by Anne Martinez
One of the most common types of service dogs is a mobility service dog (also called a mobility assistance dog, mobility support dog or balance and mobility service dog). As the name suggests, a mobility service dog helps you navigate the obstacles of daily life. It facilitates your ability to move through the world and reach things or perform tasks that you otherwise could not, at least not without great difficulty.
Some of the ways mobility service dogs help include assisting with balance and stability, carrying and picking up items, opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, and pushing the buttons that open handicap entrance doors. They can also be trained to assist with daily living tasks such as pulling off your socks or bringing you the phone when it rings. Some mobility dogs are trained to pull a wheelchair.
Balancing, Bracing, and Momentum Pull
There are many terms associated with mobility service dogs. A few of the more confusing are counterbalancing, bracing, and momentum pull. Counterbalancing is when the dog serves as a point of balance and stability, helping to prevent falls and increase mobility. You don’t place significant weight on the dog, but by walking alongside receive assistance with gait and balance.
Bracing is a specific task where the dog stiffens its legs and takes a steady, firm position and holds it. You can then use this as a point of balance for changing positions or getting up from a chair or even regaining your feet after a fall.
Momentum pull is a task where the dog pulls you forward in the direction you’re walking, in a controlled, well-paced fashion. This is useful for people who are feeling weak or disoriented. While you do hold onto a pull strap, only light pressure is placed on the dog.
While many mobility service dogs don’t wear special harnesses, mobility dogs who assist with walking or bracing often do. There are several different types of harnesses. Dogs who perform momentum pull typically wear a harness with a soft handle or a standard harness with a pull strap attached. Dogs who perform bracing need a stiffer, properly fit harness with a rigid handle extending upward. Two of the best known makers of mobility harnesses are Bridgeport and Bold Lead Designs. Leather harnesses with a fixed handle often cost $400 or more. Soft harnesses that include D-rings for attaching a pull strap are typically substantially cheaper.
Mobility Service Dog Requirements
Although there are no specific breeds that automatically make better mobility dogs, it’s important that the dog is an appropriate size for the tasks needed. A small dog can pick up dropped items, fetch things, and open and close cupboard doors, but for tasks such as providing stability while walking, bracing, or momentum pull, a larger dog is required. That said, some breeds are historically better performers at service dog work, including Labradors, Golden retrievers, and standard Poodles.
Training for tasks that involve putting any weight or pulling on the dog shouldn’t begin until the dog has reached physical maturity and bone growth plates have closed. This occurs at 18-24 months and is typically confirmed by x-ray. Training on tasks that don’t require placing weight or strain on the dog, such as turning on light switches or retrieving items, can be started earlier.
There are many types of impairments, physical and mental, that can affect your ability to ambulate or manage tasks of daily living. If you have difficulty walking, balance issues, dizziness or back problems that prevent you from bending over or reaching things, or any disability impairs your ability to accomplish the tasks of daily living, partnering with a mobility service dog can be a life-changing choice.