We know dogs to be loyal, affectionate companions who are wonders at making us feel better. But does this mean that all dogs could potentially be used as medical dogs?
Any breed of dog in the world could be a medical dog. All it takes is for them to be intelligent and well-trained. And some dogs naturally fit these criteria more readily than others, and that’s why some breeds are more likely to be used as medical dogs.
What is a Medical Dog?
With their impressive sense of smell, eagerness to please, and ability to stay calm in the most troubling of situations, dogs make the perfect sidekick to millions of owners around the world. But there are other ways our canine friends can be useful, and that’s as a medical dog.
A medical dog should not be confused with a seeing-eye dog for the blind or a hearing dog for the deaf, although both serve a wonderful purpose! Nor should they be confused with an emotional support or therapy dog.
Instead, a medical dog is a specially trained dog who can detect sickness, help with day-to-day activities for the disabled, or provide special assistance to those affected by trauma and who may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Children, especially those who have suffered a traumatic event or series of events, including the death of a close family member or abuse, respond particularly well to medical dogs.
How a Medical Dog Can Help
Medical dogs are highly trained dogs that are naturally equipped with skills that make them perfect for their role.
For example, their highly developed sense of smell means that they can detect certain cancers and other diseases, alerting their owners to the need for medical assistance.
Their sensitivity to changes in body temperature and almost imperceptible odor changes in humans mean that medical alert dogs can detect when their owners are about to have a seizure, or to lose consciousness.
They can be trained to bring medicine, to alert someone for help and, most importantly, to warn their owners that a sudden deterioration in health is imminent, so that the owner can act.
For those suffering with PTSD, especially young people and children, dogs not only provide a source of comfort but serve as a lookout, watching for people approaching and standing between them and their owner as a barrier. They can even wake owners up from troubling nightmares.
When the folks at O.T.I.S Love met the medical dogs at Children’s Hospital, the top needs of patients there included having the MD’s showing patients how to get injections, receive oral and IV medicines, as well as assisting the child through more serious procedures such as chemo and surgery, and then helping with recovery.
These skills all help make their owners feel safe, confident, and independent, and can assist in building trusting relationships.
Do Medical Dogs Have to be of a Certain Breed?
No, not at all. In fact, this is a common misconception.
It’s true that some breeds are more commonly used as medical dogs. Labradors are a common choice because they’re intelligent, trainable, loyal, and they love to please. But that doesn’t mean that every Lab makes a great medical dog!
Some people fear working with certain dogs because their breed has a bad reputation. German Shepherds and Pit Bull terriers are often seen as ‘dangerous’ dogs. However, both these breeds make excellent medical dogs as by nature they’re highly intelligent, loyal, and good with people.
There is no such thing as a bad dog. It all comes down to socialization, and how well the dog has been trained.
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Can Any Puppy be Trained to be a Medical Dog?
In theory, yes!
However, because of the need for the dog to be so dependable, it must go through vigorous training for many months for it to be properly trained and fulfil its role as a medical dog.
There are some vital characteristics that all medical dogs must possess for them to begin their training. These include:
Being able to learn new commands and retain the information
Be obedient to their trainers and respond quickly
Be calm in social situations, especially around strangers or in new environments
Be able to repeat specific jobs or tasks in a reliable way
Be able to maintain their focus only on their trainer or owner
While all dogs are wonderful animals who can bring comfort and confidence to their owners, it takes a special level of intelligence and reliability to become a medical dog.
There are children around the country who have been subjected to trauma and are in desperate need of healing. Specially trained Medical Dogs can make a huge difference in their lives. O.T.I.S. is committed to working with children’s hospitals and other organizations to help fund the training of Medical Dogs, spread awareness of their therapeutic abilities, and to increase the demand for Medical Dogs by medical teams.