Selecting the Right Service Dog for the Job
At Six-Legs-In-Motion, one of our most important organizational tasks is selecting the right service dog to partner with a person with disabilities. The dog must meet a set of minimum requirements – a solid temperament, impeccable manners, and proficiency at basic obedience. The dog must also be skilled at performing specific tasks for the person he/she is matched with. For example, it wouldn’t be appropriate to team up a 35 pounds dog with a 200 pound person who needs assistance with balance.
Guide Dogs for the Blind typically selects and trains small size Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and their crosses. These dogs are usually good natured, high trainable and not too big, making them an ideal choice for the majority of their clients. This was not always the case. For many years, GDB relied on German Shepherd, but as their client base changed, so did the breed of dog. A strong dog like a German Shepherd might have been a good choice for a young male soldier blinded in war, but a docile, easy-to-handle dog is a better choice for an older person with macular degeneration. The selection of a dog is not easy. At GDB, only 50% of the purpose-bred dogs actually make it as guide dogs. This statistic is even worse for non-purpose bred dogs, such as dogs coming from shelters, rescue organizations and private breeders.
How did Echo and I team up? First, I identified specific tasks a service dog could help me with, including climbing up and down stairs, walking up or downhill, hiking, pulling a bike (bikejoring), pulling me on skis (skijoring) and balance. I needed a large and strong dog with stamina, but I also needed a docile dog that would be friendly with people and other dogs. My search for the perfect dog led me to the Alaskan Malamute breed. On a trip to Alaska, I had met two Alaskan Malamutes, Aurora and Borealis. I was very impressed by these dogs, by their size and good disposition. After an extensive search of breeders all around the country, I found the perfect breeder with the right philosophy in Lake Tahoe — practically in my backyard. Echo joined my family as a 7 week-old puppy. Now he’s a year old and he’s still in training. He’s progressing nicely, and it is my hope that he will pass the equivalent of the Assistant Dogs International public access test soon. A big dog like Echo might be “too much dog” for many people with disabilities, but his strength and temperament are a good match for my needs. At Six-Legs-in-Motion, we’ll assist clients to find the dog that’s right for them.