat, plant, animal products), Live animals (pests or illegally smuggled species), CITES products (endangered species and products) or paua /truffles and other commercially valuable products.

Police dogs
All patrol dogs are German Shepherds and are supplied by the police dog breeding programme that is based at the Dog Training Centre near Wellington. Patrol dogs are mainly used to track and search for people. Many of them are also trained for:
• search and rescue work
• victim recovery
• deployment with the Armed Offender Squad
• narcotic detection work

Detector dogs include a variety of breeds including; German Shepherds, Labradors, Springer Spaniels and cross breeds. Detector dog teams are trained to detect narcotics, firearms, currency and explosives.

Army dogs
The explosive detection dog teams provide a valuable skillset that could be deployed domestically and globally, to reduce the risk to NZ Defence Force personnel and the civilian population from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These dogs reduce the risk to human life and can identify any suspicious objects faster than traditional ways of searching. They are used prior to high security venues, such as a Royal visit or during the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, but also deployed to Afghanistan to identify IED’s.

Search and rescue dogs
A search and rescue dog can get into small spaces and alert the handler to where there is a person that needs rescued. This is invaluable after natural disaster such as an earthquake or an avalanche. They are also trained to follow a ground scent left behind where a person has walked, as well as scent created by the crushing of soil, vegetation and organisms on the ground. Other dogs are trained to follow air scent and can follow the scent of the lost person through heavy bush, along beaches, lake shores, over farmland and parks, during the day, evening and in the dark. So you see, a dog is not just a dog. It’s a very versatile individual, suitable to serve us in so many ways. No wonder we love them so much.

- Liv Gasland


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