By Linda Cole
When you think of service dogs, it’s the German Shepherd or Golden Retriever that comes to mind, not a huge dog like a Great Dane. However, this breed is finding a place as a service dog precisely because of their size. The Service Dog Project has been training these massive dogs to assist children and help war veterans have a better quality of life, and you can follow the development of six puppies on two different puppy cams.
The Great Dane is second only to the Irish Wolfhound when it comes to height. This working dog is from the mastiff group, and known as the “Apollo of all dogs” because evidence of the breed dates back to 36 B.C. The Great Dane is most likely a combination of the Irish Wolfhound and the old English mastiff, and was used in the early years as a war dog and hunting dog. Regardless of his name, the Great Dane is of German origin. This dog has the stamina that was needed to chase down wild boar and bear, and the strength and courage to stand up to his prey. He has also been used as an estate guard dog.
A service dog is trained to assist their owner with a specific disability. Mobility assistance dogs helps people who suffer from diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, spinal cord disease, stroke and brain injuries, as well as other diseases or conditions that limit a person’s mobility.
The Great Dane is a perfect breed to train as a service dog because of their giant size and gentle personality. Any dog that’s used to help give balance support for their owner needs to be at least 45 percent of the person’s height and 65 percent of their weight. It takes a strong, tall dog to give confidence to someone who needs support to walk and help to regain their balance if they start to fall.
The Service Dog Project trains Great Dane dogs with the unique needs of the person in mind. The training is pretty straightforward for a walker or balance dog. They have to learn how to match the walking speed of their owner and how to stand still if their person falls and needs their assistance to use the harness on the dog to help them stand up. A dog is trained to position themselves to help keep their owner from falling, allowing their owner to lean on them for support.
Because Great Danes don’t require a lot of exercise – just a few walks each day is all he needs – this intelligent breed is a good match for a person with limited mobility. The dogs have a short coat that doesn’t require a lot of grooming, and their large size gives someone more confidence when walking. The dogs are also trained to do specific tasks such as pick up dropped objects, pull wheelchairs, hold open doors, turn on light switches, and even work with people who need crutches to get around.
People with Parkinson’s have periods where they just stop and freeze while walking, and it can cause them to fall. It was discovered that dogs can help break the freeze just by touching the foot or ankle of the Parkinson’s patient, which allows them to move their foot and continue walking. These dogs give physical and emotional support.
The current puppies being trained by the Service Dog Project are Perry, Lola, Ebony, Mia, Willow and Roxanne. Puppy cams let you watch them playing outside on the “puppy hill,” or view them relaxing and sleeping indoors in the evenings.
In 1927, a man named Morris Frank was 20 years old when he lost his sight and his independence. He heard about an American women, Dorothy Eustis, training German Shepherd dogs in Switzerland as guide dogs for the blind, and jumped at the chance to travel to Switzerland to learn how to work with a guide dog. Frank returned to New York City with his guide dog, Buddy. He instructed Buddy to lead him across a busy New York City intersection, with stunned reporters watching. History was made as Buddy skillfully and safely guided Frank to the other side of the street.
We’ve come a long way since that historic street crossing in NYC. Today, service dogs are trained to assist people in a variety of ways. One thing the Great Dane brings to the table is its massive size. Instead of people gawking at a person who is having trouble walking, the giant dog is the one that draws the stares. However, for people who depend on their Great Dane dog for emotional and physical support, their lives have been forever changed by one of the largest dogs in the world.
Top photo by Jon Hurd
Bottom photo by Michele Meyer
Read more articles by Linda Cole
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