Although most guiding dogs are purebred, mixed breeds serve plenty of other functions as assistance dogs. One area where mixed breeds actually predominate is hearing dogs.
A hearing dog assists deaf or hard-of-hearing people by alerting them to important sounds such as a smoke alarm, oven timer, or doorbell. They are taught to nudge or paw the person to get their attention, run to the source of the sound, and run back to the person. They keep this up until the person responds. Specific sounds can be added at the person’s request.
Most hearing dogs are small to medium-sized active dogs. A lot seem to be terrier mixes, as they are particularly good at being persistent. They are regular companion dogs except that they keep one ear open for sounds to be signaled at all times. Many of them are shelter dogs who might be too active without a job to do.
Larger mixed breeds (and purebreds) serve as “social” dogs. They partner with handicapped children not to perform any specific physical functions, but to help the youngster fit in socially. Dogs have proven to be strong attractants, and can assist a child who is different in some way to be accepted by his or her peers.
Mixed breeds also appear as general assistance dogs, especially if trained by the owner rather than an agency. They help perform chores such as unloading the laundry, carrying grocery bags, pulling off socks, turning lights on and off. There can be a long wait for helper dogs of any kind, so some owners do take matters into their own hands and train up their own dogs, either on their own or with the help of a trainer.
When thinking of assistance dogs, whether for your own or a family member’s needs or just in appreciation of their contributions, don’t forget to include mixed breeds.
Next time — Strange dog tales