A mobility assistance dog is a service dog trained to assist a physically disabled person who has mobility issues, which may include being wheelchair-dependent. After guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs are probably the most familiar type of assistance dog to the general public. Part of that’s because these service dogs often wear harnesses that make them more identifiable. Contrary to popular belief, assistance dogs don’t have official uniforms and aren’t required to be visibly identified in any way.
Also, human partners of mobility assistance dogs are frequently in wheelchairs or otherwise physically disabled in visible ways. That too makes these dogs more noticeable, as opposed to those that mitigate “invisible” or less obvious disabilities, such as psychiatric service dogs, seizure dogs, diabetic alert dogs, or allergen detection service dogs.
What Are Mobility Assistance Dogs?
“Mobility assistance dog” is a somewhat broad category. First and foremost, these dogs help people with disabilities safely get from place to place. Many other types of assistance dog perform a lot of the same tasks as mobility assistance dogs, and many mobility assistance dogs do some of the same things others do.
These service dogs may be partnered with individuals who can or can’t walk; who use mobility devices like wheelchairs, scooters, canes, braces, crutches, or walkers part or all of the time; who have prosthetic limbs; or who have any of a wide variety of other conditions interfering with locomotion. Mobility assistance dogs work with people who have missing limbs, brain or spinal injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, spina bifida, severe arthritis, ataxia, and a variety of other impairments and disorders.
Assistance dogs come in all breeds and sizes. But because of the physical demands made on this type of service dog, mobility assistance dogs are almost always medium or large, especially strong breeds.
Mobility Assistance Dog Tasks
Like any other type of assistance dog, mobility dogs can be trained to do all sorts of helpful things to make the lives of their partners easier and better, enhancing independence and quality of life. Any assistance dog is, by definition, one that mitigates the difficulties of a person with a disability in specific, task-oriented ways for which they are trained. That’s why they’re considered working dogs, not pets.
Acquiring an assistance dog is a personalized process. They’re taught to do the particular tasks their human partner will rely on them for. So, the following list of common jobs performed by mobility assistance dogs is a bit of a generalization. These are things many of these service dogs do, but it certainly isn’t all they can do, nor does every one do all of these.
Typical mobility assistance dog tasks include:
- Providing stabilizing support for people with balance, strength, coordination, or disorientation problems, making mobility difficult and/or falls a major risk
- Helping their partner get into and out of a wheelchair or vehicle
- Pulling a wheelchair up a ramp
- Redirecting away from environmental dangers
- Opening and closing doors
- Opening and closing drawers and cabinets
- Pushing buttons to open automatic doors or summon elevators
- Turning lights on and off
- Picking up dropped items or other things on the floor
- Retrieving items
- Carrying items in a canine backpack
- Helping with dressing and undressing
- Providing companionship, comfort, and emotional support
Emergency Help Provided by Mobility Assistance Dogs
In addition to the above tasks, mobility assistance dogs may be further trained to come to their partner’s aid during a medical crisis. These sort of responsibilities are tailored to the individual’s conditions, general health, and personal needs.
Some examples of emergency aid that mobility assistance dogs can provide include:
- Rolling their partner over onto their side
- Burrowing under their partner’s legs to elevate blood pressure
- Lying across their partner’s chest to hold them down
- Guarding their immobilized, unconscious, or unresponsive partner until help arrives
- Alerting people to the need for emergency medical attention
- Signaling for help via an emergency alert device
Acquiring a Mobility Assistance Dog
If you think you or a loved one might benefit from partnering with a mobility assistance dog, it’ll take some research to arrive at the right decision. Such partnerships require a significant time and financial investment. But when the decision to partner is made responsibly, and the perfect match is found through a reputable provider, the results are positively life-changing!
Next, take a look at our article Is an Assistance Dog Right for You? There’s lots of useful information in it, as well as additional links to facilitate further research.