Brace and Mobility Support Dogs are a type of Service Dog trained to provide their disabled handler with assistance moving from place to place. This invaluable service is matched only by these dogs’ ability to also help with other chores and tasks, like opening doors or retrieving dropped items. Due to the unique nature of their work, though, Brace and Mobility Support Dogs have special needs. Read on to learn more!
Brace and Mobility Support Dogs, also known as Mobility Support Dogs or Mobility Assistance Dogs, are a special type of Medical Assistance Dog primarily trained to assist their disabled handler with locomotion (defined as moving from one place to another by any means, including on foot or in a wheelchair). Mobility Dogs help people with impaired balance, gait, or coordination to safely walk or regain their footing after a fall, and they help individuals who utilize prosthetics or other assistive devices, including wheelchairs, gain unprecedented levels of independence, freedom and mobility. They are also frequently trained to help their handler with everyday duties that their human partner can’t readily perform because of their disability, or can only perform with difficulty, like picking up dropped items, retrieving out-of-reach objects, and opening/closing doors, drawers and cabinets. Brace and Mobility Support Dogs (BMSDs), also known as Mobility Assistance Dogs, are highly trained Service Dogs partnered with individuals who have a physical impairment, disability or disorder that affects their mobility, ambulation or maneuverability.
People partnered with a Brace and Mobility Support Dog (BMSD) may or may not be able to walk unassisted, and they may or may not be in a wheelchair. Some handlers utilize assistance devices in addition to their Service Dog, such as crutches, walkers, braces, canes, lifts, wheelchairs or scooters, whereas other Brace and Mobility Support Dog users are able to rely solely on the assistance of their dog. No scenario is more or less “valid” or “legitimate” – the function of the brace dog depends on the needs of the handler and the handler’s disability.
The handlers, whether ambulatory or not, often need extra help balancing, remaining stable, getting around, summoning help, monitoring medical equipment/alarms, interacting with the environment, reaching items, maintaining independence and communicating during emergencies. Mobility Support Dogs can be trained to help in all of those areas, as well as many others.
Brace and Mobility Support Dogs Are Specialized Service Animals
All dogs that are partnered with a person with a disability, and that also possess specialized training that directly reduces or mitigates the effect of that person’s disability on their quality of life or ability to function like someone without a disability, are legally defined as “Service Animals.” That definition includes Brace and Mobility Support Dogs, and many of the common tasks brace or mobility dogs perform (like assisting a handler to walk or pulling a wheelchair) are directly mentioned in the Americans With Disabilities Act briefing that details the legal rights of Service Dog teams, as well as in the “Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA” document provided by the Department of Justice.
Under U.S. federal law, Service Animals and their handler (who must, without exception, have a physical, developmental, psychiatric or other disability as defined under United States law), possess certain rights, one of which is the right to access goods and services, including transportation and lodging, without discrimination. Many states and counties also have laws protecting the access rights of Service Dog teams, with some states and/or counties specifically mentioning Brace and Mobility Dogs.
Regular Service Dog Standards Still Apply
Before digging too deeply into everything that makes Mobility Dogs so extraordinary, it’s important to note that all of the service dog training standards and expectations surrounding the manners, conduct, appearance and deportment of all Service Dogs also apply to Brace and Mobility Support Dogs. Assistance Dogs International is a great place to learn about the suggested level of training and skills for all Service Dogs. However, while all BMSDs are Service Dogs, all Service Dogs are most definitely not BMSDs. Due to the rigorous, intensive and extremely precise nature of the work Mobility Assistance Dogs perform for their disabled handlers, there are a few additional recommendations and some very important details to consider that go above and beyond the usual Service Dog requirements and expectations when it comes to Brace and Mobility Support Dog selection, training and upkeep.
In many cases, a Brace and Mobility Support Dog’s handler’s life, physical safety and autonomy depend directly on the task work and training of their Service Dog. While it is always important that all Service Dogs possess the proper behavior, temperament and training to succeed in their specific field, it’s doubly important for brace/mobility dogs (and many other Medical Assistance/Alert/Response Dogs), as their handler’s health and well being rests, solely or in part, on their Service Dog’s ability to perform their job and perform it well, even in distracting or difficult environments and circumstances.
Brace and Mobility Support Dogs Require Highly Specialized Training
Lots of the task work these working dogs perform is extremely physical in nature and a Brace and Mobility Support Dog’s tasks can routinely require meticulous attention to detail, complex behavior chains on the part of the dog, and an extremely high level of precision and exactness. Beyond that, succeeding as a Medical Assistance Dog of any kind, including Mobility Assistance Dogs, usually requires the ability to perform, think and problem solve independently, sometimes without direct handler or trainer guidance. The dog must be able to not only learn the proper protocols, procedures and tasks for mitigating and responding to their handler’s disability, but they must also be able to implement them at home, in regularly visited places, and, periodically, in unfamiliar environments.
A Brace and Mobility Support Dog who is partnered with a person who is medically fragile might have to work during the chaos of an emergency. The dog may have set tasks that must be performed during a medical emergency, and if the Service Dog does not, the handler might become sicker, might enter a deeply altered state of consciousness, might be unable to summon help, or might even die. Some examples of emergency task work regularly performed by BMSDs include:
- Burrowing under an unconscious handler’s legs or lying across their body to elevate their blood pressure
- Nosing their handler over onto their side or into a recovery position
- Dragging a handler who has fallen to a safe spot, or dragging a heavy piece of medical gear to the handler
- Supporting an unsteady or injured handler as they struggle back to their feet or into their wheelchair
- Standing over a fallen and unresponsive handler so that the handler does not get stepped on
- Barking to alert bystanders of the emergency situation and continuing to bark at people and attempting to lead them back to the handler until someone accompanies the Brace and Mobility Support Dog back to their unconscious, unresponsive or symptomatic partner
- Retrieving an emergency-only medicine that’s stored in the fridge
- Running to wake up another person who resides or works in the home and return with them to the disabled individual, if their handler is unresponsive, or if their medical equipment is alarming
- Calling an emergency response team on a special phone if the handler is unconscious, or if the handler’s medical equipment has been alarming for a set time period without being turned off
- Helping someone who has fallen and cannot breathe in the position they’re in (for example, on their back) to turn over or shift positions, or even regain their footing or access to their chair
- Helping someone with severely limited mobility or a significantly decreased level of alertness maneuver into a safer or more stable position
- Covering someone who is prone to radical drops in body temperature with a blanket
- Tugging to remove coats or sweaters from a handler whose body temperature spikes, and then bringing and placing cold packs around them, and then either performing additional tasks or remaining with their partner until additional help arrives
The Service Dog might even have specific work to do that involves the EMTs or medical personnel, such as opening the front door and leading EMS to their handler’s location. Other common interactive tasks include delivering a medical emergency or ICE (in case of emergency) card to the closest person in uniform, guiding one of the first responders to the location where medications, supplements, or a pre-packed hospital bag are stored, or retrieving a folder full of medical documentation/history, medically-mandated response or treatment protocols and contact info so their handler can receive rapid and appropriate treatment.
They may have to do their job while surrounded by strangers who may or may not be familiar with working dogs, disabilities or proper medical response. They may have to perform several complicated, multi-step tasks in a row. The Mobility Support Dog might have to make decisions over which task takes priority, and the dog may have to triage and respond to rapidly changing conditions, potentially all without guidance from the handler. The brace dog may be required to discriminate between subtle environmental cues and prompts, such as various types of uniforms (police vs. fire department vs. nurse), and perform specific tasks in response to those subtle cues. The consequences of missteps or failure on the part of the Service Dog, especially due to hurried selection, improper temperament or incomplete training, can be truly dreadful. Depending on the disability, the ramifications could even include loss of life.
It cannot be stressed enough — all canine candidates selected and trained for brace and mobility support task work and any associated task work pertaining to their handler’s safety must possess the proper structure, genetics, health, temperament, aptitude, reliability, capability and training to succeed and flourish. It’s also vital that fully trained and working Brace and Mobility Support Dogs receive the proper support, maintenance, upkeep and care necessary to maximize the dog’s safety and comfort while working. Furthermore, working brace dog teams need to be properly equipped and able to perform their job with the least amount of impact on the dog’s health and longevity, while also creating an overall positive effect on the handler. All of the above is a lot to ask of a dog, any dog, and the dogs that are capable of thriving in this line of work are few and far between. Those who excel are truly special creatures. That’s what this article is truly about – finding, selecting and training those exceptional ones, as well as the specific considerations involved in the care, keeping and maintenance of the fully trained Brace and Mobility Support Dog.
Who Do These Dogs Work With?
A few examples where a person may benefit from partnership with a Brace and Mobility Support Dog include:
- People who have physical disabilities that cause irregularities in gait, stability, balance, movement, or ambulation, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal bifida and many malformations or injury of the bones, joints or muscles in the lower body or spinal column
- People with disabilities that cause debilitating pain, dizziness and/or severe fatigue, and as a result, reduce the ability to walk without assisstance and/or to perform daily chores and duties – some types of migraines and fibromyalgia are examples
- People who need assistance transitioning from one position to another, such as from sitting to standing, or from one spot to another, such as from a wheelchair to a recliner
- People who need assistance standing up after falling, or help getting back into bed or into a wheelchair after falling
- People who require medical assistance or who need the ability to reach others on an emergent basis as a result of their disability, and they need help securing that assistance – one example is someone with a neurological disorder or cardiac disorder or metabolic disorder that results in unconsciousness and/or a marked inability to ambulate, and they need assistance getting their phone in hand or help calling EMS or another designated contact, and they need the ability for that help to be summoned whether or not they’re conscious or able to reach a phone
- People who require tactile grounding in order to orient and position themselves, or in order to ambulate, such as in the case of vertigo or another balance disorder
- People who, due to their disability, stumble, stagger or regularly trip, and thus require bracing or counter balancing, to remain on their feet
- People who have a disability that results in reduced awareness or an altered perception of the environment, and/or that causes confusion, disorientation or a reduction in physical or mental functioning, like some traumatic brain injuries
- People whose disability, whether physical or psychiatric, is treated by doctor-prescribed medications with side effect profiles resulting in symptoms that cause drowsiness, lightheadedness, dizziness, impaired alertness or otherwise affect the ability to safely ambulate or respond to emergency situations
- People who need assistance moving their wheelchair, especially on inclines or across difficult terrain
- People who have a reduction of strength, stability, flexibility or coordination anywhere in their body that prevents the person from being as mobile or as independent as they would like
- People who need assistance with both mobility and the daily tasks made difficult by reduced mobility, like opening drawers, doors and cabinets, picking up dropped items, reaching light switches or pull chains, quickly responding to phone calls or the doorbell, carrying heavy things and many, many, many others
There are an unquantifiable number of disabilities that aren’t mentioned above that result in impairments or reductions in ambulatory ability and/or mobility. It’s important to remember that not everyone is suitable for partnership with a Service Dog, even if they have a disability for which a Service Dog appears to be a perfect solution. Anyone who is considering applying for, obtaining or training a Service Dog of any kind should always ask these very important questions about their readiness, and consider whether or not Service Dog partnership is appropriate for them, their family, their disability and their situation.
All Training is Specific To the Dog and Handler
Every Service Dog team is unique, and Brace and Mobility Support Dog teams are no different. Depending on the handler’s exact symptoms, the person might need help in static positions (like standing in line or sitting in a chair) and while in motion (such as walking, standing up, or wheeling up a ramp). They may need assistance with daily tasks, like turning on lights, recovering dropped items or items that are out of reach, moving laundry from the washer to the dryer or paying for items at the store, or they may only require help during emergencies or rare events, such as when they’re unconscious, when they’ve fallen, when they can’t turn over and it’s medically necessary for them to do so, or when a medical alarm goes off. Brace dogs are usually trained specifically for their handler and their handler’s exact needs.
BMSDs Wear Specialized Gear
Many Brace and Mobility Support Dogs wear a special harness with a rigid, upright handle that allows the disabled handler to more easily reach their dog and move with their dog while standing. A brace dog’s harness is specifically made to be ergonomic and to fit both the dog and the handler for safety. The harness is made to fit the dog perfectly and allow the pressure of bracing to be safely borne by the dog’s entire body. Mobility Assistance Dogs who pull wheelchairs, wagons or small carts, or who carry heavy medical equipment like oxygen tanks, also wear specialized harnesses so they can safely perform their tasks. Some Mobility Assistance Dogs have a pull strap on their harness so that their handler can counter balance safely by lightly pulling against the dog or by using the dog’s forward momentum to help power their own movement. Counter balancing uses pressure or tension to help stabilize or assist an unsteady handler. You can get an overview of vests, harnesses and common Service Dog gear here.
Like any other type of Service Dog, the training of a Brace and Mobility Support Dog can begin very early, even as early as a few weeks of age. However, brace work, wheelchair pulling and other physically taxing tasks shouldn’t be trained or used until the dog has finished growing and their growth plates have fully closed. Joint health, soundness and growth should be X-ray verified by a reputable and knowledgeable veterinarian. If too much weight or pressure is placed on a growing dog, their joints could easily be damaged or the dog could be injured. Most Mobility Dogs don’t begin fully working until they’re at least 2 years of age, for safety reasonBrace and Mobility Support Dog Qualifications
Due to the oftentimes very physical nature of their work, Brace and Mobility Support Dogs are usually large, sturdy dogs with great structure and joint health. Regardless of breed or exact size, they must be in excellent physical shape. Any extra weight or lack of muscle tone in a brace dog increases the strain on the dog’s joints, which can significantly reduce the Service Dog’s working life, safety and comfort.
Like all Service Dogs, BMSDs need to be free from fear, timidity, aggression and reactivity, and their temperament should be extremely balanced, calm and relaxed. It’s vitally important that Mobility Support Dogs, and especially Brace Dogs, not be easily startled, as if they jerk or misstep, their handler could fall or be injured.
BMSD candidates should be free from all joint and skeletal disorders, and they should be screened for genetic illnesses common in their breed. They should not have any characteristics that would automatically disqualify a dog from Service Dog consideration.
Breed, Size and Structure
Breed is not an important consideration when it comes to selecting and training a Brace Dog. Far more important are the dog’s temperament, structure and size. That being said, some breeds tend not to make good Service Dogs, such as breeds bred to follow their nose or eyes at all costs, breeds bred to be super intense, aloof or independent, and/or breeds known for aggression towards other dogs, small animals or people. Always evaluate each candidate as an individual, but don’t totally disregard breed tendencies.
Brace and Mobility Support Dog Size
Brace Dogs should be, at an absolute minimum, at least 23” tall and weigh at least 55 pounds. Keep in mind, that’s a minimum. If you aren’t a child or extremely slightly built/short person, then your dog will need to be proportionately larger. A large man could require a dog that’s 28 – 30+ inches tall and that weighs over a hundred pounds. A BMSD’s size should directly relate to their human’s size, and/or the task work the dog will be doing. Dogs who will be pulling wheelchairs, carts or wagons need to be at least 65-70 pounds, and athletically built. A rule of thumb is that your hand should be within 6 to 8 inches, and definitely no more than 10”, of your dog’s withers if your partner will be performing brace work while you’re standing. If you utilize your dog for other mobility tasks or a different type of physical support, such as wheelchair transfers or assistance changing positions, then your dog’s size should offer adequate weight, mass and strength to perform the job safely without undue strain.
Brace and Mobility Support Dog Structure
Structure is one of the most important considerations for a BMSD. Ricardo E. Carbajal, chairman of the USA Breed Advisory Committee, states that “proper structure is the anatomical design that offers the least resistance to movement.” He goes on to note that “a dog with good working drives but improper structure cannot take advantage of its hardware to perform to its fullest potential.” Breeds vary widely in their build and structure, but experts in the field agree that a dog optimally built for work and athleticism will showcase a smooth stride and appear to be well-balanced over all. Their back isn’t too long or short, their legs aren’t different lengths, they’re not excessively light boned or heavily boned, they aren’t overly muscular, and nothing about them is extreme.
They’re squarely built, with a more or less level and strong top line, and front legs that, according to Dr. Cameron Battaglia, an expert on working and performance dogs, should “appear as two columns of support from the shoulder to the ground.” The dog’s back legs shouldn’t appear to rotate in or out when the dog is standing and relaxed. Everything about the dog’s build needs to appear sturdy, strong and balanced, but not be limited by anything about the dog’s skeleton, musculature, or joints. Anything that’s “off” in a Mobility Support Dog’s structure could result in a less than optimal working life, or even in injury to the dog.
Brace and Mobility Support Dog Breed
There are many breeds that are known for their athletic build and for structures that have been carefully honed over the years for performance, working, endurance and soundness. Some of the breeds commonly utilized as Brace and Mobility Support Dogs include:
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- Standard Poodles
- German Shepherd Dogs
- Doberman Pinschers
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Many of the so-called “Bully Breeds” or bully breed mixes
- Dogs from the Molosser family of breeds – Great Danes, mastiffs, livestock guardian breeds
Mixed breeds can excel as Brace and Mobility Support Dogs. As long as a dog has the size necessary to safely perform the work, good structure, health and genetics, and a great temperament with an aptitude for the work, then nothing else really matters.
Temperament and Traits
As stated earlier, Service Dogs should be free from timidity, anxiety, fear, reactivity and aggression in all situations. There shouldn’t be any issues with fear. They shouldn’t have excessive drive in any form — chase, prey, fight, toy, food. A good Service Dog, including a Brace and Mobility Support Dog, should be balanced, responsive, and quiet. They should be more interested in interacting with people than with other dogs, distractions or the environment. They should be motivated by food or toys, but not the point that they can’t think, or that they can be distracted by the presence of either. They should be laid back, relaxed and chill, but not lazy. They should be social and friendly, but not overly interested in interacting with people or dogs who aren’t their handler/trainer. They should be happy to be with people all day, but should be fine when left alone, and be free from anxiety, including separation anxiety. They shouldn’t be “velcro” dogs, but they also shouldn’t be aloof or extremely independent. If a dog would rather go off on its own than interact or be with a person, then that dog probably isn’t an ideal candidate.
They should be happy to learn or work, but not so drivey that they always appear “keyed up,” “wound” or tense. They should be able to walk and go and work all day, but shouldn’t require hours and hours of exercise. They should be able to relax in all situations, regardless of the amount of distraction or chaos around them, but they should also be able to quickly and accurately respond to their handler’s requests, cues and commands. They should be responsive and biddable, but not always on edge or coiled like a spring, waiting for the handler’s next word. They should be trainable, which doesn’t necessarily mean highly intelligent. Lots of highly intelligent breeds do not excel at Service Dog work, because they get bored doing the same thing day in and day out, which means they get creative. Intelligence also tends to lend itself to the “why” characteristic — “WHY should I do this? Why not that? Why right now? Why should I listen?”. Beyond that, though, in dogs, intelligence is also usually harness with excess drive, energy or both.
In a nutshell, everything about an ideal Service Dog candidate rests somewhere in the middle of two extremes. They’re not aloof, and they’re not overly attached. They’re not lazy, but they’re not always wired. They’re not antisocial, and they’re not overly social. They’re not disinterested in food or toys, but they’re not so excited by them they can’t function. They aren’t utterly disconnected from the environment, and they’re not so overly engaged as to be easily distracted or uninterested in their handler. They’re focused but not hyper focused.
For BMSDs, it’s especially vital that the dog be relaxed, steady, stable and utterly bombproof. Nothing should be able to distract the dog from its work. A large part of that is training, but the ability to train a dog to that degree starts with its temperament and core traits. Keep in mind, when selecting a Service Dog candidate, that what you see is usually what you get. If you have to “fix” something, then a dog probably isn’t the perfect candidate. There are enough things that disqualify a dog from serving in an assistance capacity that you shouldn’t set yourself up for an uphill battle from the very start.
Genetics and Health
A Service Dog, but especially a Brace and Mobility Support Dog, should be free from all genetic illness and structural flaws. Selecting a candidate from a breeder who performs health testing is a great way to ensure your BMSD won’t suffer from a debilitating or disqualifying health issue down the road. A Service Dog, but especially a Brace and Mobility Support Dog, should be free from all genetic illness and structural flaws. If you’re looking for a candidate from a shelter or rescue, it’s vital that you be prepared to perform health testing and X-rays (hip, elbow and spine, at the very least) yourself. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s more expensive to lose or be forced to retire a dog you’ve put thousands of hours into training due to an easily screened illness or structural flaw, and have to start over from scratch.
Important Training Considerations
A Brace and Mobility Support Dog’s training can vary widely. There are dozens of organizations across the United States that train, or even specialize in, BMSDs, although it’s also quite common for people to owner-train with the assistance of a reputable and skilled local trainer. No matter what work or tasks a Brace and Mobility Support Dog is trained to perform, there are some considerations that need to be kept in mind at all times, especially if the handler requires emergency assistance or response from their dog.
Training Should Be Reliable
First and foremost, the dog’s training needs be extremely reliable. No matter the situation, scenario or set up, a well-trained BMSD will still be able to do their job. This can mean introducing all kinds of variables into the training process, including position changes, heavy distraction or off-the-wall scenarios to help a dog “generalize” their task work. As an example, most obedience trained dogs will “sit” when asked, when their handler is standing and the dog is in front of them, facing the handler. But what if the handler kneels, sits or lies on the floor? What if the handler is face down? What if the handler turns their back? What if the handler is at the bottom of the stairs, and the dog at the top? What if the handler FaceTimes the dog? What if the dog is in a “down” and the handler asks for a sit? What if the handler whispers? What if the handler doesn’t move their body/hands or offer any kind of physical cue?
Brace Dogs may commonly have to perform task work while their handler is on the ground or in a position that isn’t commonly encountered during routine training, and they need to be able to do so without issue. Their training needs to be proofed against a variety of distractions, including the types of distractions commonly encountered during emergency situations – swarms of people, radios, sirens, flashing lights, loud, unfamiliar voices, strange places, etc. The only way to do so is to gradually build the dog’s understanding of the task work and commands, and to build duration, distance and distraction proofing into the behaviors.
The Dog Should Be Able To Perform Independently
A Mobility Support Dog’s training needs to be predictable and well practiced. When given a cue, whether it’s a verbal, physical or environmental cue, a BMSD should immediately respond in a predictable and quantifiable way. When it comes to complex behaviors (like retrieving a beverage from the fridge or opening the front door and leading first responders back to their unconscious handler, their training needs to be solid to the point the dog can perform it without assistance or guidance. Their handler may not always be able to help them, so they should be able to perform independently when required, and they should be able to uphold their training even if their handler isn’t able to enforce it.
As an example, if EMS transports the unconscious or injured handler, one of the paramedics should be able to put a leash on the Service Dog, walk them out to the ambulance, load them up, and the dog calmly relax or perform necessary task work without EMS intervention or direction. Their manners, behavior and skills should be above reproach, because it may be necessary for strangers to direct the dog until the handler is able to take management back over. The dog’s training should make that easy for anyone to do, without specialized knowledge. The dog’s public access training and skills need to go above and beyond the basic standards, and they shouldn’t exhibit any behaviors Service Dogs shouldn’t showcase while working in public.
Training Should Be Specific To the Handler
Finally, their training needs to mitigate their handler’s disability. There are hundreds of tasks Service Dogs can perform. Federal Service Dog law dictates, though, that the dog must perform trained task work that directly assists their handler. Merely having a disability and having a dog doesn’t make a dog a Service Dog. Merely having a disability and having a dog doesn’t make a dog a Service Dog. As an example, if a dog is trained to open doors, but the handler doesn’t actually *need* the task, then that doesn’t qualify as trained task work that mitigates the handler’s disability. That’s not to say that your dog can’t perform work you don’t actually *need*, as you and your dog should continue training and learning for a lifetime, but rather, that your dog MUST, in some form or fashion, directly increase your ability to function in day to day life through their training.
Keeping a Brace Dog Healthy and Happy
There are a few final special considerations to keep in mind about Brace and Mobility Support Dogs. Chief among these are keeping your BMSD happy, healthy and able to work for as long as possible.
Nutrition and Supplementation
You should feed your partner the best food you can afford. Dog Food Advisor is a great resource when selecting a food. The better the food you can feed, the better your partner’s nutrition, and the better they’ll be overall. Health starts on the inside and is reflected by your dog’s skin, coat, ear/eye health, weight, body composition and many other factors. Most canine nutritionists recommend feeding a grain free food that has meat and quality protein as the first several ingredients.
Don’t feed your BMSD too much or too little — both create unhealthy conditions. A Brace Dog that carries too much weight, even if it’s just a pound or two, has extra strain on their joints, which decreases their working life and ability to work safely. A Mobility Support Dog that is underweight doesn’t have the musculature to support the extremely physical nature of their task work, and may be nutritionally deficient in a way that leaches nutrients from their bones, further increasing the risk of injury. A working dog should be kept lean, with good muscle tone. When your dog is in optimal body condition, you should be able to see a clearly defined waist, but not be able to see hip bones, spine or ribs. When you run your hands along your dog’s ribs, it should feel like the back of your hand — bone structure readily able to be felt. If you see ribs, up your dog’s food for a bit. If you have to push to feel ribs, decrease your dog’s food for a bit.
Brace and Mobility Support Dogs should be kept on a joint supplement, as their task work can be very physically taxing, and anything you can do to help keep their joints healthy is a plus. An excellent and economical choice is . A little bit of this stuff goes a long way, and it’s much less expensive than many commercially available products or products available directly through your vet.
Routine Health Care
Preventative health care is strongly recommended — if possible, your partner should be on monthly parasite prevention. If you don’t like the options available from your vet, there are many holistic alternatives available. Keeping your partner free of fleas and ticks is necessary for public access, and your partner shouldn’t work if they have internal parasites, as it can weaken them. Heartworm preventative is strongly recommended for most areas of the country, and regular worming as well to handle other internal parasites, such as tapeworms.
Vaccinating is a highly personal choice, but at the very least, your Service Dog should have the federally required rabies vaccination, and you should be able to produce proof of this at any time. If you don’t vaccinate for the other common canine diseases, including parvo and distemper, consider doing a titre test so you can be certain your dog has immunity. Keep in mind that while you can do your utmost to keep your partner healthy, other people may not do the same for their dogs, and working Service Dogs can come into contact with other dogs at any time, and/or be in areas where sick dogs have been previously, without knowledge of their handler.
Rest and Relaxation
Make sure your BMSD has time to relax, play, recoup from work and just be a dog. You guys can enjoy a game of fetch or tug, snuggle while watching a movie, take up trick training for fun, or basically anything that gives your partner’s mind and body a chance to rest.
Essentially, do all you can to keep your partner happy and healthy. Don’t do anything to jeopardize their ability to work, or do anything that might injure them, even inadvertently. Brace and Mobility Support Dogs are incredible, hardworking critters, and they deserve all the best you can give them and more.
Roymond July 4, 2016
Sounds like you have to be rich to have a “proper” mobility service dog.
Mobility is one of the things my Bammer helps with. He was trained to come to me when I needed help getting to my knees or getting up, even balancing to pull a shoe off. He proved how smart he was when one day I started to fall while he was playing, and before I finished yelling “Oh, crap!” he was there between me and the ground, legs set and solid. So instead of falling, I sort of sat down hard.
I like that the article affirms using “bully” dogs — Bammer is part pit and part boxer (plus English fox hound), and several times a year I get told that a pit bull mix isn’t appropriate for a service dog (I think it’s the fox hound part that’s troublesome; he needs review regularly to remember he’s supposed to focus on me and not every new smell that comes along).
Personally I’m going with “Mobility Assistance Dog” — that way I can tell people he’s a MAD dog… (and part Englishman).
Good article also as I need to start looking for a new dog; Bammer’s injuries from tangling with coyotes when he was young are starting to limit his ability to support me. Soon he’ll have to graduate to being a home dog, and let a younger “beast” take over his mobility duties. I’m thinking a pit-lab mix, at this point.
Dwayne July 5, 2016
What a great article. Hopefully people who try and pass their family pet off as a service animal will read and understand the difference and importance of a real service animal!
Wayne December 17, 2016
My upstairs tenant has a service dog saying she uses it for her mobility disability. but every time i see her outsidegoing for a walk the just has a regular leash. I thought the dog should have a special harness for it. I am getting very suspicous thinking this is a skam just to have the dog. Help
Kea Grace December 19, 2016
Did you see our article on landlord rights concerning Service Dogs?
Roymond December 20, 2016
My Bammer helps with mobility, and he doesn’t have a special harness. in fact sometimes he doesn’t even have a leash, because if I’m doing something that requires both hands he needs to be free to move on his own and not get snagged on anything.
Marian Latimer December 24, 2016
It isn’t your business. You don’t know her issues.
Sarah January 20, 2017
Hi! I also use a service dog for mobility disability, and I wanted to chime in, since you are doubting your tenant’s issue, which I can understand given the lack of a special harness. Truth is, there’s no one right type of gear for every team. For example, I have a spinal injury that means I can walk fine sometimes, then, out of the blue (something shifts from an okay place to jammed into my spinal cord a bit), my right leg craps right on out and I go down like a ton of bricks. I also have an MTBI (mild traumatic brain injury) from a bad fall, and I get severe disorienting headaches and dizziness out of the blue, too. Frankly, it sucks.
But I don’t use a harness with my partner. Why? Because a good one costs over $500, and as I’m not even on disability yet (going through the process as my doctors don’t want me working), there’s no way I can possibly afford one, and my dog partner is really good at helping me with just a good old leash. How, you might ask? Great question! I use the leash to communicate, but he knows what to do when I get wobbly but before I fall (counterbalance, which we worked to learn how to do it hands-free, negating the need for a harness), and the other tasks he does for me inside don’t require him to pull me. And these days, 4 days out of 5 I do just fine, which makes people question my need for a service dog on the regular. But the fact is I only get those 4 good days (tops) BECAUSE my partner does so much to help me out that I can delay and avoid triggering the problems to a point. But on that 5th day? When I can barely move and am in so much pain I can barely breathe? Memphis is my lifeline to even so much as getting to the bathroom by myself, but we don’t need a harness to do the stuff we need to do.
I know a few other folks with mobility assistance dogs who also never use a harness, as a lot of folks (but not all!) utilize harness for pulling work (either in/out of chairs, pulling wheelchairs, etc). Depending on the handler’s specific needs, she really just might need a regular leash, or else the cost of a nice harness that is safe for both dog and human could be a major problem. But every team is different, and as such every team uses different gear. There is no one “right” fit for everybody’s issues or budgets.
In short, there’s a lot of us who just use regular leashes with our mobility dogs, and our dogs are on the up and up. I have letters from an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker), my orthopedic surgeon (as well as my primary caregiver and case manager), a neurologist, and PT staff (while not legally binding has been useful to have letters from my who care team).
That said, if you are truly doubting your tenants claims, as her landlord, you have a right to request a doctor’s letter from her, from the physician, which states that the handler has a disability and that the dog mitigates some or all of the limitations of that disability, with a contact phone number to follow up with should you have any more questions for them. You can only ask for this if your tenant’s disability is not immediately apparent (such a guide dog for the blind, hearing dog for the deaf, wheelchair pulling dog, etc), and you cannot require your tenant to disclose the specific nature of her disability. Same goes for her doc – the doc can confirm that a disability exists and that the dog is useful to the tenant, but they cannot give you exacting details concerning the nature of her disability as that would be a major HIPAA/privacy law violation on their part.
But word to the wise: if she’s already given you documentation to the above affect (and/or she has filed a formal request for accommodation with you that you have responded to within 10 business days of receipt, assuming you two have not discussed the service dog before), proceed with caution, as if you persist too much in questioning the legitimacy of her service dog after having gone through the above steps already/the dog is legitimate, you’re going to get slapped with a MAJOR fine from the DOJ for violations of the FHA and any pertinent state laws relative to where she resides/you own property. And also remember, dogs can be owner-trained in the USA. Meaning, she may or may not have any formal credentials regarding her dog’s training for assistance work. And that is totally, 100% legal here, so if you push her on those grounds, things aren’t going to go the greatest for you, and it sounds like you’re just seeking more information, which isn’t something you necessary should be worried about punishment for if you’re being sincere about it (hence why I’m choosing to share the above).
My advice? Instead of going down the super formal route, maybe just get to know her better? Then, she might volunteer the information about how her dog helps her in more detail to help you understand.
Also, for everyone’s benefit here, as this comes up all the time when it comes to mobility assistance dogs especially: according to the ADA, service dogs do not have to be wearing a vest, special harness, special ID tags, or any other gear indicating that they are a service dog. Most of use use these things out of convenience for the handlers, or because they are useful to the work we ask our teammates to do, or they stop us from being held up while we are trying to go about our day. Also, if you have more questions, you can call the DOJ or HUD. They should be able to answer questions better than me, or else direct you to someone who can.
Jodi March 19, 2017
My son has muscular dystrophy and i would like a mobility service dog to assist him as he transitions into school to help him get around. He is not confined to a wheel chair yet but is unstable and unable to stand up on his own, carry his backpack with too much in it? Or open doors due to his low muscle tone. I live in South Dakota – how’ve. I find a trainee or program to help get started with finding a service dog?
DANELL Williams L WILLIAMS December 18, 2017
sue cerutti March 18, 2023
I just become disabled the last 2 years I was wondering I have a hard time getting out of bed sometimes and I can’t walk as soon as I get up I got to stand there sometimes I can’t hardly walk through my house I can’t pick anything up off the floor and I’m on disability and I live out in the middle of the country by myself is there any place you can read for me to that might be able to help me where I could get a dog that could help me life’s changed so much it’s it’s I went to bed one day I was fine I woke up and I couldn’t walk for 3 minutes and that was 2 years 2 and 1/2 years ago I’m walking now I have a lot of back issues I have scroliosis and Cypress I have rheumatory arthritis and my back and scoliosis and a lot of other things and I just I’m scared I’m going to fall and nobody’s going to find me but I don’t want to sell my home
Niki Hunter March 4, 2017
I sent this to my email address so I can print it in order to read it.
My second mobility dog had to be retired about six months ago. She still helps me at home on occasion. She’s a Rottweiler. My first dog was also a Rottweiler. We’re debating on finding a Rott or GSD puppy in the spring to start training. We trained both dogs ourselves.
I have a Queensland/American dingo that is 3 yrs old. He’s been very helpful at home for needs that are related to other health issues. The biggest problem we’ve had when working with him in the past is that he gets anxious and gets very vocal. If we could get him to the point where he is not anxious, there is a possibility he could help with most of the mobility issues. He has been a great help with my panic and asthma attacks.
Sharon mccarthy March 25, 2017
Please help I’ve broke 2 arms 1 still broke the bone spit in half a broken foot all with in 2 yrs..my liver backs up with toxic. The more it happens I loose more balance. I walk with a cane helps bit but I still loose my balance… can you please help… thank you
Nancy December 20, 2017
Does anyone know if you can get a hyper allergenic mobility service dog? I have a rare disease called Joseph’s machado disease which affects balance and sometimes also presents as Parkinson’s as in my case which is very painful at times, and I’m always falling and as I get older the disease will progress
Kea Grace January 12, 2018
Nancy, you definitely can. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see what we can figure out.
Pam Butts April 6, 2017
I wanted to check if other animals can live in the
Home. I have 2 cats and 2 dogs and a rabbit that all live together peacefully. All but the pug will move out when my daughters 21 & 25 move out.
This sounds wonderful and I know I would love a live assistive “device” than a cane, walker, grabber etc
Nancy December 20, 2017
Danaka Land April 25, 2017
I am in need of a BMS dog. Pls call so we can talk more about my excessive medical needs and disabilities. 903 368 3287 Danaka Land email@example.com
Julia Carter December 12, 2017
I am a 5’7” 240lb woman with Multiple Sclerosis.
I was diagnosed in 2003. By the grace of God I am still walking and would like to continue doing so.
I have a week right leg that is juice my multiple sclerosis and frequent dizziness as well.
My mobility has frequently become severely compromised. This is due to the falls that I have taken recently.
I have now developed a fear of going out in public due to the potential of falling. I feel vulnerable in places like the mall and vulnerable just walking around my neighborhood due to being worried about following.
My physical therapist has done a wonderful job in teaching me how to get back up.
On my wicker days or my bad days where the multiple sclerosis is truly bothering me I need to have something to hold onto in order she stand up.
I must get my activity level back up to where it was I have recently gained 10 pounds and would like to stop from gaining any more. I have managed to get myself off of high blood pressure medication and I would not like to be put back on it.
I could go on and on about the reasons I desperately need a dog to help me with my mobility however I feel that you have an idea just when I say multiple sclerosis.
Please let me know what I can possibly do to obtain immobility dog and what type of dog you would recommend for someone of my height and weight I was personally thinking that it was going to need to be a mastiff of some type please let me know if I am somewhere in the correct mindset or if I should be looking at a different type of dog I am very interested in getting this process started.
Any suggestions at all would be welcome I would like to get this started as soon as possible thank you.
Julia A Carter
Kea Grace January 12, 2018
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Janie Heinrich January 11, 2018
Need a human to train a puppy up to be a mobility Service Dog. 24/7 full access service dog in training vest. He will be with you every where for 9-11 months. At that time he will be handed off to a ADA human in need of a mobility dog. We will cover vet, food, tools/equipment, earmuff for practice session and concert venues, heart worm/flea tablets, dog bed, toys, treats, grooming, dance lessons (hahaha) and all dog training needs.
Kea Grace January 12, 2018
Hi, Janie! Please send us an email at email@example.com.
PINGBACK: Ignoring The Signs: Service Dogs Only – Mellow Pepper Mint March 28, 2020
Kelley July 28, 2021
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Brooke November 19, 2021
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Cheri May 23, 2022
Greetings! Do you have an article listing all the places one might contact about becoming partnered with a dog? My issue is both mobility and ADHD, but I know others could benefit from a categorized listing of all places, including reviews, locations, etc. Easy peasy, right? LoL! Including relevant resources for hardware in each category would also be helpful.
I know you would think all this could simply be goog’d, but for some reason I am having no luck. Perhaps I’m using the wrong search terms?
Very much enjoyed this article! Thank You!
Andrea Johnson July 4, 2022
I was diagnosed with MS 15 yes ago and could use a brace and mobility dog. I have always loved toy poodles. But never had a standard before. I would like to save up to purchase a standard poodle for brace training. How do I find a trainer near charlotte NC ?