Brace and Mobility Support Dogs (BMSD), which are also called Mobility Assistance Dogs or Mobility Support Dogs, refer to a special Medical Assistance Dog that is trained to help their disabled or mobility impaired handler with locomotion (here, locomotion is defined as going from one point to another by whatever means, including walking or in wheelchair).
Mobility dogs can assist people dealing with impaired balance, coordination, or gait to ambulate safely or regain their foothold after a fall. These dogs also help individuals who employ assistive devices such as prosthetics and wheelchairs to enjoy a reasonable level of freedom, independence, and mobility.
The brace and mobility dogs are specifically trained to assist their handler in everyday duties that they cannot easily perform due to their disability. Such activities may include retrieving out of reach objects, picking up fallen items, and opening and closing doors, cabinets, and drawers.
People who have a Brace and Mobility Support Dog may find it difficult to walk unassisted, and may also have to use a wheelchair in some cases. Some handlers use assistive devices such as walkers, crutches, canes, braces, wheelchairs, lifts, or scooters along with their service animal. On the other hand, some other mobility impaired individuals may solely rely on the general assistance provided by this trained animal.
Therefore, no particular scenario can be considered more or less legitimate or valid for the use of BMSD, and their role will depend entirely on the unique requirements of the handler as well as their specific disability.
The disabled handlers, irrespective of their ambulatory capabilities, typically require some assistance in balancing, maintaining stability, moving around, monitoring medical equipment and alarms, summoning help, interacting with the surrounding environment, maintaining independence, reaching for items, as well as communicating during emergencies. In all such situations, a Brace and Mobility Support Dog can be trained to support the handler.
Regular Service Dog Standards Still Apply
While these mobility assistance dogs with highly specialized training and capabilities are considered in a separate class of their own, it is important to note that all the behavioral and training standards and regulations as well as the expectations relating to the conduct, manner, deportment, and appearance of the “Service Dog” (in the general sense of the term), still apply to the Brace and Mobility Support Dogs.
In simpler words, one can say that all BMSDs are also service dogs, but not all service dogs are BMSDs. Mobility Assistance Dogs conduct some intensive, rigorous, and very precise tasks for their physically challenged handlers because of which they receive additional training. Requirements and expectations related to the BMSDs go significantly beyond what is expected of a usual service dog with regard to their selection, upkeep, and training.
Many a time, the life as well as physical safety of the handler of a Brace and Mobility Support Dog becomes directly dependent on the training and performance of the service animal.
While all types of service dogs are properly trained for their behavior and temperament to perform well in their respective fields, correct training is particularly important for the brace and mobility dogs because the well-being and health of their handler depends on the ability of their service animal to carry out the delegated task well, even in difficult or distracting circumstances and environments.
Most of the tasks that the BMSDs perform are immensely physical in nature. Their tasks can frequently require careful attention to detail and fairly high levels of accuracy and precision. Apart from that, carrying out their duty as a Dog for Brace and Mobility Assistance usually requires the capability to think, perform, and solve problems independently without the direct guidance of the handler or trainer.
In other words, the dog must have the ability to not just understand the proper protocols, tasks, and procedures for responding to and mitigating the disability of their handler, but it must also be capable of actually implementing them at home, in places regularly visited by the handler, and periodically in environments unfamiliar to the handler.
Support dogs for Brace and Mobility when partnered with a disabled and medically fragile person might be required to execute tasks in the midst of the chaos caused during an emergency. In such a situation, the support dog will be expected to perform some vital pre-set tasks. If the service dog fails to perform those tasks in emergency, the handler’s condition might worsen, they might not be able to summon help, or in extreme circumstances, they might even die.
Emergency Tasks Typically Performed by BMSDs
- Burrowing under the legs of an unconscious handler or lying down across the handler’s body to raise their blood pressure
Nosing the handler into a recovery position or onto their side
- Dragging the stumbled handler to a safe spot, or pulling a heavy medical gear towards the handler
- Aiding an injured or unsteady handler when they struggle to get back into their wheelchair or onto their feet
- Standing over a fallen or unresponsive handler to ensure that no one steps on the handler
- Persistently barking to send an alert message to the bystanders in case of emergency as well as barking at people until at least one of them accompanies the support animal back to its unresponsive, unconscious, or symptomatic partner
- Reclaiming an emergency-only medicine from the fridge
- Rushing to wake up another person who is working or living in the home to take them to the disabled handler, in case the handler is not responding, or in case their medical equipment raises an alarm
- Calling the emergency response team via a special phone in case the handler’s medical equipment continuously raises an alarm for a set duration without being turned off or in case the handler is unconscious
- Aiding the handler who has stumbled and cannot breathe in their current position (for example, when lying on their back) and turn them over or shift their position, or help them regain their footing or help them access their chair
- Aiding the handler with critically limited mobility or with a notably decreased alertness levels to maneuver into a more stable or safer position
- Providing a blanket to the handler who is prone to frequent falls in body temperature
- Tugging to remove sweaters or coats from a handler who is experiencing spikes in body temperature, and afterward placing cold packs all around their body, and then either executing additional tasks or staying with their partner until supplementary help arrives
Some other specific work that the service dogs may have to perform involves the medical personnel or EMTs. Such work may include leading EMS to the location of the handler and opening the front door. It is important to note that the support dog may have to perform such tasks while it is surrounded by strangers or people who may not have much familiarity with disabilities, working dogs, or proper medical response. These dogs are required to perform several complicated tasks in a row, which each task involving multiple steps.
The Brace and Mobility Support Dogs might have to make decisions about prioritizing their tasks, and may have to respond to swiftly changing conditions, all without any guidance from their handler. In some cases, the brace and mobility dog may be required to discern the subtle prompts and cues of their environment, such as differentiating between the uniforms of a policeman, a nurse, or a fireman, and perform certain tasks in response to these subtle cues.
The consequences of failure or missteps on part of the BMSD, which largely occur due to improper selection or incomplete training, may be truly dreadful. Depending on the seriousness of handler’s condition, the repercussions may even amount to loss of life.
For this reason, all canine candidates trained and selected for brace and mobility support work or any other associated tasks pertaining to the safety of their handler must possess proper body structure, health, genetics, temperament, reliability, capability, aptitude, and training to flourish and succeed.
It is also absolutely necessary that properly trained Brace and Mobility Support Dogs get the appropriate support, upkeep, maintenance and care while working. This will ensure that the dog’s own health and lifespan is not adversely affected, while it continues to support and protect its handler.
Who can be the Right Partner for BMSDs?
People who typically gain the most by partnering with Brace and Mobility Support Dogs include:
- People having physical disabilities that may cause irregularities in their bodily stability, gait, movement, balance, or ambulation. These conditions may arise from multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal bifida and injury or malformations of the joints, bones, or lower body muscles or spinal column.
- People having disabilities that may cause dizziness, debilitating pain, and/or severe fatigue, resulting in reduced ability to walk unassisted and/or to execute daily duties and chores (common conditions include some types of fibromyalgia and migraines).
- A person requiring assistance in transitioning between positions, such as from one spot to another, or from sitting to standing.
- People requiring assistance in standing up in case they fall, or requiring help in getting back into a wheelchair or bed after falling.
- People requiring medical assistance or the ability to call others in case of emergency due to their disability. Such people need help to secure that assistance. For example, someone suffering from a cardiac disorder, neurological disorder or metabolic disorder, which could cause sudden unconsciousness and/or immobility. These people may need assistance in getting their phone or calling EMS or calling another designated contact.
- People who need tactile grounding so that they can orient themselves, or so that they can ambulate in case of vertigo or some other balance disorder.
- People who are prone to staggering, stumbling, or regularly tripping due to physical disability, and therefore require counterbalancing or bracing to stay on their feet.
- People suffering from a disability resulting in an altered reality or reduced awareness of the environment, thereby causing disorientation, confusion, or reduction in mental and physical functioning, such as some brain injuries due to trauma.
- People with physical or psychiatric disability who has been treated with certain medications leading to side effects, including symptoms of drowsiness, dizziness, impaired alertness, lightheadedness, or otherwise affecting their capability to respond to emergency situations or safely ambulate.
- People requiring assistance in moving their wheelchair, specifically across difficult terrain or on inclines.
- People with reduced strength, flexibility, stability, or coordination in their body, which prevents them from being as independent or as mobile as they may want to.
- People needing assistance with mobility and everyday tasks due to reduced mobility, including simple tasks such as opening drawers, cabinets, and doors, reaching chains or light switches, or picking up dropped items, correctly responding to doorbells or phone calls, carrying heavy items, and so forth.
It is important to remember that not everyone may benefit from the use of a BMSD, even though they suffer from a disability for which a support dog seems to be an ideal solution. Anyone who considers to apply for, obtain or train any kind of a service animal must always ask pertinent questions about the readiness of the dog, and consider if the partnership of the service dog is appropriate for them with their disability, their family, and their situation.
Training for both the Dog and the Handler
The role of every BMSD is unique because each individual handler’s disability is unique. Depending on their unique symptoms, the handler might need assistance in static positions (such as sitting in a chair or standing in line) or while in motion (like walking, wheeling up the ramp, or standing up).
The handler may need help with daily tasks, such as turning on lights, moving laundry, recovering dropped items, recovering out-of-reach items, paying for items in the store, or assistance during emergencies and rare events when they are unconscious, fallen, or cannot turn over but it is medically necessary to do so, or in case their medical alarm goes off. The Brace and Mobility Support dogs are primarily trained to assist their handler with their precise needs.
Qualifications of a BMSD
Due to the physical nature of the work performed by a Brace and Mobility Support Dog, these dogs are large and sturdy, with a robust body structure as well as solid joint health. Irrespective of their size or breed, these dogs must maintain excellent physical shape and fitness. Any lack of muscle tone or extra weight increases the strain on joints of the dog, thereby significantly diminishing its working life, efficiency, comfort, and safety.
Similar to all other service dogs, BMSDs must be free from aggression, fear, timidity, and reactivity. Furthermore, they must have a thoroughly balanced, relaxed, and calm temperament. It is essential that the Brace and Mobility Support Dogs not get easily startled because they may cause their handler to fall or get injured in the process.
BMSD candidates must not have any joint or skeletal disorders, and must be screened for any genetic illnesses, commonly occurring in their breed. In other words, they must not have any traits causing them to automatically disqualify from service dog consideration.
Brace and Mobility Support Dogs can be trained with precision to perform specific tasks required for mobility impaired individuals. There are various organizations in the US that specialize in training BMSDs. Some individuals may also choose to hire a skilled local trainer to assist in ‘owner-training’ their support animal.
Training Must be Reliable
A pre-requisite is that the training of the BMSD must be completely reliable. Regardless of the specific situation, set up or scenario, a well-trained BMSD must be able to accomplish the job that it has been trained for. Their training can involve introduction of different kinds of variables, including major distractions, strange or unfamiliar surroundings, or chaotic or emergency scenarios, so that the dog can carry out its responsibilities in all conditions.
Brace and Mobility Dogs sometimes perform task work when their handler is either on the ground or in such a position that has not been commonly encountered in routine training sessions. In such a situation, the dog must be able to assist their handler without getting confused. The training must be proofed against scenarios that include swarms of people, sirens, radios, flashing lights, dark places, or loud noises and commotion.
To achieve these goals, the training sessions must be designed to gradually develop the dog’s understanding of the tasks and commands, and to inculcate distance, duration, and distraction proofing into its behavior.
Capability to Perform Independently
The training of a Mobility Support Dog must include plenty of practice to deal with unexpected situations. When a cue is provided verbally, physically, or through the environment, a BMSD should respond immediately in a quantifiable and predictable manner.
In case of complex behaviors such as retrieving a beverage from refrigerator, opening the front door, or directing first responders towards their unconscious handler; the training of the dog must be solid enough for the dog to help it perform without any guidance or assistance. The dog’s handler may not always be in a position to help them, so the dog must be capable of performing independently whenever required.
All this may appear to be too much to expect from a dog. But the dogs that are well-trained and excel as BMSDs are special creatures indeed!
Until robots take over this role (which is probably about ten years away still), BMSDs will continue to be employed and they still enjoy having their bellies rubbed as well. They are still dogs!