In past weeks we’ve looked at both therapy and service dogs. This week let’s dive into the third category of “people helping” dogs: companion (or support) dogs.
As with service dogs, there is a one-to-one relationship between the companion dog and its owner. So what are the differences between a service dog and a companion dog? To a large extent it comes down to the level of training and accessibility the law offers. People who require a companion dog are looking for dogs with a great temperament, good obedience and are physically (and mentally) fit to help them but are often not looking for the accessibility that the law provides to service dog owners. In the eyes of the law, companion dogs are just regular dogs and, as such, have access only to dog-friendly places.
This category of “help” dog has grown in recent years mainly due to increased stress-related problems that people are suffering from. Whether it is the more severe situation such as PTSD or anxiety of varying degrees, people are finding that companion dogs are good at helping them do physical activities or reduce their stress level by providing the mental support they need. Having a furry friend with you at all times has allowed people to reduce the feeling of isolation they may have felt prior to having the dog, given them a feeling of comfort when getting out into the outside world or have found a friend to help them around the home with the basics of life.
Organizations such as “Dogs with Wings”, based in Edmonton (www.dogswithwings.ca) provide trained companion dogs to clients at no cost but you may need to be prepared to wait upwards of two years if you decide to try this route. Not everyone who applies for a companion dog from such organizations will be successful so it’s best to check the fine detail before applying. Often people already have dogs but want them trained for better obedience to become companion dogs. It’s worth checking out the better, more recognized dog training establishments and ask them whether, through group or private one-on-one training, they can train your dog to become a companion dog for the specific requirements you have.
All breeds of dog have the potential to become companion dogs. The breed that works best for you will be determined by what you need the dog to do: is there a need for physical help like opening cupboard doors or refrigerator doors? If so, a medium/ large breed may prove a better choice. If, however, it is simply companionship you need, then the physique of the dog is likely going to be less relevant. As with all dogs, you will need to budget money for the upkeep of your companion dog. The budget you are able to commit to is part of the decision-making process.
Companion dogs play a key role in helping people cope with their day-to-day challenges. As with service dogs and therapy dogs, they add huge value to people’s lives and god bless them for doing so!