Dogs with jobs | Wanaka Sun column

Pictured: NZ Epilepsy Assist Dog

Wanaka Sun column by Leone Ward

I would like to introduce you to some of the many jobs that our dogs perform to assist us and enhance our lives.

Aside from the usual dog jobs often seen on television like those that work for Police, Corrections, Customs and MPI, there are many other ways in which our best friend the dog enhances our lives.

There are guide dogs (please don’t call them blind dogs they can see perfectly well), hearing dogs (not deaf dogs), and mobility dogs, all of which do an amazing job to enhance their owners’ lives.

Autism dogs assist primarily children who have a hard time understanding the world as the rest of us see it and these dogs help calm and lessen stressful times. Likewise Epilepsy Assist dogs have a calming effect on their owners and it is often noted that when placed with their recipient, seizures reduce.  

In addition these dogs can press an alert button to get help, fetch a phone or simply lay down and stay beside a person until the seizure has passed.  In some cases dogs which have been trained as Seizure Alert dogs tell the owner they are about to have a seizure ahead of time.

Diabetes alert dogs assist people with Type 1 diabetes to prevent them going into a coma and allergy alert dogs can warn owners if products have the ingredients they are highly allergic to, like peanuts.

Cancer detection dogs is an area that I have recently been studying and studies at universities have shown in some cases the dogs can locate cancer cells earlier than some medical tests.  In the UK they are currently repeating a study completed in Italy where dogs have been found to have a 98 percent reliability rate in sniffing out prostate cancer in men.

This involved two German shepherds sniffing the urine of 900 men - 360 with prostate cancer and 540 without. Scientists found that dog one got it right in 98.7 percent of cases, while for dog two this was 97.6 percent.  Other studies have shown excellent results also for ovarian, bowel and melanoma to mention a few.

Medically, dogs are also being used to find superbugs in a hospital in Canada and have been known to detect other illnesses and conditions in early stages with more studies ongoing.

Dogs have been used for decades to find lost or buried people and are now also used to find truffles, diseases in plants, trees, beehives and to locate bedbugs.

More recently dogs are being used to assist people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) especially with returned servicemen and women, as well as other emotional disorders.  These are known as emotional support dogs and are becoming more widely used.

Another area similar to this is outreach therapy dogs.  These dogs go into hospitals, rest homes, prisons and other facilities.  They also go into schools, and are used for training children how to approach dogs and assist those who are struggling with reading by lying quietly beside the children while they read a story to the dog.  They have not only a calming influence but also are unable to judge, so children often feel more relaxed and happy while reading and the results have often been remarkable.  

Wanaka has an Outreach Therapy Pets program started by Janine Taylor who was involved with a program in Northland for many years.  This program is funded by St John and SPCA and Janine tells me she is currently looking for new dogs to assist. So if you want to use your dog to assist others this would be a great opportunity.

For more information on Wanaka Outreach Therapy Dogs you can contact Janine on 021 402 469.

For information or canine behaviour assistance contact

Pictured: Pictured: NZ Epilepsy Assist Dog

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