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10 Service Dog Tasks for Handlers With Wheelchairs

Even though you may be aware that Service Dogs can help disabled individuals who use wheelchairs 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.

Service Dog (SD) Stephen helps to cross his partner’s ankles.

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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

 

SD Teddie opens a door using a tug.

5. 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.

6. 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.

 

SD Dale turns off the lights using a standard switch on the wall.

7. 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.

8. 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.

SD Dale unloads clothes from the dryer.

 

 

9. 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.

10. 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.

SD Teddie places a spoon into the sink.

 

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.

 

Learn more about voluntary, community-defined training and behavior standards for handlers and their Service Dogs at USSDR.org

 

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Comments

  • Carol Davenport January 18, 2016

    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.

    reply
  • Todd Wilson October 20, 2021

    Trying to train my Saint Bernard for stabilizing me and walking with me in power chair. Maybe help pull me if stuck. I am not wheel chair Bound. I just need for Mobility and getting around. Not using my Best friend to be pulling me around. I mean actually not for me but maybe if I can teach him how. It can be repeated. He is. Dry healthy and strong enough. He is very Trained Off leash. Hand Signals, Verbal, and Claps. He was train on leash until about six months. And he was then able to learn off leash. So I haven’t really used a Harness at all. My problem I for see, is that he is not Food driven at all. He would do more for fresh water than he would for food. He gets Fresh food every morning at 9am and Pedigree Dry left out at all times. He is Not in anyway heavy he is actually lean. He is 36-38 inches at the shoulder so he is Very Tall and athletic. He opens the door to come back in from outside. He loves walking with chair. But he gets praised for doing the right things by jumping and darting while I’m praising him is the reason I have been able to train him. So teaching him to be at my side for stability, is kinda counter to what he likes to do. Maybe a harness on him he may understand he is only working when it is on. And let him loose and run when it comes off. Any training tips will help. I am retired from the postal service. My wife is a teacher so the dog and I are together 24 hrs a day. Everyday. I need to get this training done so we can get out in public more.
    I really just want to get my normal life back. Which was walking around everyday talking to people. The Mobility Scooter and my Saint can do that if I can get him trained up. Thank you in advance for any tips. I can give some myself for potty training, hand training, or clap and snaps for signals. Dogs love to learn, it’s just finding out how to train them to do what you want them to. Once it clicks they love. The first time he opened the door himself, he came in so proud of himself
    Ike he was showing off. He left the door wide open

    reply

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