Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Can people with Lupus (and other autoimmune/auto-inflammatory conditions) get service/assistance dogs?

9 months old

This is the second post in a series answering some of the most common search queries I receive on my blog. The first one was about raw feeding. Also, let me say that I am not sure whether I have Lupus or possibly an auto-inflammatory disease, but the following advice still stands, and can be applied to many other people considering an assistance dog.


The basic answer to the question is yes, a person with lupus can have an assistance/service dog, however it isn't quite as simple as a yes/no answer. In order to have an assistance dog you must be disabled by your illness. This is an accepted definition of disabled:

An individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
So if you have a lupus diagnosis (or another autoimmune disease) but it is well under control and having a service dog (we call them assistance dogs here in Australia) will not suddenly bring you massive independence, and help you at home too.... then let me suggest that you will not fit the full legal description of disabled. It is very important to be sure that you are disabled. Would you qualify for your countries disability pension/social security benefits? It is important because legal challenges to assistance dog handlers do happen, especially if you stand up for your right to be in a place, and owners of shops do occasionally take handlers to court (especially in the US, but there is a well known case here in Australia too). So you must make sure that you are indeed truly disabled before seriously considering getting yourself a dog to help out. The best advice is to actually assume that one day you will have a legal challenge to your public access and will have to prove to the court that you are disabled. The definition of an assistance/service dog is very much based around the fact that its handler is disabled:

An assistance (or service) dog is a highly trained dog who works with a disabled handler in order to help alleviate that handler's disability.

So if you believe you are disabled by your illness, then legally you are on the right footing, but there is more to consider.

Keeping a dog takes a fair bit of work - it's not like they run themselves like a wheelchair or crutches - and it's significantly more than a normal pet dog. They need the very best of equipment, food and veterinary care.  They also will need training maintenance, even if they are fully taught when they come to you. Do your research and if you think that the benefit of having an assistance dog is going to easily outweigh the care you will need to give, well now we're getting somewhere!

Think of some of the tasks you would want your dog to do for you. Properly trained dogs are smart and able to carry out an amazing array of tasks, but it is important to consider that just because a dog can be trained to do something, it isn't necessarily right to have the dog do it. Some tasks can put too much physical strain on your dog and significantly shorten its working life. If you are getting your dog from a program then they will be doing that final training for you, and shouldn't let you harm your dog. But if you are planning on training in conjunction with a program, or if you are planning on training yourself, you must keep this in mind - just because I can train it, should I? For instance, instead of having the dog pull you up from your chair, train it to go retrieve a cane on cue. A good guideline is to think of three main tasks you would want the dog to do for you - those are the recommendations for any service/assistance dog by Assistance Dogs International. If you can't think of three things to make your life easier, then really, you're not going to make full use of a dog (mind you, this is for people with a chronic disease, for some other conditions like epilepsy, one task might change their life).

A photo of Knightley picking up my sunglasses for me. He is
getting good at picking up mostly anything I want him to -
inside the house that is. If you do want to train your own dog,
don't expect your dog to be able to do this type of assistance
 retrieve at 9 months old like Knightley. He is a little ahead
of schedule at the moment! He doesn't get it in public yet - I am
having to teach it from the beginning all over again there.
I'll give you a quick picture of what Knightley (my dog) is doing for me at 9 months of age. He will pick up objects for me at home on cue, although we haven't worked on tricky ones like credit cards and coins yet. He will pick up the strap of my handbag, and we are working on picking up my crutches. He isn't good at picking things up in public yet, he doesn't have the focus for it yet. He is starting to accompany me to our local shops occasionally for training, and we do a *very small* amount of forward momentum work, especially as we leave and there is a little rise to get out of the shops. Until his joints are fully grown at 18 months of age it isn't safe to let him do much of either that or counter-balance work. However, I can tell from these small experiences that having Knightley with me will definitely give me the option of public transport once again (that was an aim), as well as increasing my stamina and independence when out shopping etc (I haven't really shopped on my own for nearly four years). Another task I want to train in the future is to teach him to lean against me when I am standing for a period of time to give me some support, in either a sit or stand. More tasks will be helping me when I have a migraine by doing basic guiding (like a guide dog) as my migraines can be blinding. I am also training him to do deep pressure, (which is usually a psychiatric service dog technique), and have him lie in certain positions on my lap and chest to warm me, calm me, and relieve pain and cramps. While advanced training doesn't start until 1 year of age at most programs (or even 18 months), as I know Knightley is always going to be mine, and since I already know what I want Knightley to do for me, it means that I can begin to train the simpler tasks that will make a real impact on my life at an earlier age.

So, the answer is yes, people with lupus certainly can get service/assistance dogs. However, it basically depends how sick you are and if you are legally disabled. Further considerations are whether the dog is really going to make a big impact on your life, whether the dog's care is less onerous than the benefit it will give you and whether there are clear tasks you can think of that won't endanger the dog but will alleviate your disability. Speaking for myself, Knightley has already made a huge impact in my life and as he matures and learns more it will be even more massive.

If you think the various points I have mentioned sound like they apply to you, and the rest sound reasonable... then certainly look further into getting yourself an assistance dog. The Yahoo group "assistance-dogs" is a great resource for further information, as is http://www.servicedogcentral.org. Sue Ailsby's Training Levels (see the tab named Training Levels at the top of this page for more information) is a fantastic training system for those who want to train their own assistance dog, and her new books feature a wonderfully easy to teach assistance retrieve. Good luck!

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