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We are all dogs with a very important job

Most people tend to think of assistance dogs as Labradors or Retrievers, trained to lead blind people or to help wheelchair-users. But with increasing knowledge about different breeds of dogs and their abilities, the range is expanding. And we do not want to be judged as barking mad.

What are dogs at work?

A working service dog is easily identifiable by their vest or harness colour. When we’re working, like most people, we don’t want to be bothered or intentionally distracted. Our vest colour is important because it indicates to places that under the Equality Act 2010 we are allowed where other dogs are not normally allowed to go, like restaurants, theatres and shops, we are specially trained. We know what we are doing.

We’re in this together

All of us service dogs have been given a different harness colour, according to the support we provide. Here is a definitive guide to help you.

  • Assistance dogs trained by Canine Partners wear purple; they assist wheelchair-users with daily tasks such as unloading the washing machine, fetching a phone, opening or closing doors, shopping or holding cash.
  • Medical detection dogs will wear red; they detect when blood sugar levels fall low for people who are diabetic; they can then warn their owner of an impending ‘hypo’, alerting them for the need for immediate glucose to rapidly raise blood sugar.
  • Assistance in disability dogs help people with disabilities with daily tasks but are trained by living with their disabled owner. They wear a bright red harness.
  • Guide dogs will wear fluorescent strips around a white harness. They help people who are blind and visually-impaired, both in and out of the home, directing them to avoid obstacles, stopping at kerbs until a command to cross is given and being aware of their environment so the owner doesn’t bump into things.
  • Hearing dogs wear a burgundy harness; they will hear sounds and danger signals such as a fire or intruder alarm, a crying baby, the telephone and doorbell. On hearing the sound, the dog will touch their owner and lead them toward the noise.,
  • Seizure alert dogs wear blue. These dogs can detect an epileptic seizure up to 50 minutes before it happens, again alerting their owner to prevent danger.
  • Buddy dogs wear bright blue; these are guide dogs which haven’t qualified to work as mobility assistance dogs. They contribute to the sensory and physical development of blind and partially-sighted children and young people.
  • Dogs supporting children with autism wear blue; they can help children with autism feel relaxed by offering ‘head-rest’: they place their head on the child with autism’s knee which can provide comfort.

Sketch showing all the different types of guide dogs and their different colours

What kind of dog can be a service dog?

Traditionally, service dogs were German Shepherds, Labradors and Golden Retrievers. However – and this may sound like a dogmatic view – it is not unusual now to find Mastiffs being used for mobility work or Chihuahuas working as diabetic or seizure alert dogs.

Breeds with the ability to detect seizures include Golden Retriever, Standard Poodle, German Shepherd, Akita, Rough Collie, Rottweiler, Cairn Terrier and Great Pyrenees.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are great at helping their owners to fight depression, especially as they love to cuddle.

Labradors and Retrievers are usually chosen as guide dogs, but a Poodle can also perform the role.

Labradors and Golden Retrievers are often selected as hearing dogs, but Cocker Spaniels, Yorkshire Terriers and Miniature Poodles can also do the job. Our mixed breed friends from animal shelters are often trained as hearing dogs due to their personality and temperament.

This is not a bone of contention; as the jobs market for us expands, so does the range of breeds and we can all give assistance with disability awareness.

For more information please contact:

Disability Awareness Training