Can American Alsatian dogs be Assistance Dogs?
If American Alsatian dogs are NOT working dogs how can they be successful as assistance dogs?Just a personal note, there are three types of assistance dogs:
1.) guide dogs
2.) hearing dogs
3.) service dogs
Typically, all types of assistance dogs have been evaluated for a very specific set of scores on various temperament tests created to ideally show a dog's potential for successful assistance dog work. Many of these tests are very similar to one another and trainers typically agree that a potential assistance dog puppy/dog needs to be able to show confidence in various skills in order to be considered as a high potential assistance dog prospect for any of the three types.
- outwardly friendly toward and confident with a friendly stranger
- readily comes to evaluator when called
- remains confident when touched by evaluator in different locations over the body
- readily follows evaluator on lead, changing pace and direction
- remains confident when startled by sudden sights or sounds
- readily retrieves
- interested in high value food reward
- remains confident when walked on different surfaces, including stairs
- remains confident when walking/running people and dogs pass by
Here is a fun video to show you some of the tests and responses of high scoring puppies showing good potential assistance dog abilities early in life.
However, just because everyone seems to have agreed on a certain type of dog as the best potential assistance dog, is that the only type of dog that can perform well as an assistance dog? Is there room for a different type of assistance dog personality, especially for disabilities that need a dog to respond to human emotion/hormone changes?
The Dire Wolf Project created DireWolf Guardians because we absolutely believe that the uniquely mellow and bonded companion dog temperament of the American Alsatian dog has some serious potential to be one of the best dog breeds available for those hidden disabilities that require the dog to not only bond strongly with the handler, but also be in tune and aware of subtle changes in a person's emotional or hormonal state.Let me simply say that just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn't mean it is the only way. In fact, quite possibly, being open to a different way might yield some amazing results in the long run that can truly make a difference for those suffering the painful effects of trauma, abuse, or terror.
But, that means working with a dog breed that doesn't typically have the same reactions as the willing working dogs so often chosen as assistance dogs. One of the most important aspects of an assistance dog is its ability to remain calm, collected, focused, and confident in any environment or situation it may find itself. But, American Alsatian dogs are not typically bold and outgoing, so why in the world would they have the potential required for being great assistance dogs in the public arena? Socialization training that works for a bold, outgoing, ready-to-go working dog is just not going to work for a highly alert, sensitive, submissive, not as initially confident American Alsatian dog. In fact, the puppy training and discipline that is needed to train a bolder dog isn't going to work for a calm thinker like our American Alsatian dogs.
Think of it this way... it is just as easy to take a bold, confident, active dog and teach it to settle and focus, as it is to take a less confident, but calm, bonded dog and teach it to ignore and accept. The two are almost exact opposites and require much different socialization training techniques, especially as puppies, but, I submit to you, that the calm, thinking, bonded type of dog will produce better results in the long run for the person in need because its ability to attend to the task is innately higher than the innately busy, bold, working type that was trained to curb its active tendencies.
Furthermore, I would like to say that different types of assistance dogs do not all require the same type of temperament. A hearing dog is better if it possesses a bit of energy and pep. This is because the hearing dog needs to be able to jump up at a moment's notice whenever the practiced sound is heard. This type of dog must be willing to be "on" whenever that sound occurs. In contrast, a guide dog must be particularly calm and patient, as well as spectacularly intelligent to be able to make rational decisions such as move left or right around an object or stop instead of walk around a door that suddenly opens. They must be able to focus constantly when walking due to the various unforeseen obstacles that can present themselves navigating around our communities. Only very special dogs have what it takes to perform at this high level. A PTSD service dog must be highly sensitive to human emotion. In many cases, a mobility service dog must be able to retrieve. But, a hearing dog isn't typically required to retrieve and a PTSD dog's training requirements change based on the person's individual needs.
Also, it is important to note that many assistance dog training facilities require a potential assistance dog to be openly friendly and confident when being handled, walked, and manipulated by a stranger. I disagree with this, especially for a PTSD dog. The reason why is that no one should pet or handle your assistance dog at any time, so the requirement for every potential service dog to be able to handle this situation with innate confidence is unnecessary. In fact, there is only one scenario in which I can imagine an assistance dog would be required to directly interact with others specifically for the benefit of the handler. That would be when a medical response dog is trained to "go get help". Otherwise, no one should touch or approach your assistance dog at any time while it is working.
Now, that doesn't mean it won't happen and the general public can be rude or just plain ignorant. So, yes, an assistance dog must learn through socialization to deal with the public at large. But, in my opinion, this does not require a dog to be openly friendly and a less than confident dog can gain in confidence through proper socialization training techniques as I described in the previous post in this unit and still perform excellently as an assistance dog when going anywhere in public.
That being said, not all American Alsatian dogs are cut out to be assistance dogs. Those American Alsatian dogs that are more confident and generally accepting of strangers, yet still calm and sensitive, submissive but intelligent, alert and focused, are the ideal.DireWolf Guardians is committed to working with the unique companion dog temperament of the American Alsatian dog to aid our fellow humans who have faced hardships that require a highly-trained dog to assist them through some of the most challenging aspects of their lives. (Visit our website at: www.direwolfguardians.com or our Facebook page: @direwolfguardians for more information.)
There have already been several American Alsatian dogs certified through DireWolf Guardians that are successfully working as assistance dogs. Jennifer Stoeckl has personally trained four assistance dogs to completion with a fifth currently in training. (a hearing dog, two PTSD service dogs, a mobility dog, and an autism support service dog) Many owners have been successful with their own training.
American Alsatian dogs train differently, no doubt. They have more sensitive feelings and aren't as overtly confident and bold as the typical working dog chosen for assistance dog work. So, if you are considering an American Alsatian dog as an assistance dog, especially if you plan to train the dog yourself, please understand the different training requirements involved before you commit.
As always, we are here to help. If you have trouble and need support, all you need to do is ask.