Since I started Houndswag LLC and began chatting everywhere about the dooloop, I’ve heard countless stories from pet parents about the dogs who share their homes and hearts. It’s been fantastic to learn about all of the family and working dogs who lend us their strength and love – helping us live safer, fuller and healthier lives.
Because July is Disability Pride Month, I want to give an especially loud shout-out to assistance dogs. They are doing some really remarkable sh*t!
It seems like every week we’re watching in real time as hounds search for victims of disaster. Whether it’s a collapsed building or an earthquake -- they are there. They comb through the woods for lost children. They sniff out COVID and cancer. They are the eyes, ears and hands for humans with disabilities. Their extra-keen senses are alert to seizures and panic attacks even before they strike the humans they protect. It’s their superpower!
Here are 6 ways these incredible assistance dogs are on the job, helping people.
1. Service dogs: Partners in life
Some dogs are literally a lifeline for their human companions. They guide the blind, pull wheelchairs, act as ears for the deaf, provide emotional support for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sniff out dangerous allergens – there is too much to list! The Americans with Disabilities Act describes service dogs as animals who are specifically trained to assist a person with a disability. Because their skills are absolutely essential, they can legally follow (or lead) their human partner anywhere and can’t be turned away.
If you see a dog hard at work in their service vest, we can’t blame you for wanting to love on them. But just enjoy the glow of admiration and watch them from a distance -- or ask their person for permission before you walk up. Don’t be offended if you are asked not to disturb a service dog’s focus. These dogs are on the clock. It’s cool.
2. Therapy dogs have love to share
The next time a dog walks into a room, just look around. You’ll see people stop and smile. That instant emotional connection helps therapy dogs bring calm and comfort to folks who need it. Some dogs have full-time jobs at schools, nursing homes, and medical offices, helping anyone who needs a moment of loving calm. Others are specifically called in to comfort people during a public tragedy. Some therapy dogs are the family pets of dedicated volunteers who take them anywhere patient or residents can benefit from a few moments of affection and love.
Therapy dogs are right there on the job, leaning up against people who need someone to hold, accepting pets from a person who need a quiet moment of distraction, and even allowing kids to use their fur to wipe away tears.
Our favorite dentist put a pooch on laps before saying “open wide!” Just saying…it was the dog we showed up for, not the dental work!
Some colleges bring in puppies so students can de-stress during finals week. (Maybe make finals week less stressful? But I digress….)
3. Emotional support dogs have a steady paw and a loving heart
Sometimes even well-meant human company just doesn’t cut it when we’re sad. The nonjudgmental love of a dog may be just what the doctor ordered for a lonely or stressed child or adult.
Technically, an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a personal pet whose presence has been prescribed by a licensed therapist. These dogs rock LOVE and help stabilize the health of people who suffer from emotional or mental disabilities simply by being a trusted companion. Emotional support animals don’t have the legal right to accompany their human partner everywhere, but under the Fair Housing Act, landlords have to provide reasonable accommodations for a tenant with an emotional support pet.
Because love comes pretty much naturally to dogs, an emotional support dog doesn’t have to have specific task training. Obedience training helps a lot, though. A well-behaved dog is more likely to be voluntarily welcomed by family and friends, or in public spaces.
In fact, Switzerland used to require a dog training course of every dog parent! While it’s no longer mandatory, it is still highly recommended. In Switzerland you’ll see companion dogs on public transportation, public spaces, and even in restaurants, close at their best human’s side. With dogs welcome nearly everywhere, no one has ever said that Switzerland’s not immaculate!
4. Detection dogs sniff out both delicacies and danger.
Talk about a superpower! These super-sniffers work side-by-side with the police, military, rescue organizations and even businesses. From bombs to bedbugs, detection dogs are trained to sniff out illegal drugs, people trapped under rubble, underwater cadavers, wildlife, lost pets, paper money, contraband, pipeline leaks, and more. At airport screenings, the Labrador retrievers and beagles (among other breeds) make us smile with their soft eyes and ears, but their keen noses add extra safety and speed in the security line.
One handsome hound called me out for a contraband apple after an overseas flight. Pretty embarrassing -- but impressive, all the same!
Some detection dogs smell out delicacies rather than danger. The rare truffle, a delicious and valuable underground fungus, is snuffled out by trained dogs. Check out this cool video about the North American Truffle Dog Championship. Both family pets and specialty breeds can learn to sniff their way to truffle-hunting success.
5. Police and military dogs have their paws on the front line
Tall-and-proud German Shepherds and Malinois come to mind, although all sorts of stalwart dogs find themselves in the law enforcement profession. Police and military dogs are trained specifically to assist law-enforcement and military personnel in the line of duty. In addition to protecting their handlers, some of these dogs have an incredibly wide range of skills, including detection and search and rescue.
Law enforcement K-9’s help inspire kids to talk to police handlers at school demonstrations and community special events. Dogs are dogs -- even when they wear a badge.
6. Search-and-rescue dogs harness hope
When disaster strikes, search dogs are there to point the way for human rescuers. Did you know that a dog’s sense of smell is over 10,000 times as acute as ours? They may be able to even sniff out the passage of time by following a scent from weaker (older) to stronger (newer). When we see a search and rescue dog on the scene, we know that every possible step is being taken.
It takes more than a great nose and fantastic hearing for a dog to be trusted in rescue situations. It can take up to 2 ½ years to train an expert search and rescue (SAR) team. The search dog and handler need an incredibly understanding bond so they can shut out distractions in stressful and sometimes life-threatening situations.
Amazingly, most SAR teams are volunteers, giving up thousands of hours to training and rescue calls, and even financing the cost of training, equipment, and travel themselves. For them, it’s not a job, it’s a passion.
Could my family dog learn to be an assistance animal?
Our dogs are our own personal heroes, but if you have noticed that your dog has extraordinary drive and smarts or has an extra-gentle personality, you may have wondered you could help your community together as a search-and-rescue or pet therapy team.
If you are dreaming of big things for you and your dog, introductory obedience classes are a great first step. A local Canine Good Citizen (CGC) training class can help you discover how comfortable you and your dog are around strangers and crowds.
What will your dog learn as a CGC? Check it out!
It’s not hard to find professional associations to give you the specialized training and guidance you’ll need:
- Assistance Dogs International, Inc. (ADI), is a worldwide coalition of non-profit programs that train and place Assistance Dogs. They have a searchable database of organizations, worldwide.
- Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States can get your started on a SARs volunteer journey.
- The American Kennel Club has a list of Therapy Dog programs if you and your dog want to share care and comfort.
Inspired? You’ll find unbelievable stories about the heroes at both ends of the leash at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards.
There is something canine heroes can’t do. It has to do with poo.
Dogs may have keen noses and huge hearts -- but they don’t have thumbs. There’s just no way for them to deal with their own daily poo or two.
The dooloop makes it easy for us to manage this unglamorous service for them. Poo pick-up is a gotta-do task. Dog waste contaminates waterways. It also passes parasites from one pup to another, or to wildlife, and it’s just plain unacceptable to leave it for neighbors or service employees to pick up.
No one wants to lug a bag of sh*t around in their hand or pocket until they find a waste can. With the dooloop clipped to your dog’s leash, you don’t have to. Just knot the bag, sling it through the dooloop, and enjoy your walk.
FWIW, I once watched a dog pee-mark a full poo-bag that someone had dropped on the ground to pick up later. I thought, “That’s karma baby! Keep that sh*t with you!”
Consider the dooloop your own tiny superpower. It may not seem heroic, but it is! Lessen your dog’s pawprint on the earth with a cleaner environment for all and (bonus points) support an ethically based, woman-created small business.
We live and die together on this small, gorgeous planet, so let’s aspire to care about one another and leave no trace. Especially for small sh*t like this.
Spread peace, not poo.