K9 Corner, Dec. 19

Published 8:44 am Tuesday, December 19, 2017


In this season of giving, I would like to report on the activities of service dogs and how much they give to their owners in the way of comfort, support and, in some cases, instructions like “Stop! Watch and wait!” These are mainly mixed breed shelter dogs selected for special training because they are around two years old and seem active, confident and friendly. Some dogs in the Boyle County Humane Shelter even show exceptional intelligence which is also a plus.

I found an article in the August/September issue of Dogster titled “Amazing Hearing Assistance Dogs make life easier for their Humans” by Crystal Gibson. She refers to the “Dogs for the Deaf” which caught my eye since we have the Kentucky School for the Deaf right here in Danville. In checking the Internet, I learned that since publication, the name of the organization has been changed to Dogs for Better Lives, a nonprofit, headquartered in Oregon and providing trained assistance dogs since 1977.

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I was interested to read how the selected dogs come from high kill shelters and are mainly All American-mixed breeds. I would like to affirm that the most intelligent dog in my pack (years ago) was a mixed breed that was abandoned at the age of six weeks. A real problem-solver and a real challenge to keep her busy and out of mischief. Unfortunately assistance dogs were just coming to light so the only job opening for her was a guide dog for the blind and she was half an inch too small. 

The hearing-assistance dog is taught to respond to 1) fire and smoke alarms; 2) the telephone; 3) the oven timer; 4) the alarm clock; 5) a doorbell or knock at the door; 6) the owner’s name being called; 7) a baby’s cry. If the person receiving the dog has other special needs, that problem is addressed as well.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that dogs trained to help the deaf will also alert the owner of danger when walking. This school in Oregon does not specifically train their animals to do this, but relies on the intelligence of the dog to be aware of approaching hazards and the dog’s body language to alert the handler to look in the direction the dog is looking. Yes, trained assistance dogs learn that when they are wearing their identification jackets or their special harnesses that they are “on duty” and must concentrate on their job.

The Dogs for Better Lives state that only one dog out of four chosen actually graduate from the program. However the school immediately finds suitable homes for the rejects offering them as “Career Change Dogs.” As healthy, happy, obedience trained animals, they make wonderful pets and are in much demand in the area. 

Here in Boyle County, dogs selected for the Mutts with Manners program are evaluated during their training period and the few that qualify are offered to a special training school out of state to learn to assist our soldiers coming home with disabilities.