Even though you may be aware that Service Dogs can help wheelchair users to be more independent, you may not know be fully aware of what they actually do to help their partners.

Here are 10 tasks that Mobility Assistance Dogs are frequently trained to perform to help make life easier for partners that use wheelchairs.

  1. Picking up dropped items and retrieval
    Picking up things from the floor can be difficult for those who use wheelchairs, making the ability of a Service Dog to pick up the item extremely useful.Service Dogs can be taught to go get just about any item from its usual location and bring it to their partners, common items for a Service Dog to retrieve include medications and the phone. They can also be asked to pick up new items at the direction of the handler.They can also retrieve mobility devices that are out of reach, such as a cane, crutches, or even a manual wheelchair through the use of a rope or strap, called a tug.
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Service Dog (SD) Stephen helps to cross his partner’s ankles.
  1. Adjust partner’s positioning

Service Dogs are able to help return a slumped partner to an upright position, or place an arm back onto the armrest after it has fallen. They are also able to raise and lower the adjustable footrests of a wheelchair.

  1. Carrying

Service Dogs can help wheelchair users by carrying grocery bags or other items, such as a bottle of water, in their mouths. This can be extremely useful to people who use manual wheelchairs that tie up the user’s hands with propulsion.

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SD Teddie opens a door using a tug.
  1. Opening and closing doors
    Using a tug, Service Dogs are able to pull open various kinds of doors, including regular sized doors, refrigerator doors, and cupboard doors.

On larger doors they are able to close them by standing on their hind legs and pushing with their front paws. Smaller doors can be closed with just the nudge of a nose.

Service Dogs are able to utilize door buttons to operate accessible doors, and even elevator buttons, by pushing the buttons with their nose or paws.

  1. Pulling wheelchair
    Service Dogs are able to help pull their partner in a manual wheelchair, however, they should NEVER be asked to pull a wheelchair up a slope without assistance. This is a controversial task as some people do not feel that it is too physically taxing, however it can be very useful to some.
Dale turns off the lights using a standard switch on the wall.
SD Dale turns off the lights using a standard switch on the wall.
  1. Turning lights on and off
    By standing on their hind legs, larger breed Service Dogs are able to operate light switches with their teeth and paws. All Service Dogs, regardless of size, can be taught to use touch lamps or buttons attached to a lamp, such as those often sold for holiday decorations.
  1. Help to remove clothing
    Service Dogs can be trained to help their human partner remove common clothing items such as shoes, socks, pants and jackets by gently tugging the article of clothing off with their teeth.
Dale unloads clothes from the dryer.
SD Dale unloads clothes from the dryer.
  1. Assisting with laundry
    Service Dogs are able to load/unload front load washing machines and dryers, and they can also place items into a laundry basket and drag the basket from one area to another through the use of a tug. Using the principle of retrieval, they can remove an item from the basket and give it to their partner.
  1. Helping with transferring to and from the wheelchair
    Service Dogs can help a partner to safely transfer to and from their wheelchair, bed, etc., by “bracing” and providing stability. Please note that you should NEVER put your full weight on the dog as it may harm the dog’s skeletal structure over time. If you need routine bracing support you may wish to consider a sturdy harness which can both provide a stable handle for you as well as reducing pressure on your Service Dog.
Teddie places a spoon into the sink.
SD Teddie places a spoon into the sink.
  1. Accessing high counters
    When large breed Service Dogs stand on their hind legs, they are tall enough to reach countertops that may be too high for a wheelchair user. This can allow them to place or retrieve items on the counter, or even to pay a cashier when shopping.

In conclusion, task training Service Dogs for mobility work can be very rewarding — but it’s not easy, especially if you have restricted mobility yourself. We recommend you contact a local trainer near you for help.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great informative article, April. I am currently teaching my dog to turn on light switches with his mouth. I found it helped to put duct tape on it . He already uses ‘tug’ to open and close doors, including the sliding door.

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